TR Member Perks!

Hello, TechRaptor readers. Although I had originally planned to write this article independent of any others here, I’ve decided to alter my original plan a bit and build a bit on the “Video Games Make Heroes, Not Criminals” article written by Kindra Pring. Her piece focused on gaming as a way to indulge people’s desires and fantasies of heroism. My view is going to be a bit … darker, as we take a look at villainy and why it’s equally as important as heroism for gamers of any stripe.

The spikier the armor, the cooler the character. It's science.

The spikier the armor, the cooler the character. It’s science.

I’ve always been fascinated with villains. Movies, TV, games, you name it. Villains can absolutely makeor break a story. Whether it’s the scenery-chewing melodrama of Ricardo Montalbán in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the tortured fallen heroes of Breaking Bad and The Shield, or the comically inept Dr. Evil, the bad guys always resonated with me more than whatever bland hero is put on the screen in front of us. Bad guys are just cooler.

This fascination with evil also carries over to gaming. Whatever game I’m playing, I’ll nearly always choose to play the most evil character or faction I can get my hands on. In Warhammer 40,000, it’s the Dark Eldar (sorry, Chaos, you got beat out by drugged-out BDSM space elves). In Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, it’s the vast, shambling hordes of the undead and their not-sparkly Vampire Count masters. And when looking at the various Warmahordes factions I’ll be covering in a future review, the barbaric Skorne and and zombie pirates of Cryx have definitely caught my eye.

What is it that draws players to the darkness and away from the light? That depends on who you ask. One of the major reasons for doing so is related directly to game mechanics. Often times the bad guys will have cooler guns, sharper swords, and spikier equipment. Going down the path of evil often times is simple mathematics, and min-max players view the choice as simply a matter of utilizing (or abusing) the systems set in place by the designers as the most efficient method of winning. Any thematic or lore implications in their decisions are secondary at best.

When playing Warhammer 40,000, for example, I highly enjoy zipping around the table with the fastest units in the game, ignore pretty much every piece of terrain that may pose a problem for my opponent, and ignore their high armor and toughness with highly precise and agonizing weaponry. Any Tyranid player who’s seen their giant monsters be gunned down by a pair of Venoms or an Imperial player watching their tanks explode after a few heat lance shots to their rear can attest to this.

Other players (myself included) view the choice as a change of pace from their everyday lives. Being the bad guy opens up a myriad number of choices and decisions that are simply unavailable in the real world, either due to limitations set forth by the laws of physics and nature, the laws of society, or one’s personal morals and ethics. I would never brutally enslave a living person for my own ends, force someone to fight to the death in a rigged match for my personal amusement, or horrifically torture and disfigure another living thing simply to enjoy their suffering and anguish. Yet my Dark Eldar simply call this “Tuesday” in the Dark City of Commoragh.

Image courtesy of Games Workshop

“Torture Tuesdays” are a big deal in the Dark City.

This points to the crux of the issue at hand: escapism. Gaming, whether video or tabletop, gives everyday people a chance to do things they wouldn’t do in their everyday lives, for good or ill. Either because there aren’t hordes of power-armored and heavily mutated lackeys of dark and ancient gods to righteously exterminate anywhere around, or because you are simply not a swashbuckling privateer on the high seas, or any number of reasons why you and I simply do not live in a video or tabletop game world. Playing as the villain gives you a chance to work out your frustrations on anyone stupid enough to get in your way in a manner that won’t affect anything in the real world. Nobody is going to arrest you for killing all the NPCs in a town, or for hauling off a herd of humans to the fighting pits of Commoragh, or for raising legions of the dead to do your bidding. The biggest real-world danger presented by gaming is to your wallet, not your freedom and livelihood.

Now that we’ve gotten the fun stuff out of the way, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin: what playing as the villain does not mean. Being the bad guy in a game, whatever game it may be, simply does not correlate to being a bad or immoral person in real life whatsoever. Regardless of whatever moral panics may come about, a definitive link between the two has not been established.

For the last sixty-odd years, any new major entertainment medium has faced scrutiny and backlash from moralistic busy-bodies. Whether it’s comic books in the 1950s, role-playing games and heavy metal music in the 1970s and 1980, or video games to this very day, there have been hordes of self-righteous nannies in problem glasses (oddly enough) ready to decry the popular entertainment medium of the day as a gateway to immoral and dangerous behavior, whether it’s true or not.

Jack Chick tract

This is what people in the 1980s actually believed.

The most famous example would be the great Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Groups such as Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) sprung up, televangelists held up various rulebooks while delivering fiery sermons about the evils of gaming (while passing around the collection plate), tearful mothers blamed Dungeons and Dragons on their children’s suicides, and news shows like 60 Minutes decried the moral decay of the generation’s youth.

All of it was found to be utter nonsense and is looked back on with amused befuddlement by gamers today. After the various news stories and rumors were debunked, after people realized that the Player’s Handbook didn’t teach kids to shoot fireballs from their hands, the entire affair died down to a smoldering pile of coals that occasionally flares up, as it did after the Columbine massacre, the Anders Behring Breivik assault, and now in the form of “online harassment” and professional victims.

As I mentioned previously, there has never been any established link between violent games and violent behavior. In fact, multiple studies have proved the opposite. In a recent study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, researchers found that “bad” behavior in games actually leads to more moral people. The theory behind this is that gaming acts as a sandbox for people to indulge in and test various behaviors in a safe and harmless environment. While gamers of all stripes can attest to this, it’s nice to have some solid evidence to back up our “lived experiences”. (As an aside, I really hate that term, even if it does fit particularly well here.) It’s also nice to see researchers telling muckrakers, charlatans, and busybodies to stop asking about violent video games, as they have more pressing issues to look into.

What does this mean for you, the average gamer? Simple: whatever side of the morality coin you choose to play your games on has no bearing whatsoever on you as a person. Playing as the Germans in Flames of War does not make you a Nazi. Quicksaving your Skyrim playthrough to butcher townsfolk does not make you Charles Manson. Leading a pack of surgically mutilated and enhanced slaves and monstrosities in a raid against a helpless farming community does not make you a Dark Eldar Haemonculus. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise, or use your hobbies as a way to guilt you into changing yourself for their liking, is not someone to be taken seriously or trusted. Pick up your dice or controller and hack away, safe and comfortable in the knowledge that you understand the difference between fiction and reality better than those who claim otherwise.

Michael Johnson

Staff Writer

I'm one of the tabletop writers here at TechRaptor as well as an IT security analyst and full-time geek. If I'm not actively playing, I'm either painting something, enjoying burying my nose in a book or arguing on the Internet.

  • Galbador

    As far as I could see, there is only one game, where you can play as a true villain… Hatred. No other game had the guts to go that far and made the villains to anti-heroes. It is really sad to see that games like Hatred, where you play as a really dak, sinister villain, gets so much hate and even banned (can’t buy it because I live in Germany and Steam blocks me).

    Perhaps people can’t deal with the thought of playing a truly villanous character, because this would mean to be stone-cold, evil and full of hate.

    But then again, what is evil? Nothing but a constuct of use humans, because in nature, there are no evil animals. Evil itself does not exist like that. It is just a different point of view.

  • PubstarHero

    What about the Genocide route in Undertale where you have to systematically murder everything in order to get the “right” ending?

  • But you lose in the Genocide Route. The story punishes you for going that route.

  • Dr.Weird

    >implying the main character of Hatred is a villain and not simply a misunderstood hero

  • GrimFate

    My issue with Hatred is that evil for the sake of evil is not very fulfilling, and for me that’s the problem with playing as a villain; it’s hard to enjoy a story if you can’t sympathize with your character, their motive in the story being a big part of that. So I imagine people who are filled with a hatred of the real world and its inhabitants may enjoy it, living out the fantasy of what they secretly wish they could do, but, even though I am someone who does like villains and enjoys indulging in video game evils, I feel this is the reason I couldn’t fully enjoy Hatred.

  • GrimFate

    I feel what draws me to the “evil” side in video games, aside from preferring the aesthetics of evil equipment, is aggression. Specially, when someone does something I strongly disagree with, I have the option to be judge, jury and executioner. In real life, sometimes you come across someone who is so irritating, or has wronged someone you know very badly, and you want to punch them square in the face, but you can’t because laws. Personally, I prefer playing as an anti-hero over someone truly evil, because I still want to protect innocent people, but I like being able to destroy anyone who harms those I care about, and I don’t necessarily find joy in evil for the sake of evil.

    One thing I dislike about the typical heroes of today in TV and movies is that they tend to have a “no kill” policy, even when faced with an enemy that may continue to cause problems for the world. After being tormented by someone for so long, perhaps someone who has killed your friend or something, it is (at least for me) more satisfying to finish them off once and for all, rather than just imprison them.

    One example of why I like playing the “evil” side was in my playthrough of the Mass Effect games. Ashley (a character I didn’t care for) shot Rex (a character I did like), killing him. This pissed me off to no end. In a game where you had no control over your character’s action, she may have remained in the party for the rest of the game. Or, if the developers restricted you to a sort of “traditional hero”, your choices may have been to agree with her or scold her, PERHAPS the option to dismiss her from your party. While I wasn’t given the option to immediately punish her like I wanted, I did get to make a decision that did kill her, although it wasn’t directly tied to her killing Rex so I wasn’t able to let her know why I had chosen her to be the one who died. (Obligatory note required for talking about aggression towards a woman: Not misogyny 😛 Liked all the other women in the game, just not Ashley.)

    That said, I don’t think games tend to go far enough with evilness anyway. Generally it’s all about killing, stealing or not showing someone sympathy. It’s usually not actually being “evil”, but rather just being less merciful. Even Hatred’s “evilness” stemmed from killing innocent people; that’s not really that far from what you normally do, especially in a fictional world when killing someone is less of a moral issue. While I’m not sure off the top of my head what I would like to see, it does feel like games don’t take “evilness” that far, especially when Hatred is the height of controversy.

  • xyzdude0

    I love playing Vampire Counts, but man Nagash is just the worst

  • Galbador

    I agree that the story of a game is as important as like the character you play. That is why I like silent characters; they are the best representation of who the player is. But the thing with Hatred is, that many people, as you said, could not get into his mindset. But this is the point, the guy in Hatred was a person, who hated the world around him. It was a place, where he could not live anymore for reasons he did not always explain so well. If one plays a villain, one has to know why he or she is a villain, I agree with that, but I used my own motives for this game: The world is against me, the world works against me. Every person hates me and dislikes me for what I am and what I do, no matter if I help or not. Because of that, I could easily get into the role of the Hatred guy. But on a different note, I’m used to roleplay and maybe this is why I can get into the character so easily. This is something not everyone can do and while I think it is sad, it also explains why people hate or dislike this game. But you can’t force people to like the same thing as you do, because this would be boring. Acceptance is a different thing, however. But even this is not so common in our times.

  • Galbador

    How is the guy from Hatred a misunderstood hero?`He clearly hates the people around him and wants them to die. This is not what a hero does.

  • Galbador

    It could, but this game has the mindset to be a good person and to avoid violence to solve your problems, so… not really. What I understand of playing as a villain, is to start as a villain and end the game as such. In Undertales, you don’t get the satisfaction at the end that you were the villainous force, but more or less a lazy “wrong ending, try again” while Hatred gives you this satisfaction (even on a lame way) that you reached your goal of total destruction and annihilation.

  • Dr.Weird

    in a time when, 95% or more of people are degenerate and unworthy of life, that kind of person is a hero.

  • Galbador

    I disgree. For me, the Hatred guy is a killer and a killer is not a hero. The people, which you kill, are normal people. He kills them because he hates them. That is not a sign for a hero.