This is a question which is very, very important. A bad villain can really bring any game, or even book, film, or TV show down. If the player does not care about the villain, if they find them amusing rather than threatening, it can be a huge blow. So, I want to talk about what makes good villains tick. I could talk all day about this suject, but for sanity’s sake I have boiled it down to four key factors.
- Understandable Motivations - Are they realistic? Do they make sense in the context of the game world? Can the player relate to, or at least understand them?
- Humanity - Are they pure evil? Or do they have some human qualities?
- Weaknesses – Are they completely invulnerable? How powerful are they?
- Demeanour – How do they behave? How do they treat their allies?
I feel the more important factors from these four are humanity and relatability. One of the main turn offs for me as a player is when a villain is just “PURE EEEVIIILLLLL” with no real relatable human motivations for their actions. I’m sure you have all seen examples of this in so many different formats of entertainment, and it just leaves the villain feeling flat and lifeless, and are often found as a source of comedy rather than any sense of threat. Which, unless you deliberately doing a parody, you do not want.
I feel it is much more effective to give a villain human qualities and relate-able motivations. You want this for the same reasons you would want this for your hero (or protagonist). If the viewer can more properly relate to and understand their villain, that villain will feel that much more “real” and on the same hand, more threatening and much more life like of a character. Human beings are not cardboard cut out, fairy tale monsters (aside from the very rare exceptions) and they will always have some humanity within them, even if that humanity is very small, and twisted. The more interesting villains are ones that actually feel emotions that an ordinary person would feel – fear, anger, etc. Generic cut and paste “pure evil” villains are a trap that so many games, and films, have fallen into.
I also think that how powerful your villain is is also key to making them memorable and believable. I’m going to use an example from an anime here, because it is one of the best examples for what I am about to discuss. I am going to be discussing the main bad guy from the anime Bleach, and I will try and avoid spoilers as much as possible, but if you are worried, skip the next section.
When Aizen, who is of course the central protagonist, returns for the final, epic showdown the readers have been waiting for, he is literally untouchable. He has not only mastered all four of the fighting arts available to him, he is made almost god like in power by an object within the story. So many characters have to team up in order to even touch him, and the fact that he is literally god level completely ruins any relateability he once might have had. As a character Aizen was definitely cool, but he definitely lacked the the human touch I have been discussing in this article and the level of power he was given didn’t exactly help.
As an example of a good, well fleshed-out villain though, I want to mention Randall Flagg, who as you may know is a character in several of Stephen King’s novels. I know I have not used any examples from gaming here, but the qualities these characters need to possess is the same regardless of platform. Regardless, Flagg is one of my favourite villains for several reasons. He is powerful, without being too powerful, and while he is certainly deranged (and some could argue, a bit mad, as well) and more than a bit evil, he still has human qualities. He, at several points displays fear, happiness, anger and several other human characteristics. He well balanced in that while his motivations for what he is doing may not stretch far beyond “just because I can”, the rest of him makes up for that. If you want to see for yourself, I recommend reading The Stand, which is probably one of the best books King has written and one of Flagg’s finest appearances.
All in all, I think I have covered everything that is key to a good antagonist. I hope you have found this article helpful, and please check out RedGamingTech and the YouTube, where I originally discussed this idea.
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