What Makes a Good Video Game Villain

In today’s landscape, gaming is more than just filling wasted time with virtual inactivity. It’s about building wonderful narratives around swathes of interesting characters.

Typically, among the horde of personas in a single campaign, gamers find two particular sets of character types: heroes and villains.

The TechnoBuffalo gaming staff decided it was time to get together and suss out what makes a good gaming hero and villain. You’re reading the second entry in this two part feature. The hero side of this segment can be found here.

Below, Joey, Eric and Ron will each discuss, in their own words, what makes a great, heinous villain. Watch as they disagree completely.

Joey Davidson: Great villains, from where I’m standing, are a little harder to achieve than heroes. While writers can easily pen a compelling and logical reason for one do-gooder to stand up and do good, the composition of villains takes a little extra magic.

Great villains must be menacing. They must dominate the gaming space whenever they’re featured. They have to present unique mechanics and interesting personalities. Villains have to be dynamic. Heroes? They do good based on a simple line of motivation. Villains? They need a more complex driving force.

Simply taking over the world, capturing the princess or stealing treasure doesn’t make sense. Instead, how about being trapped away in a long dead testing facility where science must be done? How about being an all too smart artificial intelligence system that does nothing but drop fat jokes on a silent subject?

Now we’re talking.

Eric Frederiksen: Villains are much harder to work with compared to heroes in games. In a movie, a villain can have just as much time as a hero to develop into something interesting. Most games don’t give room for an antagonist to flourish because most games are about combat, and it takes a special game to set you directly against your enemy and keep it entertaining.

The villain that really stands the test of time for me is Silent Hill 2‘s Pyramid Head. A name that sounds silly at first quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares. Pyramid Head is perfect because he ties into the themes of the game so completely and is more than just someone to battle with and antagonize.

Pyramid Head is a manifestation of James Sunderland’s guilt. In return for suffocating his wife to release himself from the trap of caring for her, James has to watch this woman that looks like her die over and over. The game also explores themes of sexual abuse and again ties them back to Pyramid Head. Pyramid Head doesn’t speak a word, either; he sometimes looms in the shadows, out of reach, and it’s somehow scarier than a direct attack.

Sadly, Pyramid Head has been abused in later iterations of Silent Hill as a way to pull in fans, but that doesn’t diminish the deep impression he leaves in his original appearance.

Ron Duwell: What is wrong with being evil for the sake of being evil? Much like heroes, leaning on the crutch of exposition can cripple even the greatest villains. The Star Wars prequels taught us that all too well…ugh…

Kefka poisons an entire castle of citizens after surrender negotiations fail. Luca Blight murders a woman in cold blood after forcing her to act like a pig. The Joker, arguably the best “evil for the sake of being evil” villain of all time, just appeared in two successful video games. How much did we really know about them?

More-so than a complicated backstory designed to give him depth, a villain needs one thing: presence. When centerstage, all eyes must be on him, and when absent, the looming threat he possesses must be noticeable in every corner of the world. All the goods reasons to hate a character in the universe can’t save him if he’s a whiny, insecure, little punk.

Lavos (of Chrono Trigger) emerges from the planet core and destroys civilization…twice. No motivation beyond him doing his primal urges as an animal, but he’s one of our greatest villains. After we first see him destroy the planet from a monitor, the unbelievable threat he possesses dominates the entire game until the credits roll.