How do you make the case for pure evil to someone who doesn’t believe in good and evil?
I have to admit that villains who are pure evil aren’t as interesting to me as villains who have some sympathy and tragedy to them. My three favourite Batman villains are Mister Freeze, Scarecrow and Two Face, all three of which had tragic pasts and circumstances which warped them into the criminals they are today.
Same in Marvel with someone as twisted and evil for evil sake like Carnage vs villains like Doctor Doom and Magneto, both of who have stood the test of time because of the fact you can see things from their perspective and even agree with parts of what they say. No one’s gonna do that with Cletus Kassidy unless they’re a sociopath.
For me, the best way to introduce or create a villain is starting with the story. If you start with “He’s evil, this is how he got there” it’s just that, but if you give the facts and then you show how he turns evil… that’s great story-telling. For example, Magneto. You know what happened to him, and, as you’re getting to know him, you start seeing that he’s not a complete hero, just little by little, and you realize that the whole thing is just a personal vendetta. The X-Men films aren’t exactly great, but they do a good job with Magneto.
I think Batman’s Rogue Gallery is a good example of how a Complete Monster and Sympathetic Villain can exist in the same story without the Complete Monster appearing too simple and the Sympathetic Villain not appearing to be dangerous because of the other’s existence in the story. And both the Joker and Mr. Freeze ask of Batman’s character different questions (how far will Batman go to stop the villain? How far should he go?), which helps develop Batman/the hero, too.
I’d say my favorite villain of this type is Emperor Palpatine. No ‘greater need’ motivation, no redeeming personal qualities, nothing to sympathize with- just sheer sollipsism. When you get down to it that’s all Sith philosophy is- the idea that everything and everyone in the galaxy is just there for the whims of whoever can exercise the most control over the Force- and in my opinion that’s what makes it effective as a Religion of Evil.
Speaking of sympathy, I am kinda fond of some stories where a Pure Evil villain is shown in an initially sympathetic light- only to start punting small animals as soon as it’s even vaguely convenient/the other characters aren’t watching. Maybe it’s just the whiplash, but I enjoy that. One example: Lex Luthor, whose villainous career revolves around a very well-maintained public persona. Check out Lex Luthor: Man of Steel for a great example.
One thing I’ve tried to do in this area is having a villain in my WIP with a completely narcissistic personality.
Not like in the, ‘oh, he/she/they’s so self-absorbed’ (this character changes gender at will), but in the actual medical diagnosis sense.
Narcissists lack object permanence, so if they’re annoyed with an underling or even a friend, they forget everything good that happened in the past. Narcissists can’t be permanently won over and don’t hold grudges, because they do what they want at all times.
Narcissism features “interpersonally exploitive behavior”, “a sense of entitlement”, and “a lack of empathy”. (https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1519417-overview#a1)
What I like about using narcissism in this villain is that it is realistic, and also that it’s more ambiguous than ‘this person is born evil’. It’s more like Napoleon or the protagonist of Crime and Punishment.
Yes, yes, and yes! The MC in my story, Nascent Narcissistic Necromancer has an obvious disorder that makes them naturally more geared towards villainy, but they’re also very complex and morally grey at times.
Honestly this may sound pessimistic but I feel like an evil character makes more sense than a character that is completely morally pure. People argue that evil is simplistic but I’d say it’s a nice label that sums up an outlook. In order to write a character that is considered evil by most definitions all you really need to do is give them a lack of empathy.
For me the question is ultimately this: Could I see this person existing in real life?
To give an example, the reason I can buy into Hellsing’s Major is that despite the fact he is clearly evil. There is a spark of charisma, you can see why people would be drawn to the idea of just doing what they want (wage war) without caring about the consequences. In contrast, I feel the reason pure evil started falling out of fashion is because it became cartoonish. People could not for the life of them understand why anyone would ever follow stock villain #36 nor could they understand how this guy ever reached a position of power in the first place. If someone is evil, a dick to his employees and makes foolish mistakes it’s hard for me to engage with the story.
If you watch Young Justice and see The Light (villain league), Lex Luther’s portrayal is picture perfect. He’s clearly evil and self interested but he’s so competent and charismatic that you can see why people would still work for him.
The most interesting stories are usuallyabout the human condition in conflict with itself. Divide between what should be and what You want it to be, individualism vs utilitarianism. Writers now a days like to talk about falls from grace, misguided or tragic villains that where ushered into villainy, and use the protagonist as the reflecting party as a stand in for the audience, Thanos as Tony Stark’s ideology taken to the extreme. I think it’s because we are now as a western culture in the age of post modern critique, questioning the validity of an unquestionable big bad other. And as such I think a lot of story potentials are lost or discounted nowadays, there is no big bad like in se7en or IT, and as such I find a lot of the selfreflective arcs tells cheap.
I think both storytelling narratives have perks and we should not discount either.
Lots of Love
I have been thinking about this for a while now. How much freedom should be given to readers to be evil?
I think that games should not promote their version of morality and should let the MC be whatever they want to be, I am sure many would agree with this.
And yet, is there a limit to it? Should the MC be allowed to do what many may find to be extremely immoral.
I remember playing Hero Rise series,in which I really wanted to kill the president (killed him) , Jury and his mother, but I didn’t have the freedom to do so, even though my MC had the power to do it. and on the other hand, A Study in Steampunk allowed me to become a serial killer and only stopped me by introducing a more powerful character. This made the playthrough very satisfying
Should the readers have the freedom to do evil when their MC has the power to do it?
Should there be a limit to their actions? For example killing a few people is allowed but not a genocide.
Should the MC have the freedom to have morally wrong opinions, if they do not have the power to act on them?
I think they should have the options, but if they don’t have the power to act, have it blow up in their faces if they try.
Like, I know damn well that my character can’t bring themselves to rob a bank (I typically play good guy characters - they may be the grumpiest, unfriendliest people ever born, but their first instinct is to do hero stuff), but if I’m going to be stupid enough to try anyhow, don’t stop me from making the attempt, just let my character get arrested like the moron they are.
All I can tell you is: wisdom/prudence (phronesis in Greek) is the base of all 4 the virtues. Write and allow what you want, but be very carefull on what you write and take your responsabilities. Don’t run or hide yourself when others will disagree with you or feel uncomfortable.
It depends on what themes you want to explore as an author, how good you are at writing them, and how willing you are to deal with the fallout of what you have created. How much is too much varies between individuals, producers and stores.
Doesn’t that depend entirely on each author, their story, and the direction the story is taking?
Sure, I do think it’s nice when games allow enough freedom for the MC to be either good or evil and well, be full good or full evil. But then again, sometimes there are some story limitation that are ill suited for an evil MC - because they wouldn’t be invested in what’s happening, because they’d rather do evil deeds in the side rather than aim for the supposed goal, things like that… If the MC being evil would entirely break the story, it’s not worth it. But if it wouldn’t, and if the authors feels like they would be able to deal with the consequences of an evil MC - both for the world and story, and for the MC themselves, then sure, it’s nice.
With that being said, if an “evil route” isn’t possible, it IS true that I prefer games that either don’t allow to be evil at all, or punish evil behavior with a bad ending rather than progressively reducing the opportunities to be evil.
Now, I don’t even go for the evil paths, really. But I enjoy having the choice.
Exactly this. Agree with everything you said. I love playing a villain protagonist when the game or story is about being the villain. When being the main character is the ‘bad guy’ and that is the PLOT.
I’ve noticed a lot of the time when people ask for evil routes in WIPS they ask for things that just dont work in the themes of the story and what would make a whole other story to the one they are being told.
I know there are some games where you can make ‘good’ and ‘evil’ decisions but those decisions end up being cosmetic at most. In fable 3 one of the evil decisions is choosing to decorate your castle in red (which was defiantly the better looking).
In Dishonored you can get a bad end for choosing the more outright violent ways to kill/get rid of people but I think the reasoning for the bad end is becuase you’re supposed to be a stealthy assassin so going around murdering people in daylight is a very chaotic way too go about it so it adds to a chaos meter? idk its been a while since I played.
The games where there are evil ‘roots’ are hardly ever fleshed out because theyre just quick additions that let the player act like a jerk for the sake of it. In Mass Effect you have Paragon Shepard or you have Renegade Shepard, either way you play it doesnt really matter in the end (and notice its not called good shepard or evil shepard…but I got to admit kicking that person out of the window was hilarious as Renagade shep, but someone could say it was a ‘evil’ choice, but the person was a merc who would have killed you if you didnt sneak up and get the upper 1st so was it an evil decision?).
One thing I want to add which I dont think people have spoken about is the misconception on what makes a character a protagonist and antagonist. Those words dont mean ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’. The protagonist is the character whose perspective you follow and the antagonist is the person getting in the way of their goals, Fallen Hero gets it. a lot of the time ‘evil’ people dont think that they are Evil, they think the are right and sometimes have a reason to think that way.
One of my favourite book series is Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, he’s a arsehole villain who spends the 1st chapter agreeing with the devil to trick 100 people into giving them their souls because he sold HIS own soul to the devil but didnt like how not having a soul stopped him from casting spells effectively. He is completely guilt free because he thinks he’s 100% in the right though very big spoilers for his motivation: he’s trying to bring his wife back from the dead and doesnt care if he has to be the bad guy and that she might not love him anymore. He just wants her to live.
Less Villain routes or ‘evil’ choices, we need more games where we are the bad guys.
Kind of. I’ll use D2 as my example, because the chaos system is rather better worked in that one. It’s more of a mechanic that folds several things occurring in the world together.
Play as Emily for example, and you think nothing of murdering everyone in your way then quelle surprise, when she gets the throne back she turns into the second coming of Vlad the Impaler. Violence served her well, so she uses that as her primary tool when ruling – instead of being more subtle, thoughtful and patient.
Also, if you kill people left and right – you’re directly contributing to the city’s death while it’s struggling with an already pretty bad bloatfly infection. Which is why NPCs appear to act in a more hard-bitten, cynical, selfish manner in later levels. Where in low chaos a Guard Captain promises to do her best to protect and help out her friend who’s been skirting the law to make ends meet; a high chaos one simply pushes her off the roof to rid herself of a loose end.
I think evil in the end lies in the eye of the beholder. A good villain is not evil I his own right
Without thinking what he does is right or having a good reason to go against the norm of his culture thus being labelled as villain in the first place
Morality is not a black an white concept and is highly influenced by many different types of circumstances. Cultural norms for example are very different from another. While cannibalism is frowned upon in for example most of the known civilisations there are exception where it can be a cultural norm and even be seen as “evil” to not participate as it could leave the soul of an ancestor doomed or not honor the defeated enemy as their strength goes to waste
As a writer myself I also have to agree with a few commentators before that the "evil route " may just be not in accordance with the game and adding it may complicate the writing or even be so different from the planned story that it may discourage the author from writing. In the end it really does often come down to flavour texts and that can also be misleading and frustrating. Why give the chance of choices when the choices do not have an impact.
Hmm. I associate ‘pure evil’ with somebody who does a cruel and malicious act with full awareness and for their own pleasure. Not for revenge, or a deformed mindset of ‘kill or be killed’, ‘pillage or be pillaged’ etc. Just self-gratification.
In my opinion Lost Lambs has a good example for a truly evil character. The opening scene has several choices for you to decide on to complete a mission (spoilers for the scene ahead, it’s a really great story so I suggest you read it if you haven’t already).
One is waking up the man who you are paid to kill just for the sake of watching him die. And even the narration says something along the lines of; ‘Why am I doing this? Oh well. It’s fun.’ There’s no reason for the character to do this other than for their own benefit (from what I get from it). Sure, you have a questionable upbringing, but there’s plenty of choices to do something less vicious that goes ignored for the choice of being super messed up.
Negan from the Walking Dead is also a good villain that hasn’t been mentioned here.
He’s manipulative enough to bend people to his will and enjoys being in charge of them. He’s intelligent and aware enough to know exactly what he’s doing is cruel. He barters several women into becoming his wives to use as he sees fit (and locking them away in a room) in exchange for medications that will keep them alive, and shelter from certain death for their families, I mean he could just give them jobs like he does the men and find somebody willing—but he preys on the desperate. He has no problems with killing off an entire community of people, torturing them, and robbing them despite how much supplies his people have if them if they don’t agree to work with him (AKA be brainwashed cultists that worship him).
His character is despicable for no reason other than because he wants to be the big man in charge, and he’ll do anything for that title. That’s pure evil to me.