This post is inspired by the fact that, for the first time in I have no idea how many playthroughs, I’m starting up a run through the Baldur’s Gate story with an evil party. I’m fairly certain that this is going to be a fun little experience, because, while I’m snarky, tend to not be a fan of people in general, and tend to think I’m a little bit more of a jerk than I need to be (even if I prefer the term “charming asshole”), I am overall a good person. Evil is just something to play at, especially the types of evil that permeates any sort of storytelling.
In fact, games that have the option for putting together a truly evil character tend to be amongst my most favorite. Sure, I’m down with playing a story where you’re the clear-cut hero, saving the world because that’s what heroes do. But I also like to experience the flip side, especially if it’s well-written. Maybe the evil character is saving the world to bend it to their whim. Maybe their trying to foil other characters at every turn, so that they can break their spirit. Maybe they’re just the type to try to amass as much power and wealth as possible, and lord it over those who don’t have any. There are many different flavors of evil, but, if you’re evil is well-crafted, there should be one through line.
Evil should firmly believe that what they’re doing is not only the right thing, but the necessary thing.
Step outside of the realm of video games for a bit, but let’s keep it nerdy. Lex Luthor is often defined as an evil person in the Superman mythos. And yet, Luthor truly believes that, by attempting to destroy Superman, he’s actually doing it for the benefit of the world. Sure, a world without Superman is easier for a person like Luthor to control, but his motivations, as far as he sees them, are completely valid. If your evil is crafted in such a way that anyone can say, yes, in a similar situation, I actually see their point, then you know you’ve got a truly resonating circumstance.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for the cartoonishly evil, as well. If there weren’t characters being evil for the sake of being evil, the fantasy worlds would ring a little hollow. After all, there are people in the real world who go out of their way to commit evil, for no reason other than they want to sow discord and pain all around them. They don’t have a belief that what they’re doing is right; they just want to see what kind of damage they can cause. But it’s the evil that resonates even with those that self-describe as “good” that opens up a much bigger can of storytelling worms, and makes for a more interesting situation.
Of course, even when video games give the option for evil, and even when they craft said evil to be well-rounded, and confident in their own justification, there are still the game mechanics to take into account. After all, is the evil character killing anyone who crosses their path, without a second thought? Are they robbing everyone blind? Or are they the type to never do something without reward, and to assist others when there’s a possibility of future corruption? There’s a reason why the concept of the “Villain with good PR” exists, and, in video games, especially ones where there’s a way of “removing” some of the stink of evil from your soul, it’s an easy road to go down. Is it the most rewarding? That depends entirely on your particular flavor of evil.
And that right there is often the difference between a “good” playthrough of a game, and an “evil” one. Many times, the “good” choices are obvious, and there’s really only one or two ways to go about making those choices in any meaningful way. Evil, on the other hand? There are so many different directions to take when walking the path towards the “wrong” side, that many people will have vastly different experiences attempting the same style of play.
And don’t even get me started on trying to play an anti-hero in a video game. Because, honestly, unless the writer’s planned for a jerk who wants to save everyone while still being a jerk, they probably don’t have a lot of leeway there. Archetypes exist for a reason, and it’s much easier to paint with white or varying depths of black, than it is to try and figure out all of the different shades of grey that could come into account.
Besides, neutral just doesn’t tend to be as much fun.