When it comes to video game villains, I have always had a soft spot. Growing up, it seemed the good guy was always just one tragedy away from becoming the villain. They had flaws, were often deformed in some way, and were undeniably human. But sometimes, the villain goes too far. I buy the argument that the bad guys are supposed to be bad. But, I worry that we have drawn some implicit lines in the sand about what is too far, and we should not let those lines go interrogated. I have gone through some of the more disturbing video game villains to try and figure out what my threshold for badness is. It would be great if readers could post any villainous behavior that crossed the line for you as well.
The Joker (Arkham City)
This is the villain that prompted this post. The Joker, in Arkham City, tells his cronies that the first one to catch Batman will get to go on a date with Harley Quinn, and then he quips “I might even tell her….nah that would take all of the fun out of it” (See Sam B’s Post for more on this). Sure, I watch movies all the time where the villain does far worse than suggest letting his friends rape his girl. The reason I find the Joker’s behavior so disturbing is that he has become a kind of cultural icon that kids emulate. Kids dress up as the joker for Halloween, his image makes cameos often in mainstream television (see, The Office, for example), and he is very humanized in both the comics and the movies. He was #1 on Wizard’s list of the greatest video game villains and #2 on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Villains. At the risk of sounding like a sociopath, I always kind of liked his indiscriminate hatred. Originally, he was a maniac. 100% psychopath. Eventually, he was more of a Loki-style character, causing mischief and mayhem. While there is no definitive backstory, it is most widely accepted that The Joker’s pregnant wife’s death was what started his psychosis (a trope we see over and over in popular movies). He is a popular, and I would argue loved, villain. Thus his behavior matters. His characterization tells us that he is first and foremost Batman’s enemy. All he cares about is the demise of Batman. I can live with that. He has killed many people, and done horrible deeds, in the pursuit of his obsession. But for me, it is unsettling for the Joker to let his cronies rape his girlfriend. It serves no purpose in the narrative, and it is not something the audience can ever claim vengeance for. Batman will never destroy the Joker in the name of Harley Quinn. She will never have any retribution.
The Origami Killer (Heavy Rain) **Spoiler Alert**
I’m sure many people find that the line for them is crossed whenever a villain involves a kid. Though, we do seem to have some sort of fascination with seeing the most horrible things possible (as the fact that Law and Order: SVU is on its 13th season and boasts over 250 episodes can attest to). It isn’t the kidnapping that bothers me in this game, though. One of the endings, “Unpunished,” is what bothers me in the game. As many now know, the origami killer is Scott Shelby, the private investigator on the case. In the “Unpunished” ending, Shelby walks away down the street, having gotten away with all his crimes.
What disturbs me about this ending is not only the lack of justice, but just how realistic this scenario is. 800,000 children go missing each year, though it may seem like a lot less because we usually only hear about ones involving affluent families. Now, I’m not making a blanket statement that video games shouldn’t depict realistic horrors. What I’m saying is that, for me, when I am so into a storyline that I don’t sleep for 2 days while I finish the game to save the kid, I want some freaking justice at the end. I don’t play games to feel like crap; I play them for entertainment. So for me, this ending made the villain too bad for my liking.
Again, I’m not saying we should take the “evil” out of evil villain. But I think it deserves some interrogation to see what you feel is too far. I have a friend who won’t read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books because she knows rape and forced sodomy is too far for her. For myself, peripheral sexism (the kind that isn’t part of the story, but is just taken as normal) is what drives me the most crazy. I know Sam draws the line at anything involving kids. But I think it stands to reason that some behavior is just too bad.