Video game heroes are boring. Aside from the odd exception they're mostly 'roided up walking phalluses, worryingly indifferent to the sight of bloodshed despite their allegiance to peace. Sure, they may stop to reflect upon the horrors of war in a cutscene every 45-minutes or so, but they spend most of their time blowing up swathes of foreigners with rocket launchers.
The real stars of the show are the villains. Whereas heroes are typically constrained by some sense of morality, villains are free to be as maniacal and ruthless as possible, thus making them a great deal more interesting than the goody-two-shoes muscleheads with their big guns and even bigger egos.
But what is it exactly that draws us to the bad guys? Their evil physical appearance? Their intelligence? Their dastardly plot to take over the Mushroom Kingdom using an army of turtles? Well, the answer is a combination of all of those things, and CraveOnline is here to dissect and detail them for you. Here's a guide to what makes a great video game villain.
Unwillingness to Follow Rules
As humans we are conditioned from birth to understand the differences between right and wrong, and are strongly encouraged by our peers to adhere to laws and rules set in stone by those more powerful than us. The majority of us stick within those boundaries and go through life choosing not to disrupt order, but as Bioshock antagonist Andrew Ryan says: "a man chooses, a slave obeys".
Ryan's idea of a progressive and secular utopia where scientists and artists are allowed to experiment and create without fear of opposition eventually led to his undoing, but it's that failure to accept his decisions being dictated by a government which he didn't agree with (he created the underwater city of Rapture after witnessing the Hiroshima bombing) that makes him such a compelling and empathetic character.
Whereas protagonists will blindly follow commands because they are told to by someone who they perceive as more powerful than themselves, villains such as Andrew Ryan dare to break free from society in order to create their own, stopping at nothing in order to do so. It's this unwillingness to compromise and obey that made Ryan truly memorable.
Some video game villains are notable simply for existing longer than others. Take Super Mario antagonist Bowser as an example; he ranks as one of the least intimidating final boss encounters in gaming history, has been endlessly defeated by gamers for over 25 years and is now as much of a comic foil as he is a true villain, yet he's still the most recognisable baddie of all.
The reasoning behind this is that Bowser has outstayed most of his contemporaries by virtue of him appearing in a superior series of games. Had Bowser appeared in any other game other than Super Mario Bros. it is highly unlikely that his popularity would have endured through generation after generation. A great villain is nothing without a great game.
There's nothing more threatening than a man who "just wants to watch the world burn," and as we all know, The Joker is that man.
Although a villain's motives are what typically drives a player from point A to point B in order to thwart him/her, The Joker simply wants to bring Gotham to its knees and turn Batman into the deranged sociopath he believes the Dark Knight is capable of becoming.
In the Arkham series, The Joker is every bit as menacing as he was in his previous literary, film and animated iterations, and just like Andrew Ryan, he sees the world a little differently. However, unlike Ryan, he wants nothing more than to watch it crumble beneath his pointed shoes.
His unfaltering determination to incite chaos and the manner with which he goes about achieving this makes him a compelling foe for the player, yet an intimidating prospect for Batman. The Joker has created his own disturbing reality, and if Batman wishes to defeat him, he must join him inside of it.
Despite only appearing in two games, Portal's snarky robotic antagonist GLaDOS left enough of an impression with gamers to forever cement her in the annals of video game history. GLaDOS achieved this by way of developer Valve's sharp writing, who gave the Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System an acerbic wit that taunted player-character Chell with cutting remarks about her weight and physical/mental capabilities.
GLaDOS is truly a by-product of her time. In an age where you can't visit a forum or scroll through a comments section without being greeted by a horde of anonymous trolls engaged in a game of one-upmanship to see who can say the most divisive thing first, GLaDOS also remains heard but not seen, undermining the player with her dark sense of humour from behind her faceless robotic body.
The love gamers have for the Portal series is synonymous with their love for GLaDOS and her passive-aggressive, narcissistic, evil charm, and it is this charm that has made her one of the greatest villains of all time.
It is difficult for the player to feel intimidated by a villain if the player-character is physically superior to them, which is why it is sometimes beneficial for the villain to have a clear physical advantage.
An example of this would be The Tank in the Left 4 Dead series, whose appearance on-screen is accompanied by a thumping soundtrack that unsettles the player even before they've began running away from the big oaf.
The Tank's overwhelming physical strength and animalistic nature is what makes it so terrifying to confront, and there are very few moments in gaming that will make your heart-rate accelerate as quickly as it does when desperately trying to escape from the cluthes of one of these things.
Although it's often said that brain is more important than brawn, in the case of video game villains, it doesn't hurt to have a bit of both.