While the heroes are out saving the world and getting the girl, the villains are often preoccupying themselves with being well-rounded, more interesting characters. Many in video games you will find yourself subconsciously rooting for the very character you are supposed to be defeating, as they are usually a stark contrast to the goody two-shoes soldier/rebel/Italian plumber you're controlling.
This list is a celebration of the many great villains we've came up against over the years, but be warned – there are some SPOILERS along the way.
(Super Mario Series)
Bowser's threat has inarguably diminished over the years, but as he's one of the most recognisable villains in video game history his place on this list was a given. Although his tactics have barely evolved in the 27 years he's been around, he still remains the Mushroom Kingdom's biggest threat, and although he has sometimes managed to quell his hatred for Mario in a multitude of sports, karting and party games, their rivalry is still the most iconic and enduring in gaming.
While Joe Public would perhaps struggle with naming GLaDOS, Andrew Ryan and the like, Bowser is so deeply embedded into pop culture history as an image of the archetype video game villain that only the Pac-Man ghosts would be more easily identified in a police line-up.
Defining Moment: Those ominous thunder claps in Super Mario World, before Bowser flies in on an aircraft with a clown face and drops giant marbles on your head.
There are very few moments in gaming that are as disheartening as the moment when you've mined your way through an array of diamond and gold in Minecraft, only to hear that familiar hiss of a Creeper before it blows you to kingdom come. While the Creeper is primitive in appearance (as is the game it inhabits), the constant threat of it raining on your parade whenever you dig for resources makes it a whole heap more of a terrifying foe than it really has any right to be. I mean, it doesn't even have any arms.
Defining Moment: You've almost filled your inventory with everything you could possibly need, but dammit you just want to keep digging. Logic dictates that you should travel back to a chest, but screw logic, you want more diamonds! Unfortunately, you then hear that old familiar sound – "HISSSSSSSSSSSSS" – and you know that all of your hard work and effort ultimately meant nothing.
8. Scott Shelby
Although it was revealed that Origami Killer Scott Shelby had lived a tortured childhood at the hands of his alcoholic father, it was difficult to feel sympathy for a character so manipulative that even the player had been duped by his acts of "kindness". Whether it was kissing the unwitting mother of a child he had killed, or attempting to drown main protagonist Ethan Mars' son in a drain, Scott Shelby's reasoning behind his murdering of children (to test their father's love of them) was as deluded as it was sinister.
Defining Moment: Depending on how you played the game, you could have Scott Shelby kiss Lauren Winter, mother of his first victim. So messed up.
Further Reading: What Makes a Great Video Game Villain?
(Final Fantasy VII)
The moment Aeris slumps forward after Sephiroth's sword cuts through her torso is an image that has lingered in the minds of many '90s gamers, and for good reason. Rarely has a video game villain been as evil, as unpredictable as Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth, and although his motives for his wrongdoing may have been a little abstract (destroy the world in order to take control of it? You may need to revise that idea, Seph…), he still ranks as the most awesome villain the Final Fantasy series has ever spawned, and made for one of the most infuriatingly difficult boss fights in the history of gaming.
Defining Moment: The moment you're treated to the sound of Sephiroth's epic theme 'One-Winged Angel', you know you're in for one helluva ride.
It's a question that politics has been answering for years – what happens if you give an idiot a slice of power? Wheatley starts off as a mild-mannered robotic sphere, following you around the testing chambers whilst mumbling banalities. However, when you allow him to take GLaDOS' position as controller of the Enrichment Center, he suddenly finds himself all-knowledgable, and as such turns evil. It's a wonderful twist and testament to the character of Wheatley that he often manages to steal the show from fan-favourite antagonist GLaDOS.
Defining Moment: When player-character Chell opens a portal on the moon, thus dooming Wheatley to spend the rest of his life talking to himself whilst floating around space.
5. The Joker
(Batman: Arkham Series)
The Joker we saw in the Arkham series may well have been a slightly darker copy of The Joker seen in Batman: The Animated Series, but that doesn't stop him from being one of the most entertaining villains in gaming history. Mark Hamill's voiceover work for the Clown Prince of Clown is as good in Arkham Asylum and City as it was in TAS, accompanying the narcissistic lunacy of Batman's greatest foe with the deeply sinister edge that has seen The Joker now become one of the most iconic villains in comic books, cinema and gaming.
Defining Moment: When Batman carries The Joker's scarred, lifeless body out to Commissioner Gordon at the end of Arkham City; one of the biggest OH NO YOU DIDN'T's in gaming history.
4. Andrew Ryan
Technically Frank Fontaine/Atlas was the main villain in Bioshock, but Andrew Ryan's story and demise was undoubtedly the most compelling. Ryan created the city of Rapture in order to give the world's greatest minds a place to invent without the interference of governmental "parasites," but eventually he became the very "parasite" he went underwater to avoid. Ryan is not evil, but is instead a man who felt that he was forced to do evil things for the greater good. His bloodcurdling death by your hands was a gruesome demise for a man who, ultimately, just wanted to see the world thrive.
Defining Moment: "A man chooses, a slave obeys" is arguably the most poignant line of dialogue ever spoken in a video game.
(The Legend of Zelda series)
Whereas Mario and Bowser fight seemingly for a lack of better things to do, the rivalry between Link and Ganondorf is one which has a rich, detailed mythology that gains more clarity throughout each iteration in the series. Ganondorf's backstory was made even more interesting when it was revealed in Skyward Sword that he is the personification of the hatred the game's antagonist Demise has for Link, who put a curse on Link and Zelda's bloodline that meant they would be doomed to fight Ganondorf for the rest of eternity.
Defining Moment: After finally defeating Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, you're then forced to fight his giant man-pig form Ganon before even getting the chance to wipe the sweat from your brow.
2. Pyramid Head
(Silent Hill Series)
Considering how messed up the Silent Hill series is, you know that Pyramid Head is one terrifying villain when he overshadows every other monstrosity that tries to kill you. Pyramid Head is said to represent feelings of extreme guilt to those he is tormenting, and has appeared in many of the games in the series in one form or another, be they cameos or alternate forms (such as 'the Bogeyman' seen in the above image). With his lumbering demeanour, unsightly appearance and huge sword, Pyramid Head stands heads, shoulders and unnecessarily large headpiece above every other video game monster yet created.
Defining Moment: The image of a libidinuous Pyramid Head molesting two Mannequin monsters is one that unfortunately stays with you for a very, very long time.
Whereas many video game villains tend to typically only deviate slightly from the standard idea of evil, GLaDOS was unlike any character we had encountered before. In the original Portal her appearance in the game was almost solely limited to narration, the excellent voiceover work from the now-infamous Ellen McLain provides a passive-aggressive tone to the dastardly Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System's acerbic wit. It's not difficult to create an evil character – just throw them in a room with a bunch of puppies and a chainsaw and there you have it – but it is difficult to create a character as utterly entertaining and joyous as GLaDOS. You do not need to have spent 27 years fighting an overweight Italian plumber if you have dialogue as sharply written and as expertly performed as Valve's greatest creation.
Defining Moment: The cake is a lie.