When does evil in gaming get too real?

So as you can tell, I’ve kinda failed in updating every day for a month already.

Turns out that most of the prompts that nablopomo.com has come up with are actually pretty insipid. We’re talking high school english class “I’m-giving-you-this-writing-prompt-so-I-can-grade-papers” busywork here.

I’m going to get a little more esoteric, and pose a question to you all. A fairly geeky one, I’ll admit. It’ll require you to think a little.

One truism I’ve found in reading sci-fi and fastasy books, playing video games, or even just watching movies, is that a truly great hero needs some truly despicable evil to fight.

My question to you all is how much would you agree with this?

In films or books, sometimes a villain performing truly horrific acts of evil is a little easier to digest. You’re observing it from an outside perspective. You always have that viewpoint of the story that it’s not happening now, and you can jump out back into reality.

In games, especially role-playing ones, you don’t always have that luxury. You’re taking part in the story. You take on the perspective of one of the characters, and depending upon the specific game, you even impose your own perspective upon the character.

Now let’s say within this story, you witness the villain do something awful. Wipe out hundreds of people. Viciously assault someone. Rape. Torture. You get the idea. How comfortable are you with this? Does it galvanize you to want to defeat this madman (or woman) even more, to avenge those wrongs? Or do you push the whole experience away, because it makes you uncomfortable?

In a D&D game I ran for my friends, I wanted them to have a truly great evil to fight. I created this cult, centered around a madman who had lost everyone he’d ever loved. That loss drove him to master necromantic arts and turn young lovers around the world into various forms of undead. In his mind, he was saving them from the hurt and pain he felt. Anyone who opposed him, he turned them into the more mindless sorts of zombies and skeletons any player of a fantasy RPG is familiar with. Eventually, people gathered to him, following his beliefs, and formed his cult following. The cult began plotting ways to mass murder entire cities and raise them into unlife, with the ultimate goal of the entire world in this state, so that no one would ever be seperated from their loves by death.

Now while you can say his motivations might be halfway decent, his methods are no doubt purely evil. The guy. had the heroes not stopped him, would have released a virulent, deadly plague that would have wiped out an entire city of people, and forcibly returned them to life in their decaying bodies.

I had planned to devolve this guy into being less and less sane, ultimately to the point where he would essentially lose all empathy, state that the entire cult had been a pretense, and that he simply wanted to kill everyone to punish the flawed world that allowed him to hurt so much. By this point he would have succeeded in one of his mass-murder attempts, creating a graveyard city of undead…and calling the attention of something horrible. A god that was itself undead would enter the physical realm, coming through as a small moon, and use it’s horrifying power to finish what the elf started.

Heavy stuff. But the point was to give my friends, the players, something to fight against. Something to defeat and become heroes. Something awful that they, by destroying, could be seen as incredibly good.

How do you feel about this concept? Do you appreciate this sort of evil in your games to fight back against? Or does it get to be too much? What’s your line, if you have one?

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    • Lee
    • November 8th, 2010

    My answer needs to be clarified by defining evil first, and our
    reactions to it.

    We all have within us the ability to abhor evil and love good.
    In this we see that most villains both real life and fictional
    tend to justify their own unique morality within the bounds of
    some supposed greater good, or rather benefit to ones self.

    A visit to North Korea would show you a world where every American
    is demonized, a pestilence to be slaughtered. All the while they
    praise their “great leader” whom has enslaved them to his will and
    created an aristocratic society based around the lies of socialism.
    However we see their leader as evil and many of us would not condemn
    the person who removes their government from the face of this earth.
    All in the name of the preservation of Good over Evil.

    Evil in media is meant to polarize us. To let us know that the
    antagonist is truly evil and the protagonist is the force of
    justice that will eventually over come this injustice.

    We all strive for a righting of wrongs. However we must be clear
    that we know what evil is. Twenty odd years ago megatron holding
    the friends of the autobots hostage was enough to make him a villain.
    We had the quiet “villains” of the USSR and the cold war. Now we
    have megatron trying to destroy the entire earth, and yet we
    still go to the midnight showing of Saw 3D.

    We know good when we see it. A man gives his daughter a car for
    her birthday because she saved the money herself and now she can
    use that money she saved for her college education. A mother holding her
    newborn, comforting him while he cries. However what if the
    consequences of such actions lead to evil?

    The mother of the baby becomes jaded by having to hold the baby
    all the time, and since she never let it get comfortable being
    alone in the crib it cries constantly. In a moment of sleep deprived rage she
    kills the baby by shaking him. We know the latter act is evil,
    however couldn’t we say that the act of codling the child was
    also evil since it led to the infants death?

    So here we see that not all good turns to evil, but all evil
    must come from some higher cause. There is not evil without
    some element of good for it to be imposed on. We do not see
    the steel clad warrior that storms a perfectly legal residence,
    slaying all the guards (whom only work for money not loyalty) and
    killing the master of the keep as a murderer if the one he
    kills committed a more heinous or wicked act himself. We see
    the one act as a balance of the other, a finding of justice.

    We all crave justice and a majority of us find our solutions in
    acting out, either passively or actively, that fight in media.
    Some kill demons, some kill dragons, some replay old wars lost
    to memory and dusty books. Why? We crave games that have us
    removing the head of traitor. All across the globe we have a sense
    of morality that seems to be rather universal. Some claim God,
    others claim DNA, others claim that it is all relative.

    There is no relative morality only variations of a greater morality.
    Yes there are cannibals, some societies eat dogs, and there are
    countries where it is okay to sexually abuse anyone female in your
    family and afterward cast them from your lives as unclean.

    However most people will admit that those things are sins wrapped
    in moralistically shady doctrines. In America we eat cows, however
    we do not eat horses. But we do eat meat and a vegan will tell you
    that is wrong. However the truth is that killing a dog is no more
    moralistically wrong than killing a cow as long as you do it for
    food. Evil begins in the heart.

    However we all know that you cannot rape your own wife or daughter
    and feel like everything is right with the world. That is why suddenly
    the victim is unclean, because the attacker is ashamed at his own
    handiwork.

    If you pick up a video game to “blow off some steam by killing a few
    zombies” all the while pretending that they are your coworkers that
    have given you a hard time all day, that in itself is an evil act.
    It shows the nature of your heart. However if you decide to let the
    villain go at the end of the game because you want to show mercy that
    is a good act. Yes it seems to have no real world impact and therefor feels as
    if it had not cost one way or the other. However, what we sow is what
    we reap and if we have practiced a heart of hate we reap hate. If we
    have practiced a heart of mercy we reap mercy. It is a very simple
    and not so unique doctrine. Or as many computer programmers will tell
    you-GIGO (GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT).

    Do I think that evil in a game is in itself overbearing? No, I think
    that to know the world better we must truly come to understand the
    workings of evil. Do I think that gives us leave to create a fake world
    and torture the innocents of that world to fulfill some dark desires of
    our own deranged mind. No. We have to realize that there are consequences
    of violence. We see that in every really good story where the hero must
    inflict violence to avenge the wrong. There is a real world cost to our
    minds and our emotions when we choose to act out of evil intent. Even
    if the evil is a video game. It is not the evil depicted in the story
    that should give us pause. It is the evil in our own hearts that should
    terrify us.

    • Drew
    • November 8th, 2010

    I have always felt that a great evil makes the game much more powerful. For instance, Final Fantasy VII would not have been the game it was without Sephiroth. I always somewhat sympathized with him, but that doesn’t make his actions excusable. A great villian makes for great heroes and a great game. Seems all the best rpg’s have the great villian. Sephiroth, Kefka, Magus, Saren, Luca Blight, the list goes on. Think about Final Fantasy XIII. The graphics were amazing, the combat was awesome, but the villian was basically unknown throughout the majority of the story, and felt totally tacked on in the end. You didn’t know why they were the bad guy, they just were.

    • Josh
    • November 13th, 2010

    I think that especially in Fantasy stories (which, let’s face it, a lot of RPGs are based around), evil is a necessity. Fantasy proceeds to ultimately always tell the ultimate story of good versus evil. All fantasy, by its nature, points to the ultimate battle between good and evil. In our fallen world, there is always gray areas that seep in and mar the lines, but, as fantasy reminds us, that doesn’t change the fact that there are pure evils worth fighting. It is no question whether Sauron, or Palpatine, or the Un-Man, or Jenova are evil. There is never a question if the side that the hero is fighting on is good. Sometimes the hero might start working for the bad guys, but soon realizes how evil it is and ends up fighting against it. I think that evil is needed in stories, as it reflects the fact that there is a true evil worth fighting against, and there is good worth fighting for. When I read fantasy stories, it excites me in the spiritual realm, because it reminds me that there is a mighty battle being fought every day for the souls of men, in which armies of light and darkness lay siege against each other, against powers, and against everything that sets itself up against the ultimate good, which, of course, is Christ. I think part of the purpose of evil in stories is to remind us that evil does exist, that it is worth fighting against, and we have been given power to do so.

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