Villainy in the 21st Century

How Games Need to Re-Think Good and Evil


Kurtz (Heart of Darkness), the surveillance state (1984), Mr. Hyde (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), and the monster (Dr. Frakenstein): all are nuanced antagonistic forces that propel their respective narratives in order to address social and ethical issues. Compare that with an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, a planet approaching ecological disaster, an economy ever-reliant on dangerous loans and non-renewable resources, and you have to wonder: where are the quintessentially 21st century villains?

If we look critically at games like BioShock: Infinite, Spec Ops: The Line, and Far Cry 3, we find over-simplified villains that subscribe to racism, brutality, and violence for no other reason than their power-mad, amoral natures. In fact, videogames, perhaps more than any other mainstream medium, rely heavily on unmitigated evil and this leaves us unprepared  for the morally grey world in which we live. We have reached a point where violent games are critical of their approach to villainy but they are struggling to take the next step. That next step is to embrace a critique of violence into the very mechanics of the game, which will require a re-thinking of the villain and the hero as just violent forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and instead portray them as competing systems or ideologies.

Here to debate this issue are Jason Hawreliak (Essays Editor), Michael Hancock (Book Reviews Editor), and Steve Wilcox (Editor-in-Chief).

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