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The Bad Guy In Video Games -- Why So Much More Interesting?

The player-characters (avatars) in video games tend to be similar and predictable, while the bosses and bad guys range widely across types and temperaments. In short, the bad guys are more interesting. Here are a few ideas why that may be so.

Part of it, I think, is inherent in the media. The player-character tends to be relatively generic; often either a voiceless cypher (Gordon Freeman, Master Chief) or a relatively unimaginative remodeling of the wise/tough guy that we have known and loved from Bogart's Rick to Ford's Indiana. The player needs to identify strongly with the main characters, want what they want, and love them enough to endure tens of hours of their trials and tribulations.

Too much "character" in the main character can turn off players; not everyone wants to walk in the shoes of a metrosexual angst-ridden teenager with a gravitationally impossible hairdo (yes, I am talking about Japanese RPG's).

So I think that both writers and designers play it safe with the main character. Easy to like, based on well-known and well-loved stereotypes, a comfortable pair of shoes to put on.

So where do you get to be crazy and creative? The bad guy. You get to make him as offensive, outrageous, irresponsible, unbalanced, and crazy as you want. He can be over-the-top sexy when the main hero can't, outrageously flamboyant when the hero is tough and restrained, insulting and offensive when the hero has to be cool and/or supportive.

So why do we make evil sexy? Because we don't want to put too much in the player-character and risk alienating the player. I have been told by Creative Directors, on games from historical RTS to fantasy strategy to action/shooters to casual, that they want the hero to sound like Indiana Jones. Even James Bond has too much character for us.

But the bad guy... get as far-fetched as you want, make him as manic as you wish. There is no risk, only reward.

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