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The Case for Jim Henson

Who are your enemies? Is it only that they are bad? Does that one over there have a name?

I was horrified talking to a younger game designer when I discovered she had never heard of Jim Henson. The muppets, she knew them; but not Henson. Who knew thirty could feel so old?


I love storytellers like Henson who give us bad-bad guys. Evil characters that are still failures, or awkward, or uncomfortable. I was watching "The Dark Crystal" recently on Netflix looking for creative inspiration. In the movie, a race of evil vulture-lizard-like creatures called the Skeksis are portrayed as the ugly, vicious rulers of a subjugated land. In contrast to the wonderful but boring Mystics, the Skeksis squabble and fight.


Early on we're shown two of the Skeksis, one of whom has a high-pitched, comedic wheeze. Unlike other movies where he'd immediately be relegated to joke, he instead vies for the evil throne, and has others' support. But he fails, and is cast down, and ends up sowing chaos from afar. 


The Skeksis


That Skeksis has bad intentions, and yet I sympathize with him. Even better, the movie respects him. I remember first playing Max Payne and the conversations between the enemies, as you waited just round the corner. That was an important step, and amazing at the time.


In Skyrim, every time I approached one of those dangerous raider camps, I always, ALWAYS thought this might be the time I could talk and join in and get to understand those characters. That made Skyrim incredibly deep, and slightly frustrating that they didn't support this ambition. The behaviors governing movement and basic AI seem to be very similar to those governing characters in friendly villages. That meant that characters made the same weird movement glitches and mistakes as my allies. (Is this true again for Fallout 4?)


The epic comic Bone has two evil creatures that are the primary comic relief. They are failures, they are afraid, but they still want to eat anything, whether that be good characters or quiche. They struggle with their own fate, and how it defines them.



I talked with someone earlier this year about drug addiction, and I used the term "addict". The person responded saying she never liked to use the noun form to describe people. By saying they're "addicted", not an "addict", she tries to remove that identity being intrinsic to that person. 


Her words have stuck with me. The term "addict" reduces that individual to such a simple definition, and likewise, reducing someone who polices to "cop" doesn't give them a chance to be more integral to the community, instead they become a form of government restriction. I'll admit I still use "cop", but it really does make it harder for that man or woman to escape all the good and bad that career defines.


No one is simple. And it's particularly hard to see the complexity of those we oppose.


Garthim and Mystics


Can you justify your evil characters? Can you justify the enemies in your game? I'm building a game now that has evil creatures threatening a little girl. And what those evil creatures mean, I'm not entirely sure right now. I think Jim Henson would be fine if I just said they were evil creatures, but I bet he'd ask some questions. He'd want to know a little bit more about that one baddie there. Because they're not all faceless enemies, I don't think.


Some of the Skeksis, or the cute little goblins in Labyrinth, they are contrasted with darker, more insidious evils in the narrative. Whether that be the soulless crab soldiers in the Dark Crystal, or the ruthless Skeksis emperor. But some of them are just me on the other side of the coin. It's uncomfortable to acknowledge how close our intentions are to those we oppose, but we've got to if we want to find the balance.

Randy is an independent developer. He has been involved with such wonderful projects as Escape Goat 2, Waking Mars, and the Spider games. He also develops his own games, including a board game called Scoundrels.

He's on twittertumblr, and his own site.
 He's working on a couple things he can't wait to show y'all.


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