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Best Video Game Villains Ever

Aug 20, 2008
In years gone past video game villains were over the top caricatures of film villains. Often portrayed as a psychopath bent on world domination for whatever reasons, these villains would give the game a reason for being, you played the hero and you must save the world from the villain. As time has passed and the technology used for computer games has come on so too have the characterisation and portrayal of villains into something more akin to their film brethren. In this article I will take a look at some of my favourite video game villains and explain what made them so great.

The G-Man from the Half Life series of games is one of the most iconic villains ever to make an appearance in a game. He takes the appearance of a tall, thin man in a cheap suit, much like a government employee. His qualities are similar to that of the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files TV series. You're never quite sure of his motives, at times he directly helps you and at others he will hinder your progress. He can often be seen observing the players actions and will talk to you in a cryptic fashion.

Uncertainty is what makes the G-Man such a great villain. You're uncertain of his motives, his identity, his allegiances, his power and whether or not he is human. He gives the player numerous Hobson's choices, where you must decide between two seemingly unfavourable options. He remains perfectly calm in times of seemingly high danger so you're left wondering if all that goes on is entirely down to his plans. Even after two full games and many expansions you're still left with very little information about the G-Man, and it is this sense of foreboding and uncertainty that makes him such a great character.

A completely unemotional AI is always an engaging villain, just see films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Matrix as examples. The thought of an entity that has absolutely no remorse or mercy can be genuinely scary, and when Valve added a dash of dark humour to their incarnation in 2007 they created an instant classic. GLaDOS was the star of Portal. A sentient AI that seemed genuinely unhinged she would constantly tease you throughout the course of the game. She provided a slew of memorable quotations and an unforgettable final battle. While not intrinsically evil it shows that computer villains can be extremely effective in a cold, heartless way. They don't hate you, they're just doing their job, and if that means burning you to a crisp, then so be it.

Another classic villain archetype is that of the fallen hero. Probably the greatest use of this example is in the Star Wars series of films where Anakin Skywalker is corrupted and becomes Darth Vader, a complete transformation from the ultimate good guy to one of the most notorious villains of all time. In Warcraft 3, the character of Arthas suffered a similar fate. Once held up as the perfect hero he becomes corrupted by power and becomes the leader of what was once his enemy. He even leads armies against his former home and kills his father. The sight of one destroying what he once looked to protect was also used in Star Wars, and has significantly more impact that some motiveless villain doing it out of spite.

Of course, no video game would be complete without the ultimate in virtual villains - other players. If you thought that the bosses you faced in Resident Evil were bad then think again, they're nothing compared to what players will do to you. The anonymity of the Internet creates an interesting environment where no one is accountable for their actions. Because of this people are basically free to act as they wish, and so will use every advantage, cheat, exploit and hack they can get their hands on. You'll encounter a surprising amount of devious cunning when multiplayer competition is involved and certainly other players are the 'villain' that have had me wanting to throw my keyboard out of the window more than any other.

There are, of course, many more great villains that this but I feel that these represent some of the more successful ones in crossing that barrier between film and games in presenting more believable characters with some amount of depth to them. As the technology reaches a point of near realism game designers will have to work harder to create great games and so I'm sure more time will go into characterisation. This should lead to some classic villains in the future, and I look forward to what comes next.
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