My special villain power today is the power of run-on sentences much like the ones you'll find below. Sentences that continue for too long, strings of words for which there are no periods inserted into the gaps between them. I am Mojo Jojo!
It struck me that there is a bit of confusion in the forums about the role people want to play in video games. Lately, playing as a villain has been getting more common. Not necessarily playing a villain, but playing your character as if he were one. Killing off the citizenry, for example.
This rise in villainy is mostly because the simulations have finally become advanced enough to give us the freedom to exterminate everything that moves... without the accompanying freedom to build. This is not a fundamental change in the preference of players, just in the capability of the games.
In truth, the only real demand people have for a role in a game is a simple one: something that gives them a taste of a life they do not have. If they are allowed to, they will experiment with every kind of life they find unusual. At least, until they get queasy.
At the moment, I think playing a villain is "in" for two reasons. One: until recently, you weren't given much chance to. So it's a sharp contrast from the usual fare, and therefore more interesting. Two: being evil is always a slippery slope.
In a set of games where you can be good or evil, chances are you'll try each. Maybe not in the same game, but you'll contrast, in your mind, the "prize" for being good and the "prize" for being evil.
Every time you're evil, you're rewarded. With loot, with a sharp reaction from the simulation, with the chance to play a new minigame called "kill the cops". Every time you're good, the game doesn't even notice.
This is largely true to life. Being nice out on the street gets a whole lot less attention than a shooting in the middle of downtown. Obviously, games build off of that. But that means that the interesting short-term thing to do is to be evil. And games can't do the other half of the equation very well.
Let me see if I can explain.
"Evil" is a very relative term. I generally play through a good game twice, and once will be mostly me slaughtering innocents and stealing everything. This is because they are nameless, faceless hordes. As soon as someone starts putting some humanizing features on the faceless hordes, I can't do it any more. Instead, I want to interact positively, build a useful relationship. Suddenly, I expect the simulation to allow me to build, rather than destroy. It never does, unfortunately, which really pisses me off.
For example, in any KoToR game, I can't be evil for two reasons. First, the evil is a twelve-year-old's idiot evil, rather than the more sophisticated kinds of evil I would prefer. Second, I don't trust the villains. If I ally myself with the good guys, I expect they will hold to their side of the bargain and even rescue me if I need rescuing. The evil side? They're as likely to shoot me as pay me, and they certainly won't raise a finger to back me up later.
It turns out that the KoToR games don't think that way, and most of the evil people are as trustworthy as the good people, and nobody ever backs you up. But that's a weakness in their simulation - in real life, it holds true. And that's what I bring to the game.
Similarly, in Oblivion, the people all have faces full of personality. Although I'm not fond of the fact that half their faces look identical and they only have three voice actors, that doesn't keep me from getting upset whenever I accidentally stumble into a bandit camp and are forced to kill people who look unique enough that I would have liked to have talked with them.
In these games, the world is getting deep enough that the simulation can't keep up. There's simply no reward for being good, and a reward every time you are evil. I can't let go of my wish to build rather than destroy, but obviously I'm not in the majority. The majority of players gravitate to where the simulation is deepest.
The simulation is deepest at the "evil" side. For the moment. That means that evil is the play style of choice. For the moment.
At least, that's what I think. Any other opinions?