The Recipe for the Perfect Video Game Villain

Everybody loves a villain, right?

Right. And since the dawn of gaming history, there have been some pretty amazing icons, characters that we’ve grown to both love and hate. From barrel throwing gorillas to modern day Russian terrorists, villains come in all shapes and sizes… but what truly makes a good villain?

Let’s throw a few names in the lava-tinged ring. GlaDos from Portal. Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3. Handsome Jack from Borderlands. Dr Nefarious from Ratchet and Clank. Anyone who’s played these games would know that villainous talents get little better than what these despicable visionaries offer. And yet, they really share very little in common. Sure, they all act as major adversaries to the protagonist, but they all do so in such different ways, and they all stick around in our mind long after we’ve finished the game. Why?

First: voice. It’s so important to get the voice right when portraying a menacing villain, and no doubt many high potential schemers have been pushed to one side in the past due to poor voice acting commissions. GlaDos is an excellent example; the witty dialogue is starkly contrasted by the deadpan, almost chilling robotic voice she has. You’d recognize her voice instantly, as with Dr Nefarious’ nasally, over-the-top screeching. Vass Montenegro’s insanity speech is rightfully given so much credit in Far Cry 3, but it’s hard to imagine the delivery being quite so perfect without Michael Mando’s brilliantly unnerving chords.

Yet voice alone does not a fantastic villain make; it must be combined with the perfect balance of dialogue to cement itself in our memory. Handsome Jack’s voice is that of an arrogant jerk, yet when combined with his somewhat amused attitude and penchant for insulting jokes at the player’s expense, he becomes an immediately enjoyable character whenever he hijacks your radio. The same goes for GlaDos – you know she lies, deceives, mocks, and despises you, but the combination of dialogue and deadpan tone means you can never quite be sure if she is using sarcasm, is starting to like you, or is just a bit bored with you. Villains like Handsome Jack, GlaDos and Andrew Ryan from Bioshock barely appear visually in their respective games, yet their intense likeability shows just how powerful the audio aspects of a villain can be.

Depth of character is an often overlooked aspect of making a good villain, and you’d be surprised at just how characteristically varied a lot of the top scoundrels are. We all know the cliché example: a good villain is one you can sympathise with, yet in today’s age, it seems this has almost been twisted on its head. Sure, some villains can be sympathized with and thus appreciated, like the Illusive Man from Mass Effect and even GlaDos, to an extent. But the best villains work well because they hammer into our evil side, the nature of our humanity we have to restrain.

Handsome Jack does have a point regarding his conquest to wipe Pandora clean of bandits, yet our sympathy comes from the inherently dark ways in which he aims to achieve this, as well as the arrogant mockery he uses in the believed inevitability of his victory. Let’s be honest, everyone wants to believe they’re the hero as much as him, right? And, of course, Dr Nefarious, despite having an unnerving desire to replace all flesh with circuitry, is born from years of bullying thanks to his nemesis, Quark. Nobody likes a bully, and anyone who has been targeted has no doubt had pretty dark thoughts of vengeance. Good villains don’t just make us appreciate their good sides, but also bring out our dark sides too. But, with that said, please don’t try to convert your school bully into a robot. It won’t end well.

Finally, a good villain has to have a memorable physical appearance. From GlaDos’ robotic structure to Nefarious’ domed cranium, Bowser’s spiked shell to Ganondorf’s looming, powerful stance, a villain will always be weak if players can’t pick out any standout physical traits. Would Resident Evil’s Albert Wesker have been quite so memorable if he wasn’t always donning those badass shades? Absolutely not! Would Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head been as terrifying without…well…his rusty pyramid head? No! And whilst physical appearance can be dwarfed by a powerful voice and thoughtful dialogue, a villain that takes a front and centre in cutscenes and action needs something to latch onto and appreciate, even if it’s just to send a chill down the player’s spine.

With so many brilliant villains in gaming, it’s impossible to mention them all, but you can bet that all the top-level miscreants have at least one of the above four traits to shout about. So put your red contact lenses in and practice your maniacal laughs: let’s show a little appreciation to the guys that always come out worse. We owe them that much.

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