Video game characters nowadays are given extensive personalities and backgrounds to add a generous amount of flavor to their games. Some you love, some you hate, some you hate to love, some you love to hate. But which type stimulates you the most?
Choosing which end of the morality spectrum is the most fun to play isn't a black and white decision. In fact, I would call this one of gaming's biggest grey areas. There are just so many variables to consider, as well as such a vast expanse of protagonists and antiheroes, that the argument could go on for an eternity. But don't worry, I'll keep it to a few hundred words.
Personally, Final Fantasy IV (II in America) was the first game that truly tugged at my heartstrings, hinting at the beautiful future that was in store for character development in video games. Cecil, the main character, starts as a dark knight and eventually becomes a paladin. Kain, his most loyal friend, turns on him at one point, but we find out his mind has been controlled by Golbez, the game's main antagonist. We see many shifts in attitude towards a variety of characters, and this is something the Final Fantasy series has always done well. But many other RPGs, and even games of other genres, have included their own diverse casts to keep the characters from growing stale and redundant.
But what about when it's a one-man show? In games like these, I think many of us tend to lean toward the dark side. You see, it's always been an unspoken rule that the good guy saves the day and everyone is happy. Blissful finales are clichéd by now, whether in books, movies, and video games. In that regard, feeding your internal demons by playing as the antagonist is particularly satisfying, satiating your appetite through fictional means (we hope). I'll admit, I like to dabble in the dark arts myself from time to time, as Johnny Cage always plays the unfortunate role of being my fatality victim whenever I'm practicing in Mortal Kombat.
But I guess fighting games are different, since there's generally a lack of substantive storyline where you can build empathy or disdain towards the characters. RPGs, adventures, and even action games and shooters nowadays give you a champion to develop in various ways to appeal to your own moral preferences. Thanks to the success of games like Fable, many heroes are given a blank slate, with the campaign shaping around the decisions you make as a player. Mass Effect is a popular series with a morality system, but with Shepard it's still about saving humanity—it's just about whether you do it as a big softy or as a complete jerk.
So, does the good guy always have to be jolly? Make him badass, but still give him a goal that doesn't send the world into oblivion. I mean, you wouldn't find Dante, Ryu, or Duke Nukem sitting around a table drinking tea and talking about soap operas, but they're still considered good guys for the most part.
I guess when you boil it down, it's less about which character type is more fun to play and more about how well-developed that character is. Good game designers and writers know how to create memorable characters, which is why we have stalwart defenders like Link, Gordon Freeman, and Master Chief, and diabolical deliverers of death like Psycho Mantis, Albert Wesker, and Sephiroth. Most antagonists are left in the control of the computer, designed as the ones you're pitted against in final showdowns. It would seem, then, that playable villains are doomed to be unlockable characters or quick-action choices, rather than the go-to guys for a lengthy campaign. Is this an issue with feeding the negative psyche too much? I don't know. I'm not a shrink, so I'll leave that conundrum for more qualified individuals to ponder.
What I do know is that there are good guys that I fight to keep alive, and others that I'd wish would get stabbed in the back. On the other side of the coin, there are villains I can't wait to turn into a pile of dust, and others I'd prefer to see ultimately win. I doubt anybody can say they exclusively enjoy playing as good guys or bad guys, but I'm pretty sure most of us would prefer playing a well-written character.
I'd love to hear which heroes and villains are your favorites to play, so load up the comments section below with your picks.
Date: May 31, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*