Do you play evil characters in RPGs?

The problem of evil has vexed philosophers for centuries. But fortunately, we now have a solution! I call it Sim Evil, or alternatively, “What happens if I pick the evil options in RPGs?” You can practice being evil in your own little world and see what happens.

And the answer is … nothing much really. You still get to save the world/ grow the kingdom/ max out your gold in the auction house and you probably also get all the best lines. Yet, some of us still are reluctant to play as evil in games, even when it may be advantageous and certainly has no drawbacks.

With that in mind, I love the way Bioware has moved away from good/evil and towards diplomatic/ blunt/ sarcastic on their choice wheel in Dragon Age 2. You can still do plenty of evil things, such as knifing random criminals personally instead of turning them over to the town guard for justice (note: this would probably be considered evil if more people did it iRL, in games it’s par for the course.) Yet your capacity for being a real evil mastermind is very limited – it’s more of an on rails game than a city simulation. You can’t just decide to leave the mages and templars to murder each other while you go off and become a crime lord/ lady. There are limits on how good you could be also, no pacifism in computer RPGs!

But there are genre conventions to be observed. And that’s genuinely more important for good storytelling than unlimited character options.

So imagine my new kingdom in Sims Medieval  (once I had gotten some help from the twitterati in doing the first tutorial quest, thanks all!). As soon as I decided that I’d go with an evil sorceress-type queen, things suddenly got far more interesting.

Her traits are Vain, Scholarly and (naturally) Evil. Her throneroom is decorated in an evilly magic way. When she isn’t busy, she goes to the castle library to read maniacal books which seem to mostly be about tentacled monsters (I missed a trick in not naming my kingdom Innsmouth, really). And she is always extremely horrible to the good priest.

If there was any justice or proper storytelling in the game, the good priest would be constantly warning her about her evil ways and eventually a huge seamonster would probably come and eat her, and drown her kingdom. But because it’s a computer game, none of that will happen and she’ll probably be really successful.

But in my mind, the good priest will be right in the end. I like playing evil characters, but that doesn’t mean I always want them to win.

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27 thoughts on “Do you play evil characters in RPGs?

  1. Very few games allow you to be actually EVIL evil – as you say, even the “evil” choices still end up serving the greater good in most RPG plotlines. There’s always Dungeon Keeper for a bit of pantomime villainy, of course…

    On the other hand, free for all PvP MMOGs, however, almost encourage some players to act like murderous sociopaths. And I could argue that the worst excesses of PuG behaviour in dungeons (the intolerance, the use of others as tools to get the shiny rewards) seem pretty much like evil behaviour to me.

    So in conclusion – not many games are designed to let you be evil. However, given the freedom to do so, there seem to be plenty of players who naturally act evil. I’m trying very hard not to conclude with “people suck”!

  2. ..but the evil sorceress’ prosperity is limited to what the good character could achieve as well. The overall story is always the same, and the only things that change are details. Do you live in Megaton or Tenpenny Towers? Do you get snubbed by human or alien councilors? Is your lightsaber blue or red? That’s not good and evil, that’s flavor.

  3. City of Villains worked quite well…having been a hero for years, your new villainous character got to tear up Paragon City, smashing cars and robbing banks.

    But it was billed as a seperate game (And I think you could actually play CoV without CoH).

  4. You forget Fallout: New Vegas which has some truely evil options :D
    Like choosing the Cannibal Perk lets you eat fallen Humanoid corpses, but if anyone sees you doing it you’re considered an abomination.
    Not only that, but there’s a sub-perk where if you eat the four faction leaders, Caeser, NCR President, The King and Mr House you get a bonus perk that gives you temporary + stats buff every time you canibalise anyone. The downside is your plot options have become very limited.

  5. I played renegade Shepard once, but that wasn’t that evil, maybe a bit ruthless. However, I don’t think truly evil game can have a market success. People want to play as someone better then them.

  6. [i]Yet, some of us still are reluctant to play as evil in games, even when it may be advantageous and certainly has no drawbacks.[/i]
    huh? maybe i’m stuck but the last time i ever saw a good/evil side were in baldurs gate 2 and fable. at least my impression is the complete opposite: you don’t gain anything by being ‘evil’, except that shop keepers might not sell anything (or more expensive) and some fractions attack you on sight.
    => there are no advantages of being evil in games. you don’t get more treasure, no great talents (, yadayada) for butchering the farmers that bothered you with finding their lost lambs and didn’t pay up.

    • This is going to depend on how you define evil, and doing evil things.

      It’s fairly standard in CRPGs for PCs to ignore the law, kill massive numbers of sentients, steal anything that isn’t nailed down, etc. And you could define evil as being ruthlessly pragmatic and that’d include the standard way people play MMOs as well. This is because ‘ruthlessly pragmatic’ is just the way keen gamers play any game.

      It’s only when your game involves roleplaying/ virtual world that you might wonder whether what you do to be more effective in game could be good or evil. Especially when it regularly involves theft, murder, etc.

      It’s just that some games label their good/ evil options very obviously and more modern CRPGs tend to balance the games so that whatever you pick, the player gets to win in the end. Like you say, in games like the Ultima series and BG, stealing meant that eventually the town guard would come after you. But that was old school. And modern RPGs are more about the story.

  7. I always start to play the Angel of Death and Destruction, but end up playing the Angel of Mercy and Moderation…

    No, really. Very often I just decide to go the way of being evil, nasty and ‘despicable me’, but I find it to be very unwelcoming, alien and not fun to play.

    I agree totally with Hirvox up there, that the evil in Sims for example is just a flavour: you don’t see the people around you suffer – nor do you cause any real pain and suffering around you – nor you can do anything really nasty, evil and gross in the game.

    It might work it it was possible to instill fear in the denizens. Fear and surprise. Surprise and fear.

    And ruthless efficiency.

    Evil in MMO’s can best be described as a ganker in a sandbox. How many of us can really say they are good enough to play the way a ganker does?

    Then again, how many of us would be ready to put up against a ganker to save others from ganking?

    C out

  8. Maybe the priest is afraid to say anything because she is the queen? Not that it would be historically accurate of him to keep quiet since many rulers were the pawns of one church or another.

    I made an evil scientist in Sims 3 and he was a lot of fun. I also made a helper for him whose only desire was to appease the scientist. I made her both insane and madly in love with him so that he would be her goal, but made him so he was unable to love or have any feelings of empathy. She chased him and did whatever she thought would please him (cook and clean basically) while he focused on being an evil scientist.

    As for MMO’s, I just can’t see any fellow player, regardless of faction, as evil (PvE or RP-wise).

  9. It’s pointed out that standard gameplay assumes some evil (the killing of NPCs and looting corpses), it’s not surprising that games don’t support “good” choices, too. It’s impossible for some races in WoW to get out of their starting area when you attempt a “pacificist” approach.

    • I guess it depends on your definition of evil. Standard gameplay such as using violence and looting is “not nice” by 21st century Judaeo-Christian middle class standards, but the violence is seen as a right and proper response to a threat by the mores of other cultures (such as your typical pseudo-medieval fantasy world) and looting is justly taking the spoils of war. You can’t get very far in WoW as Gandhi, but you would do just fine as Lancelot.

      Out and out evil such as massacring noncombatants or inflicting pain and suffering for fun and/or profit is a lot rarer in gameplay… probably for good reasons.

      • One thing I have noticed (back in MUSHes) is that players seem to think that killing anything/ anyone that annoys them is a valid and appropriate response. An NPC that was rude is fair game if it’s killable, for example.

  10. I don’t care for *playing* an evil character, but I do write evil characters when I write my own fiction and game stories, simply as, erm… necessary evils.

    • I have a hunch that this kind of thinking is behind many of the lackluster portayals of evil. If the evil character’s only purpose in the story is to provide a conflict for the good guys, you don’t necessarily need to dot every i if the spotlight is kept on the heroes. But when you switch the spotlight to the villain all of the flaws become clear as day.

      • I don’t know if anyone has seen Megamind but I’m reminded a bit of the main character’s dilemma in that. Being evil tends to require something good as a foil — well, supervillain style evil, anyway, RL evil can easily happen just from people not being bothered to stop it, rather than specifically by design.

      • Oh, sure, if you’re going to write something with the express purpose of exploring evil, you should focus on it. I just have no use for that sort of thing. *shrug*

  11. I always play the evil side, or as close as i can get to be being evil in the game.

    Every good story needs a villian :)

  12. Actually when I played Age of Conan it was very easy to play very evil people, especially on PVP servers. You never knew who was gunning for you. I played on an RP PvP server and my assasin there was out for hire, to kill people. Nothing less than the highest coin for that one. It wasn’t just to go out randomly killing people. Another player from AOC was from Murder Herd. People hated his crew because he wouldn’t care about your level. He simply killed you, unless….you gave up a pair of pants or some coin or both…yes I said pants. It made for some pretty funny episodes. Check them out, they were evil. But really, evil characters in standardized mmo’s are hard to comprehend. In an open world pvp world, I can see it, especially if they are good at RP and not just gankstas. Just a thought.

  13. Also:-

    What is evil?

    Is it evil to kill anyone of certain race found within the borders of your country?
    Most people would say Yes!
    What about a certain species?
    My mother would argue the proposed cull the ‘Ruddy Ducks’ across the Uk is an act of evil. I doubt many readers here would are with her. But what if instead of Ducks it was Orcs, or Dark Spawn or Gnomes. Most game players would be okay with that.

    Most ‘evil’ people consider themselves good or ‘serving the greater good’ unless they’re actualy mentaly ill…..

    Personaly I find the options for ‘evil’ so insipid and often so _stupid_ that unless its a game like Dungeon Keeper I end up playing a good guy…even in Fallout where I could be Hannibal Lector II

  14. Pingback: Quickie: Nope « Procrastination Amplification

      • I think John Walker completely gets it and kudos to Bioware for allowing players to take that route. My impression of their Dragon Age and Mass Effect series is that they have moved away from evil as a choice to “Forceful” or “Renegade.” Perhaps they needed to do this for their storytelling (the Blight had to be vanquished, etc.) but I was glad that Bioware allowed me to be [constantly mortified and] a bastard of the Old Republic.

  15. No, I don’t. I’ve never wanted to, and never tried to. In my Pen and Paper RPGs I forbid evil characters, sometimes to the chagrin of my players. When a player is being particularly evil, I take note and make sure a fair and just response happens eventually.

    I’m well aware that some people play games to escape the reality of their situation. Sometimes the powerless of the real world suddenly find themselves in a position of power in game and aren’t up to the task of being a good leader. Instead, they abuse “weaker” players (whatever that means in any given circumstance).

    I’ve never ganked someone in WoW. I’ve rarely started an equivalent-level pvp fight. About the only time I’ll attack unprovoked, in fact, is if I know the person has been griefing others.

    Say what you will, but I play these games to extend my personality in a direction I wish it could be extended in the real world. I try to do the right thing, be honest and direct, and whatnot in the real world, but often to little or no avail (in fact usually I’m told I’m not being a “team player). In the game, at least I can feel in character, behaving heroically against overwhelming odds.

    So no, I don’t.

  16. The definition of Evil is varied and “pacifism” is far older than Gandhi. We are given a set of standards supported by the game while others are not.

    Maybe it’s that we can’t play a St. Francis and avoid killing neutral critters and spend our time picking herbs.

    WoW happens to do well in supporting “Do Unto Others”. It’s possible to play a character that never makes the first strike, thanks to proximity aggro.

  17. Having been a DM since AD&D I have both masteered and played Good and Evil Campaigns, I have to say that mental maturity is an important factor when playing\engineering evil campaigns,

    I see the chance of play evil as a way to break up with the flow that forces you to play in the good side always, but it is always practical evil for me.

    For me being evil is taking advantage of all the possibilities that would allow my “hero\heroine” end up in a possition of power after the conflict is done, I always tend more towards “realism” in interpretation than “idealism”, if the Alienage is attacked by the Darkspawn and me sending more forces would spread my defenses tight but help the elves who I as human consider barely sentinent animals I would not move a finger, is just what we do over and over thorough history.

    Because I am forced more often than not to play always good in videogames, given the choice I choose the refreshing bit, I try my hardest to play different characters everytime so I could experience different sensations every time, if we had more games in which villany were forced down our throats I would probably play more paladin types more often but…we aren’t, so…

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