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.