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Roleplaying evil characters

So, I almost never play evil characters in most CRPGs - despite the potential fun to be had - and recently I've been thinking about why.

I mean, lawful good is the most boring alignment, evil NPCs can be an absolute hoot (exhibit A: Astarion), stealth murdering villagers for lulz can be entertaining, so why am I always such a freaking goody-two-shoes when it comes to actual plot decisions?

I think a lot of it comes down to lame and crudely-drawn motivations for the evil option in each case.

Your options in most games always seem to boil down to callous, greedy or spiteful: haha no / fuck you pay me / I just blinded your child lol.

And those just aren't satisfying. Especially when you're starting out and forming your character's persona and network, you're pretty much powerless, dumped in a situation where you're casting around for allies and can't afford to burn your bridges.

Running around just randomly being mean to folk like some poster child for Troubled Youth and the need to be Tough On Crime is just... stupid. There's some crude sadism there, and there's some crude avarice, it gets you minor short term benefits but no long-term ones, it gets you hated but not feared, without any real sense of control. Everyone dies or gets led off in chains with big sad eyes, and there's always the strong implication that you failed.

It just feels like a heavy-handed morality lesson where all the bad people are thugs, arseholes and/or developmentally challenged. Apart from being not much fun to play, it's kind of erasing the harm presented by smarter, more insidious kinds of evil.

Being a good guy gets you willing allies, is about personal validation, and feels like success. It gets you the generosity of the people you help, but that's a bonus on top the fundamental win of making the world a shinier better place.

By the same token, being an evil bastard should get you unwilling allies, it should be about power, and it should feel like winning. It gets you benefits you did not earn, but that should be a bonus on top of the fundamental win of tightening the screws on people. That's the actual payoff, but it seems to be the one they always miss.

I think evil playthroughs could be a lot more fun if you had better ways to be evil: blackmail, extortion, sneaky betrayal and brutal revenge. Not ODD, in other words, but NPD. Control, leverage, perfidy. Locking your victims down so they have no choice but to help you, or deceiving them into working against their own interests. Either keep a tight rein on your PR - or let them hate, so long as they also fear.

And another BG3 example: I think the nature of the shadow curse was a misstep, what with the all the grotesque madness and putrid corruption that surrounded it. I think it would have been far more effective as psychological horror, morally corrupt but reeking of purity, so shadowheart would have had believable reasons for wanting to join the gothstapo, and the player could plausibly be sold on it despite everything. But instead the lesson seemed to be that evil is yucky and broken and ew don't get it on you, and that just feels like a missed opportunity to me.

What say you?

Am I an outlier in this? Do the typical offerings feel satisfying to you? Are there games that do relatable, enjoyable evil especially well?


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  • I don't know how seriously to take this kind of discussion sometimes. I can rationalize that a person can do awful things to people in a fictional setting and it's not a commentary of who they are as a person. On the other hand I cannot escape the feeling that I am replying to a genuine sadistic monster, based on everything you just said in this post. Forget all of that. Unnecessary commentary when there's a point I want to make.

    There's a crucial difference in video games vs more free-form varieties like TTRPGs: You're on The Rails. Video game RPGs are almost always on the rails. There's no real sandbox game anywhere. Like there are good attempts, but at the end of the day, any game has programmed expectations for your inputs and what it can output. Video games can't possibly fathom how deeply evil you could actually get. It would be a developmental and technological nightmare to try programming in all of your awful choices and how they could spiral the narrative. They have to do their best within the limitations of how much could possibly fit in a game. And I'm assuming the game companies also have to take into account the ratings system, and PR. Even if you could play the game any way you want, good AND bad choices, you're going to get odd looks from people if they know the game allows you to sexually abuse NPCs, or enslave people through extortion. You know what I'm getting at? The real limitation isn't the technology, even though that's already a big one. Even in virtual, completely fictional settings, being allowed to play that shit out is wholly monstrous. And I can't imagine the toll it would take on designers who would be tasked to write it.

    So if you really want all of that and accept the risks, make your own CRPG where you can go all out on Evil. Being critical of developers and designers for not being willing to go as far as your twisted mind can go in a video game is a wild take. Go play in an evil TTRPG campaign if you want to get those kicks. It's way easier.

    • There are many kinds of evil, and also the morally gray. Evil doesn't have to be evil just for the sake of it.

      At the end of the day, these kinds of videogames tell stories, and a story full with nonsensical evil will only appeal to those freaks you talked about. In the other hand, if it is handled correctly, the story will appeal to a much broader audience. As an example, at the end of The Last Of Us (the show, idk about the game), the main character refuses to save the world because it would mean the death of the only family he had left, and massacres a lot of people in a mix of survival instinct and paternalistic rage. It is horrible from a moral perspective yet it is a good, engaging story.

      I feel like, in the same sense, a character with impenetrable morality and no conflict would not be very entertaining to read/watch/play.

      As for the workload, I'd rather they didn't give me the option to be evil if the story is going to be bad. The devs themselves choose to make different paths, so at least have them be equally fun. (I'm not getting into pressures from above for "branching narratives" or any other marketable terms. Replace devs with "studios" if you wish.)