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Trapper Zoid

The Villain's Journey: The Birth of a Villain

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The Villain's Journey: The Birth of a Villain I've been thinking about the RPG-styled stories that my present game design is based on, and I'd like part of it to be based around the lives of villains. However, this brings me to an impasse; there aren't many stories about villains. Sure, the actions of the villains as they try to stop the heroes are documented in present stories, but that is an incomplete picture. What I'm presently wondering is: what are some good ways that villains are created? Why does a character decide that he or she wants to be a villain? Or are they born that way? Most of the stories and story theory I have read are based around the hero (or heroes). Some heroes are born, pawns of prophecy like Hercules, Achilles and Harry Potter, some heroes are made, the lowly peasant boy who decides to have a life of adventure, or rescue his kidnapped sister. However, the creation of villains is usually not present in stories. Sure, there are a few anti-heroes, but they seem to be a slightly different breed from the standard villains. The creation of super-villains is usually present in comics, but that's slightly different from RPGs (and often these super-villains were villains to begin with). Are villains made in the same way that heroes are; pawns of prophecy: born to be evil, or potential heroes who failed their tests and trials of heroism? So my question is, what do you think are some good ways for a character to be born or to become a villain, and how do these ways differ from the ways that heroes are born/made? Any creative input welcome! Thanks in advance

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I think there are 3 types of villains.

The proud ones. Persons who think they have a lot of talents (true or self deluded) and they feel they are repressed by the current system. They do not believe in the current system and turn to other means to achieve their goals. These are usually the final bosses, masterminds and sometimes not really evil.

The outcasts. brutes, violent people who are molded by society, the environment to become what they are. Call a man a dog long enough and don't be surprised if he becomes one. Having a birth defect, being bullied all their lives, not knowing how to fit in society can turn a person into a villain. These are the henchmen, sub bosses.

Loonies. Insane, no real concept of right and wrong. kefka. [grin]


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Guest Anonymous Poster
I like the idea of a fallen/failed hero...
Also, don't know if you'd count this as a "villain", but someone who thinks they're doing the right thing, or trying to protect something they love.

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I like the idea of fallen heroes too, but I'm not really interested in a catalog of villain types here (well, I am interesting in cataloging villain types, but that's not what I started this thread for! [smile])

What I'm interested in is ways that a character starts down the path to villainy.

As far as I can see, there's two approaches that are used in the stories that I've read:

1. Born a villain; evil runs in their veins. These types of villains have always been bad, so it's no wonder they turn to being bad. Fairly straight-forward

2. Made a villain; something in their lives turned them into a bad guy. This is more interesting, as there has to be a reason. Cursed by an evil spirit? Abused by society? Misplaced sense of honour?

Edit: Maybe I should make myself a little bit clearer about my motivations: in my game design I want to make characters that turn into heroes also have the potential, if pushed the wrong way, to turn into villains. I'd like a few good ways for characters to turn into villains to consider so I can factor that into the design.

Also, if anyone can come up with a good word that can refer to both heroes and villains (I think of them as being different sides of the same coin, so to speak), then I'd be grateful, as I need some good terminology for my game design so it doesn't get too confusing.

end edit


I guess what I'm asking are for some good reasons for a bad guy to have decided to be bad, rather than good or indifferent.

[Edited by - Trapper Zoid on August 8, 2005 1:38:32 AM]

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One character that is very difficult to catamlog is Frank Castle, aka The Punisher.

His methods (blow everything and everyone to tiny bits that even FBI's technology won't be able to make out) are not a Hero's. But his goal (get the planet, or at least this country rid of all the wrong doers everywhere) is a hero's. Then how can you define what he is?

By his personal history? His family (wife and daughter) got killed by a mafia gangster while he was on duty. He then turned mad out of anger at any mafia boy, and decided to, in a manner of speaking, "spread the shit as wide as possible. With a shovel if needed."

The methods, the looks, the actions, and the talk, everything in him point to a baddy. But he really is a man trapped in his anger. If you want to create such a character, then create a situation in which anger can be pent up to impossible heights. In ancient japan, the samuraïs knew that when dishonoured or when having lost everything, the rightful path was to disembowel oneself. He chose to disembowel everyone else instead.

Now please consider the path of Peter the Hegemon in Orson Scott Card's Ender saga. He is a child who went mad. In fact, not mad, but merely bad out of interest. He is an extremely brilliant child, with a brain that could figure out space travel course while not out of kindergarden. he got bored, and turned to cruelty towards animals as a passtime, because he wanted to understand the way life works. He was simply completely devoid of moral standards, that being because he could not find anybody to measure himself against. Then came his sister and brother, and he found people he could compete with, but the previous taste for physical violence, and absence of moral standards made him go the mad way. And he became a crazed teenager, believing as hard as his young certainty for being one of the three most intelligent beings on this planet could assert, aiming for world domination through sheer brains. Which he succceeded, through using his sister and brother.

Please bear in mind that every character, be they good or bad, have personal hgistory and motives, and that each should match the other. If you've had a bad personal infancy where you got beaten, you may find it in yourself to become the one who beats the other, in order to stop the fear that you may be beaten again. You may decide to rip the throats of all the people smiling in a particular way around you, because you have a bad memory of someone smirking while you peed in your pants in the middle of kindergarden grounds when three, and the only thing you remember is the smile and the smirk and the tauntings, driving you mad. You may cower before women because you had a mother that abused you when a child, and unleash the brute strength you've built during your life on males, because you don't dare look at women, because they all make you think of your mother, and terrorize you. You are merely trying to show your mother that you have become a strong man not afraid of anything nor of anyone, but you're still a little boy dreading the moment his mother will come nightly in his room completely drunken, and begin to fumble under his sheets, while laughing stupidly.

Remember that most of the extremely violent people have become so because they found this an easy solution to overcome some fear at one point. Those that allow themselves to become soft have never been afraid of anything.

But you might also find the rich and bored and brilliant family son who's got too much time on his hands, and too few real friends to keep him out of trouble? Or the very ambitious mister nobody, who suddendly decides he should kill silently every other people who seeks the same job as himself, in order to keep providing food to his family.

Villains are often desperate to gather either recognition, or fame, or love, or get rid of some fear, and are ready to use just any mean to attain their goal. this is this very lack of moral standards that sets them apart from the heroes...

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I guess the question is how much of difference there is between the villain (say the typical caped bad guy in RPG that wants to rule/destroy the world), and the dark hero or antihero such as Batman or The Punisher. I think that the dark hero is still a "hero", distinguishable from villains, as they still have enough of the properties of a hero to qualify as them. I guess they could be considered the bridge between villains and heroes.

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I think the major difference between a villain and a hero is that villains will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Anti heroes, while not following the usual rules of good conduct, still have limits which they will not cross. Heroes also take the risk upon themselves to achieve their goals. Villains do not generally take risks and hire other people (which they consider to be disposable) to further their goals.

I considered anakin a villain when he decided to kill innocents to fulfill his goals. And vader became a hero once again when he sacrified himself to kill the emperor.

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I suppose that is a good deliminating factor between the villains and the antiheroes; the antiheroes still have a moral code of sorts.

But to get this back on topic, why would a character lose their sense of moral code, and be prepared to do anything to get what they want? Should a character just be "born that way", or should there be something event in their history that causes them to become a villain? And if so, what are some good examples of events that would force a character to fall from grace and become evil/amoral?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I dont think the question is so much about moral or immoral, as such... moral and immoral are comparitive terms, just as good and evil are.

To use the example of the current political climate (without making any judgement calls, I wont comment on who I think is right or wrong)... the Western leaders are all working very hard to brand terrorists as evil and immoral, for reasons that are easily seen by most people in western cultures. And in a storyline written by a western writer, terrorists could easily be concieved and portrayed as a villian.
However, in other countries, the western leaders themselves are seen as evil and immoral, due to what are seen as attempts to force their beliefs and values upon a culture in which they arent acceptable.

Therefore, the question is not "what caused them to become immoral?" Rather, it should be viewed more objectively - "what caused their value system to be different to the people around them?"

And the answers are fairly easy, too, I think. Some of the ones I can think of:

- Upbringing. Their values were instilled by someone/something which was not a part of the society they are currently in.
- Observation and experience. Their values were changed by a tragedy, mishap, betrayal or other event which caused them to reject and turn away from their previous ("normal") value system.
- Failure to learn morals. For some reason, be it a physical/mental characteristic, or some outside influence, they simply werent able to, or did not wish to, empathise with and learn the values around them.
- Mental defect, deficiency or deviation. Whether by insanity, damaged reasoning, alien possession, or whatever, they are simply unable to either learn or hold a system of values.

etc.

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Quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
I dont think the question is so much about moral or immoral, as such... moral and immoral are comparitive terms, just as good and evil are.


True, although in stories the distinction is usually made. One side is the "good guys" and the other the "bad guys". Although often the "bad guys" are more amoral than immoral; the villains act without regard to morals but in their own self interest.

Quote:

Therefore, the question is not "what caused them to become immoral?" Rather, it should be viewed more objectively - "what caused their value system to be different to the people around them?"

And the answers are fairly easy, too, I think. Some of the ones I can think of:

- Upbringing. Their values were instilled by someone/something which was not a part of the society they are currently in.
- Observation and experience. Their values were changed by a tragedy, mishap, betrayal or other event which caused them to reject and turn away from their previous ("normal") value system.
- Failure to learn morals. For some reason, be it a physical/mental characteristic, or some outside influence, they simply werent able to, or did not wish to, empathise with and learn the values around them.
- Mental defect, deficiency or deviation. Whether by insanity, damaged reasoning, alien possession, or whatever, they are simply unable to either learn or hold a system of values.

etc.


I've got a similar list too. "Failure to learn morals" and "Memtal defect" are similar, and fall under the "born a villain" category; this is an easy situation to understand why the character becomes a villain.

However, it's the "upbringing" and "observation and experience", or "made a villain" situations that I'm interested in. Having a tragedy or mishap is a common way for a character to be made a hero, as well. The bit in my story design that I'm considering at the moment is whether the potential heroes should be tested in such a way. If the hero fails a test of character, then they become a villain. It's the nature of the test that I'm trying to understand at the moment.

I'm guessing the pivotal test would have to be some trial of moral character; the limits of how far the hero would go against societies norms and their code of honour to achieve their goals. If it were purely a test of skill or bravery, then failing that just means the protagonist isn't a hero, not a villain. The protagonist would still need to have the drive of a hero, but without the moral code, to make them a villain.

This discussion is really useful for me. I'd appreciate any more thoughts on how villains could or should be made or born.


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