Sympathy for the Devil – Shades of Grey

Donkey_Kong_endWe all know the drill. There’s a natural order to these things. The hero gets the girl, the badguy gets his comeuppance, and we… well, we get to live happily ever after.

Only it’s not always like that, is it? If we walk down the street with open eyes, turn on the news, or recall our own misfortunes, we can see that life is seldom so neat. So how come games seem to offer little else, other than the dream? Why is it that the only real threats to peace, justice and the videogame way, are boredom, the occasional difficulty spike and maybe the next game coming along before we’ve finished the last one?

Maybe we can blame Hollywood; that’s always fun. It makes a change from games always being the villain. I mean, sure, the badguy might escape at the end… or there’s some small suggestion of his return (sometimes from the dead) just before the credits roll, but that’s just to leave room for the sequel. Where are all the successful badguys? The criminal masterminds who take early retirement, buy a small country with a beach-hut and take up surfing? The serial killers who parlay their life of crime into fame, fortune and a 5-year book deal? Or the petty crook done good, who “keeps his hand in” running the criminal empire, but mostly takes time to play golf and enjoy the wealth and happiness that have most undeservedly come to him? In life, such villains are commonplace (often in politics, or teaching, sometimes traffic wardens), but Hollywood’s long love affair with the ‘moral’ ending shows no sign of faltering. And I can see this reflected in many of the games we play.

"Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."
"Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."

I racked my brains trying to think of the number of times the villain got away. Where he didn’t end up riddled with bullets, arrested, betrayed by his girlfriend, or killed in some spectacular way. And outside of the middle parts of trilogies and continuing series, I could only come up with one. Directed in 1977 by Roman Polanski, Chinatown may stand alone as an occasion in cinema where the badguy walks away scot-free. No justice rains down on him, nor the wrath of some chisel-jawed, hero cop who just won’t let things go. No, he just walks away. Left to continue his life of villainy without fear of consequence. The police too afraid of his power and influence to interfere. His prize gripped in his hands as he walks out of shot and into cinematic history.

a very happy badguy
a very happy badguy

When Chinatown was released it became an instant classic; awards rained from the skies and praise was lavished all round. So why does it seem now, like some failed experiment, that was never to be repeated? And more tellingly, why don’t games, like books, take advantage of their talented creators to break more rules, and make more brave decisions? Literature has always had more range in its endings, but then our still-oh-so-young gaming industry has never aped literature half so much as it does the silver screen.

But perhaps it’s our fault. Our appetite for ‘Hollywood endings’ seems matched only by our appetite for popcorn, and for soft drinks that come in buckets. If an audience bays for more after being led down well-trod paths, and if the brave, or not so easily marketed, isn’t met with the rewards it deserves, then is there a future for the successful villain? Or the unusual ending? So, are the entertainment industries limiting us, or are we limiting them?







4 responses to “Sympathy for the Devil – Shades of Grey”

  1. Kat avatar

    I struggled to think of a game (or movie) that has a happy, successful ending for the villain. Games such as Fable give us a path to choose although I still ended up with a halo >.< GTA is mainly aimed at taking on fellow villains (if I take great joy in smacking innocents with a baseball bat does that make me a "better" villain? 😀 ). Overlord was just a huge disappointment in the baddie-stakes. Although... I'm pretty certain L4D Louis is evil yet classed as a good guy, he gets away with his heinous actions, can I count him please? 😉 I have no idea though if actually wanting to play a decent villain is such a rare notion that only a select few of us would enjoy it, therefore the industry assumes the games won't sell? That doesn't seem likely to me but perhaps I'm biased. Or if, like in John's sex blog, for some reason the companies aren't willing to take that direction yet.

  2. James avatar

    Victorious villains are few and far between. I guess you could argue that Hannibal walked away at the end of Silence of the Lambs. I would probably classify him as an anti-hero rather than a villain though.

    Oh, and I s’pose the Zodiac killer wins by never being caught. Victory by default.

  3. Tony avatar

    Resistance 2 was a rare example of a game that didn’t exactly have a happy ending. Brilliant game though.

  4. Lorna avatar

    I’m say Dungeon Keeper off the top of my head…slapping creatures, randomly torturing heros, imprisoning folk until they dies and became skeletons to join your army… Other than that though, can’t think of anything…

    Great blog Darach, you make a good point, and it was something that I had never considered before 🙂

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