If you weren't programmed to hate me, we may have been friends.
The relationship between video game enemies and the player is rather bittersweet, indeed. On one hand the lines are clearly drawn in the sand: you are evil, I am good, feel my wrath. And, on the other, it is the enemy that provides us with the release we so clearly seek by blasting the heads cleanly off their necks. How can I decidedly hate something that has boosted my ego so?
Take DOOM for example. Much of my youth was spent on a LAN network with my friend, wandering the dimly lit corridors of Mars, and blasting Imps to pieces with my shotgun. Completing the mission at hand (find blue card key; insert into door) was hardly the important objective. Nay, it was the systematic slaying of the demons that gave purpose to that game. Whether it was chewing into a "pinky" with a chainsaw, or trying to kill off the Cyber Demon using nothing but a pistol, the enemies (and their subsequent defeat) were the real draw to DOOM. I can't reflect on my childhood without recalling fond memories of screaming in delight over the bloodied sprite of the defeated Cyber Demon. The joy of using the pistol came from the prolonging of the battle. Playing cat and mouse. David vs. Goliath.
Silent Hill 2. The game responsible for scaring me off the series. Oh how I want to play you, yet you keep me at arm's length by scaring the holy hell out of me.
I can't look at a misty day any more without seeing deformed creatures pouring forth. The stilted advance of the mannequins as the ray of my flashlight shone on them, the mixed sexual message hanging tenuously to the nurses, how can I forget them? I remember one special moment, after having investigated a whole apartment room with no light but the white noise emanating from the television, I blindly walked into the bedroom. Mind you, there was no static coming from my radio so I perceived no threat. Just as I crossed the threshold of the door, a mannequin sprang to life no more than a foot in front of me. It's body gyrating towards me, in conjunction with the snow from the TV casting a sickly glow to the room, was enough to almost scare me off that game. Almost. I ended up finishing Silent Hill 2 for the same reason I almost stopped it; the enemies. Sure, "atmosphere" is usually the first word to spring up while mulling over what makes the series so damn creepy, but the enemies hold their own allure. In the same way we ride a roller coaster to have the fear put into us, we revere the enemies in the Silent Hill franchise for doing much the same.
We can't talk about enemies to remember without speaking to great length about Shadow of the Colusses, but I won't. Instead, I choose to go back to one of the earliest games I can remember, where the enemy was the stage. Where their image had no choice but to be burnt into the soft flesh inside gamer's skulls, because they were the game. I speak of Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!
Nintendo had truly done something wonderful in creating enemies that I could truly hate AND love. Glass Joe, oh how you boost my pre-teen ego by allowing me to pummel you with nary a scratch to my visage. And you, King Hippo, lest we forget you and your propensity to devour anything in sight. Will your rotund gut be thine own undoing? Soda Popinski, thank you for cleaning up your act before coming to American NES' and allowing me to wonder (pre-internet days) how a blatant Russian stereotype could seemingly be drunk off soft drinks. And Mike Tyson...son of a bitch. Must you smile and bat your brow as I lay before you in a quivering purple mass? Have mercy on me. I will lay myself upon the canvas.
I'm not going to make pretend that I don't take satisfaction in defeating enemies in games, I do. But it's the way in which we defeat them that makes them so damn memorable. You'll probably never forget the first time you stomped a Goomba because that's the way they're made. They're programmed to fall under our boot, to be pummeled by us and come back for more. Much like sadomasochism, we punish them and they like it. We like it. It's better for the both of us this way.
We were never meant to be friends, but I find myself falling in love with you.
You make me realize just why I love games.
Yours is a thankless job so, next time I stomp you, try to listen.
My one-liner will be whispered, not shouted.
"Thanks for the memories."