Villains take different forms in games, often they are against you, such as Bowser from the Mario series (M), and sometimes you are the villain, such as in Grand Thief Auto series (GTA) and Destroy All Humans (DOH). Here I will identify and characterize the main categories villains tend to falls into.
Identifying a Villain
I believe a person should be measured by their action and motivation, so this will be how I will determine who is really a villain. A villain is a character who deliberately does enough wrong to warrant a response base on the values the game is asking the player to adopt. The playerís morals are immaterial because they are not a true element in the game world, but a personification through their character. In games where two opposing forces with different morals are clashing, the side the player takes will determine the morals used to judge that game. Lastly a character must know they are doing wrong for them to be a villain, because a character may stop once they realize their actions. I wouldnít consider zombies to be villains because their responses are more reflexive or instinctual, similar to a wild dog. However I would consider the Red Umbrella Corporation (Resident Evil (RE)) a villain because of their conscious actions in the series.
Categories: (Note: A Villain can change categories over the course of a story.)
These are characters stated as villains by the story, but the character is not portrayed very villainy and fills only a quasi- villainous role for at least part of the story. They tend to be characters with limited evil and the story may be about something else where the evil is only the vehicle driving the plot.
Gru, from Despicable Me (DM), is an implied villain and very note worthy for this section. The theme of DM is how a bad guy turns into a good guy and the value of family. Gru use orphans as part of his evil scheme to steal the moon with a shrink ray. Notice the evil plan is steal the moon with a shrink ray, not rob a bank or take someone hostage, this plan is well chosen by the producers. The moon is very out of reach and unrelatable, can you think of any real life attempts to steal the moon as opposed to real bank robberies that got violent. Gruís weapons are a freeze ray and shrink ray, neater of these guns kill, they just temporarily incapacitate the opponent.
(Gru character is depicted as a villain with the pointy noice characteristic, but the rest of him doesnít follow that trend, (minions))
Noble or limited Villain
These are villains that work by a code, have a redeeming quality and stay away from extreme deplorable acts (i.e. rape and extreme torture). They are portrayed as more civilize villains that choose to use harm when needed to accomplish a goal, not just randomly. Their goals are more destructive than compared to the implied villain and this tends to make them more intimidating. Many of the comic book super villains are portrayed in this category; where they will be robbing something or trying to take over the world, but rape and graphic torture are sparse.
Lex Luthor a noble villain is rich, educated, charismatic and unsettlingly sneaky. He commands respect and, even without powers, he has the ability to decimate targets and cleverly manipulate the super hero. Even when defeated, he never really has completely lost as there is always something up his sleeve for next time.
Bottom line these villains, can be deadly and evil as long as they donít cross the line that makes them appear undignified.
(Lex Luthor is similar much more menacing than Gru and there is a significant absence of the whimsical. Notice he is in a suit and pose that gives him a more business/ professional demeanor.)
Vile or extreme Villain
These characters are the lowest of the low and often the deadliest of all; similar to rabid dogs then a civilized person. There is nothing they wonít do whether it is brutally beat someone for the fun of it or blow up a hospital because hell itís a Wednesday. These characters are usually meant to be hated, feared and unpredictable. They tend to be an extreme representation such as rage (Venom) and insanity (Joker).
These villains work well as the main aggressor against the protagonist. They commits atrocities throughout the story that make the player want to defeat them and have a satisfying victory. Also, they can be used as a plot device to divergent story, subplot, or major twist related to the villainís preexisting actions. See the movie Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) for a great example of this (this movie was awesome I am not spoiling it here).
(Joker is crazy. In this picture you can see it with his unsettling grin and notice he is wearing a suit, but he still looks like a mad man.)
The Mystery Villain
This villain is a mystery; their motives and agenda are not really known. They can be your enemy or ally based on the situation and their mood. The constant switching of allegiances will force a player to constantly rethink the character. These characters may initially be mysterious, but as the story is reveled they may fall into another category. It is primary the mystery of these players that keeps them interesting, though it is a good idea to have some other appealing feature to fall back on once the mystery has faded.
There are 2 well establish approaches for this type of character that seem to work best, for simplicity I will call them the G-man (HL) and Q (Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST: TNG)) approach. In the G-man approach the villain is rarely ever directly interacting with the player, but you know he is there in the background. In HL2 the player is dropped off by the G-man to accomplish a task and throughout the course of the game the G-man is always there off in the distance, just out of reach. He will intervene on occasion, to make some course adjustments, but not overtly intercede directly. (At the end ofHL2 were he saves them from the explosion and the player was meant to be silently extracted, notice Alyx didnít know the G-man was there).
(The monitor g-man in Dr. Kliener's lab: In the game, the g-man is always around at key times, reinforcing his presence and acting as an Easter egg for the player to find.)
The Q approach is a very hands-on approach, where the villain will be personally directing the event occurring. The player will be talking or interacting with the villain in a close way, either responding to or with the events around them. These characters can often be found within reachable distance to reinforce their presence in an event. In ST: TNG Q is often causing something to happen or at an important event about to happen to the main characters, where he will manipulate them to follow a certain path or come to a certain realization.
These characters should have a sort of ambiguity to them; both visually and when interacted with. Look at a quote by the G-man
ďRise and shine, Mr. Freeman. Rise and shine. Not that I wish to imply you have been sleeping on the job. No-one is more deserving of a rest. And all the effort in the world would have gone to waste until... well, let's just say your hour has come again. The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world. So, wake up, Mr. Freeman. Wake up and smell the ashes.Ē
That quote is full of clues and hints, but it relay tells us nothing.
They are meant to be a joke and be laughed at. Their plots are generally of a humorous or ironic nature. In the Doh you are an alien invader, who needs dna from humans in order reverse the damage done your aliens dna due to cloning and find a new way to create new generations. Basically you need human dna to create a penis to have sex with. The villains themselves are very exaggerated and humorous in nature. (For examples, see Space balls movie1987 and Austin Powers Movies.) Finally it is always a plus to defeat these enemies in an equally humorous way. In Ratchet and Clank captain qwark is reduced to an infomercial salesman, though I prefer falling piano, you canít beat the classics.
Simple Thug or Minion
These are you no name villains, your dispensable characters, that donít receive enough information to really fit in another character. In a game you will dispatch many of them on your way to defeat the main aggressor. A good idea is to keep them consistent to the theme of the main villain, that way you can imprint some distinctiveness to them. It is a cheap way to add some variety and depth to them.
(Notice, that while you don't have an individual back story of each character, you can understand them, due to their common theme they follow with the game (Bioshock)
As always, thanks for reading and constructive feedback is always welcome.