Playing as the Hero, the Villain, or an Antihero?

XIIIthHarbinger

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Greeting gentle peoples of the interwebs,


I wanted to get your thoughts on a particular subject, namely playing as the hero, villain, the antihero, & the ability to chose between those options. Now with my current project I am not having my characters save the world from some impending doom, the apocalypse has already occurred, the world has been turned upside down, no one knows how to turn it back; & everyone is as individuals & groups working towards peace, stability, wealth, power, dominance, etcetera based on their own respective motives. Additionally my heroes aren't shiny heroic champions, they are to varying degrees ostracized, marginalized, or viewed with suspicion for various reasons; leading to them being used to clean up messes around the Empire. Mainly I was doing this to use it for points of character conflict with the world around them, to develop their characters. 


Now as these characters are already of the less than shiny variety, & are operating at the behest of an Empire whose motives & practices are less than ideal, as evidenced by the mistreatment the characters receive. As well as other plot points I won't go into here. I began asking myself why not allow the player some latitude in making decisions of dubious morality, darker subquests, thievery, maybe even some less than wholesome factions you can work for, etcetera? Better yet, why not allow the characters to switch sides, (aside from the absurd amount of work I am going to create for myself trying to pull this off), not just a "Yes big evil I chose you!" cutscene role credits, but actually work for an antagonist faction?    


However, I've noticed with most of the RPGs/JRPGs that are made in RPG Maker, & the games that inspire them; one is nearly always the shiny hero protecting the world for puppies, kittens, & Christmas. Those few games where you do play the "Villain", there seems to be a fair bit of humor involved as well.


So I thought I would pick your assembled brains on the matter.


In your own project is your main/mains a hero, a villain, somewhere in between, the players choice?


Why is your main/mains that role, story/game lore wise?


Why did you chose to set it up that way? 
 

Archeia

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In the subject of Anti-Hero, I feel like this video sheds some light on the difference of a Hero and Anti-Hero more so than what I've seen in Video Games. I feel like it's something that can help with this topic to see if we're probably on the same wavelength on the terms? (not aimed specifically to OP!)  :rhappy:  
 
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Wavelength

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I believe that there is a "right answer" to this question - and that right answer is to have the player play a straight-up hero, because in a video game - especially a Role-Playing Game - you are asking your players to identify with the player they are controlling.  They are supposedly taking their actions vicariously, though the player.  In a lot of cases the player feels like the character is a projection of him/herself.  Most video gamers see themselves as good people (which they probably are) and you run a huge risk of alienating players by asking them to "be" a character who does things that the player does not want to do.


It's different in other media - people are certainly interested to watch or read the exploits of an anti-hero like Batman or Riddick or Dexter, or an anti-villain like Darl (As I Lay Dying) or Jamie Lannister or Lyte Yagami, or for that matter a full-on villain like Joffrey Lannister or Hannibal.  People can certainly enjoy or at least appreciate seeing the story through such a person's eyes.  But that's because they are not being asked to "be" that person; to take actions on their behalf.


There are certainly exceptions in video gaming - some players have it in them to enjoy playing the role of a villain or similar, and not because they are bad people or see themselves as such, but simply because they can appreciate the experience or the storytelling novelty.  I can't appreciate this very much though, and I believe that at least half of gamers are in the same boat with me.  If you tell Final Fantasy 7 from Sephiroth's perspective - and he's far from gaming's most depraved villain - I'm not going to feel good about playing through it and trying to make him successful.  I'm probably going to stop playing after a few hours because I feel disgusted with myself.


There are also exceptions in certain genres, notably strategy games where you're usually very disconnected from your characters (like Crusader Kings or Civilization).  Role-Playing Games rarely afford the player the opportunity to disconnect themselves from their characters and actions, though.


When it's played humorously, I think it gives players a complete license to divorce themselves from what they're doing.  Disgaea's Mao and Etna murder hundreds of underworld denizens, bully their subordinates, bribe members of the Dark Assembly to vote on their (my) bills, and blackmail people with naughty pictures - and they revel in their crimes!  But because it was all done in a really cute, lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek manner, I had fun being a part of it.


I think there probably is an untapped market of some size for games where you play as a morally-grey figure or a villain in a serious game, but only where this is presented up-front to the player and the story is a major part of the game's appeal.  Because unless you can offer a lot of value out of playing the villain to the small percentage of players who want to do so, there's little point in alienating a majority of your potential audience who might have loved your game otherwise.
 
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XIIIthHarbinger

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In the subject of Anti-Hero, I feel like this video sheds some light on the difference of a Hero and Anti-Hero more so than what I've seen in Video Games.


I feel like it's something that can help with this topic to see if we're probably on the same wavelength on the terms?  :rhappy:


I would say that the video definitely presents one possible form of the antihero, but not all possible variations. 


I tend to consider Hero, Antihero, & Villain in the context of something like the D&D Alignment system, though it doesn't always work with every intellectual property, & the classification of all characters.


got-dnd.jpg


Antiheroes often to me at least seem characterized by a greater degree of self interest & self determination, often with an accompanying disregard for the larger implications of their actions; but a general lack of malice towards what they dismiss.


Heroes & Villains to me often seem to have a goal to change the world for good or ill, while antiheroes seem to change the world by consequence of pursuit of their goals.


To put it rather simply, & perhaps this is a bit of an oversimplification.


A Hero fights a big bad in service of some ideal or cause, the cause or ideal necessitates the fighting of the big bad.


A Villain fights a big bad, because they represent something not under their power, & something not under their power represents a threat to their power.


An Antihero fights a big bad, because they are in the way of whatever goal they are pursuing, & they can't achieve that goal without fighting the big bad.  
 
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Blackyu

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In every game I've made so far, the hero is just a guy who tried to be a shining hero and he has to fight many baddies along the way, but his stupidity really puts him apart from generic, 'fighting-for-good' protagonists.


However, I really love to make sections where you control one of the bad guys and learn more about their personality, their lore or their relationships.


I'm not trying to be extremely different from classic RPGs, so I just try to make attaching characters, heroes or bad guys. the rest doesn't matter a lot to me.
 

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An anti-hero is one thing but I don't know about actually playing as the villain for a significant time. I mean an actual villain probably doesn't have any real sympathetic or likable qualities to make you want to play as him. Idk If i would want to play as some murderer or deranged psycho in a game. On the other end of this making the villain somewhat sympathetic would then sort of make him clash with playing as an anti-hero.


I assume by playing as a villain you mean actually playing them while as a villain and not something like playing Sephiroth during Cloud's flashback in Final Fantasy VII (playing an established villain before he was such when he was regarded as a hero).
 
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bgillisp

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I think this could work if you made it that you are playing as a player who has good intentions, but goes to dark lengths to achieve them. For example, maybe he wants to bring peace to the world, so he is going to invoke the spell that lets him mind control everyone in the world so they will be at peace with one another. Or something like that.
 

Blackyu

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I mean an actual villain probably doesn't have any real sympathetic or likable qualities to make you want to play as him.
Well, thing is, I try to make my villains likeable. Every single one of them has a special thing about them that makes you attach to them, positively or negatively. I'm totally against cliché villains, so I always try and find some interesting traits.
 

Vox Novus

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I don't think there is anything wrong with that at all, I usually prefer that because it gives them more depth as characters. I meant it might make playing as an anti-hero and a villain in the same game clash because the Villain would then essentially be something more akin to an anti-hero.
 
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Aoi Ninami

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I think it depends a lot on the type of game. One of my favourite RPG Maker games is Flip Dimensions, in which you play as a cliche villain who's been overthrown and is trying to regain power. It works, in that game, for two reasons. Firstly, the presentation is light-hearted and humorous; you don't end up bothered by the main character's actions, because the whole thing is impossible to take seriously. Secondly, his "villainy" is all in the backstory; we don't see him do anything evil during the game, and in fact he comes across as moderately sympathetic -- someone who's been shocked out of his comfort zone and is trying to get back, which many of us can relate to.


Since you asked about my own game... Erika is definitely a hero. She doesn't save the world or anything like that, but she gets involved in the adventure for noble reasons (trying to find out what happened to someone who disappeared). In this case that's because I thought of the character first, and she appealed to me and I wanted to tell her story.

I'm also working on a writing project, and that's an interesting case, because there I think the villain is a really intriguing character, and exploring her character and telling the story of what happens to her one of the main motivations for me to keep working on the project. But it's still told from the hero's point of view, because the villain is more interesting when she's looked at from outside, as the hero gradually comes to a better understanding of her and what motivates her.
 

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In one of my projects that I've had on hold for years now, I was making a game where you play as a character that starts out nice.  However, as the game progresses he slowly


begins to hate the people around him.  At first it's just a slight anger towards some bullies he's been dealing with.  It doesn't help that he sees and hears someone that no one else knows about.  As the story progresses, he will slowly but surely descend into madness.  This is a project that I've messed around with a bit off and on since I was 16.  To put it in perspective, I'm 22 now.  That's six years of tossing around ideas and still not putting anything solid together.  Perhaps I'll return to it some day.  As for the reason I was making this character develop that way, I suppose it's similar to your reasoning.  I felt like there were already enough hero stories out there.  It's not too often that a game makes you into the horror that people face.  Lore-wise I'd rather keep it a secret as I do still hope to finish the project at some point.
 

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This is what I'm doing in my game, and I think it's perfectly valid way of designing a game. My particular game uses different origins and multiple factions with the ending being which of the factions comes out on top. (The main conflict can progress regardless of thecplayer choosing to interact with it or not) Most everything else throughout the game is up to the player to choose how they interact. 


I did it this way because I like the idea of a living breathing game world that allows the player to play as they see fit, but still has a story unlike something like The Sims.
 

consolcwby

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Okay, I'm going to weigh in and probably take flak. So, I'm putting my bear on my head, and take it straight:


Unless we are talking about melodrama, the only real differences between a "Hero", "Villain", and "Anti-Hero" are motivation.


Heroes tend to live by a code, or an ideal. The interesting inner conflicts come from this code/ideal vs. what they want to accomplish. A hero has boundaries they do not cross to get what they want.


Villains take an easier road - the ends justify the means. Typically, they have no qualms about doing what they have to - to get whatever they want. Interesting villians tend to see themselves as the hero. What makes them unlikable is their selfishness, which is reflected in their drives.


Anti-heroes can be thought of as a cross between the two. They tend to do whatever is necessary to get what they want, but may internally decide if it's in their best interest to NOT take a certain path. They are selfish but not to the point a villain is. But they are also not as heroic as a typical hero.


People tend to associate with the anti-hero if they have similar flaws but the anti-hero learns to overcome those flaws to accomplish their goals. It's difficult to write because as a writer the tightrope you're walking on is very very thin. I've always believed a good hero needs to be flawed, and a good villain needs a likeable point about them. The reader or player will still recognize the archetypes, but will feel the characters are more three-dimensional. I'm placing a few links here as food for thought.


http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/hooked-on-a-feeling


http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-create-an-antihero-that-readers-love


http://writerunboxed.com/2014/04/16/the-art-of-creating-memorable-villains-whatever-your-genre/
 
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Archeia

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To put it rather simply, & perhaps this is a bit of an oversimplification.


A Hero fights a big bad in service of some ideal or cause, the cause or ideal necessitates the fighting of the big bad.


A Villain fights a big bad, because they represent something not under their power, & something not under their power represents a threat to their power.


An Antihero fights a big bad, because they are in the way of whatever goal they are pursuing, & they can't achieve that goal without fighting the big bad.  


My impression is that an Anti-Hero is also someone who will not succeed by the end. (If we strip away personality and motivation)


Or are we purely speaking from personality and motivation? :)
 

XIIIthHarbinger

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I believe that there is a "right answer" to this question - and that right answer is to have the player play a straight-up hero, because in a video game - especially a Role-Playing Game - you are asking your players to identify with the player they are controlling.  They are supposedly taking their actions vicariously, though the player.  In a lot of cases the player feels like the character is a projection of him/herself.  Most video gamers see themselves as good people (which they probably are) and you run a huge risk of alienating players by asking them to "be" a character who does things that the player does not want to do.


With respect to my own project, I wasn't considering making the main a villain by default, but rather offering them the choice to do so, given the inherent conflicts between the characters & the society in which they find themselves. For story purposes I have my characters in conflict with the society around them, so them potentially siding against that society seems like something that has a place in the story.

There are certainly exceptions in video gaming - some players have it in them to enjoy playing the role of a villain or similar, and not because they are bad people or see themselves as such, but simply because they can appreciate the experience or the storytelling novelty.  I can't appreciate this very much though, and I believe that at least half of gamers are in the same boat with me.  If you tell Final Fantasy 7 from Sephiroth's perspective - and he's far from gaming's most depraved villain - I'm not going to feel good about playing through it and trying to make him successful.  I'm probably going to stop playing after a few hours because I feel disgusted with myself.


I understand what you're saying, but I don't think you've understood what I am describing. My characters aren't trying to save or end the world, they are struggling for dominance. Thus there is a great deal of moral ambiguity involved to the conflict between various factions, & even the "good" factions, aren't as "good" as they portray themselves as. Think less Final Fantasy VII, more Fallout New Vegas. 

I think there probably is an untapped market of some size for games where you play as a morally-grey figure or a villain in a serious game, but only where this is presented up-front to the player and the story is a major part of the game's appeal.  Because unless you can offer a lot of value out of playing the villain to the small percentage of players who want to do so, there's little point in alienating a majority of your potential audience who might have loved your game otherwise.


Which is precisely why I rather like the idea of including the possibility to chose that option for the player. 

My impression is that an Anti-Hero is also someone who will not succeed by the end. (If we strip away personality and motivation)


Or are we purely speaking from personality and motivation? :)


Personally I always characterize Heroes, Antiheroes, & Villains by their actions & their motivations for those actions. The results hardly seem to be that important in comparison. For example the Hero character that often goes along with the main who dies during the story arc, to spur those who survive on; is still very much a "hero" character by my estimation, despite their dying before the villain is stopped.
 

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With respect to my own project, I wasn't considering making the main a villain by default, but rather offering them the choice to do so, given the inherent conflicts between the characters & the society in which they find themselves. For story purposes I have my characters in conflict with the society around them, so them potentially siding against that society seems like something that has a place in the story.


I understand what you're saying, but I don't think you've understood what I am describing. My characters aren't trying to save or end the world, they are struggling for dominance. Thus there is a great deal of moral ambiguity involved to the conflict between various factions, & even the "good" factions, aren't as "good" as they portray themselves as. Think less Final Fantasy VII, more Fallout New Vegas...


It sounds, from your explanation, like your basic plot skeleton tends toward gray and gray morality, and that the characters you play as just do what the player wants to do - and so unless the game world is specifically reacting to your actions in a way that you will often be painted as a hero or anti-hero or villain by the other characters or editorial spin (think Undertale), then your game is actually somewhat outside the discussion of playing as something other than the hero!


Most games that let the player do whatever they want to tend to be amoral in tone (in the sense that they don't really judge your morality at all) - and while I haven't played the Fallout series, from videos I've watched in the past I believe it is mostly amoral?


Or in other words, I think what you're building in your own game is fine, because you are offering the player choices about what they want to do, but in a general sense I think that game designers should be very careful about asking the player to "be" a villain (or anything less than a full-on hero).


(By the way - interesting how that Game of Thrones D&D-style alignment grid would be different now that we're six seasons in, isn't it?  Arya, Varus, Tyrion, Little Finger, arguably Circe... and then Daenarys, whose actions have been so all-over-the-map that I think she utterly defies classification! XD)
 

XIIIthHarbinger

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Most games that let the player do whatever they want to tend to be amoral in tone (in the sense that they don't really judge your morality at all) - and while I haven't played the Fallout series, from videos I've watched in the past I believe it is mostly amoral?


Not quite, it's probably more accurate to say that it doesn't specifically punish you for being immoral; but rather the choices you make, impact on what is called the Karma system, as well as your faction reputation in some games.


Essentially, certain dialogue choices positive karma, doing quests that help people gives you positive karma, turning down rewards offered for helping them gives you big positive karma boosts. Meanwhile doing quests that hurt people give you negative karma, stealing gives you negative karma,murder give you a great deal of negative karma. Your karma level in turn effects how people will speak about you, & in some cases how or even if they will interact with you.


Faction reputations work on a similar system, beneficial actions towards the factions increase your reputation, detrimental actions towards the faction decrease your reputation. Have a good enough reputation & you unlock perks, quests, loot, etcetera. Have a bad enough reputation & they attack you on sight, maybe even send high level NPCs out to hunt you down & kill you.


In essence the game doesn't tell you, that you are good or bad; the characters of the game world tell you that they think you are good or bad.

Or in other words, I think what you're building in your own game is fine, because you are offering the player choices about what they want to do, but in a general sense I think that game designers should be very careful about asking the player to "be" a villain (or anything less than a full-on hero).


Player choice is the backbone of my project, because there are few things I enjoy less than the kind of on rails feel of a game like Final Fantasy XIII for example. I enjoy games where as much as possible I can chose the outcome of the story, or the direction that I am going in.Given how I framed the characters relationships with the society they find themselves in, at the very least I need to have them question their loyalty to that society, if not outright offer the option to actively turn against it. I think that if those conflicts aren't addressed in one way or another, it would be too much for the suspension of disbelief of the player.


Even if I decide not to program in the option to actively turn against their starting allegiance, I will still have to find a way to justify that within the story; which isn't as easy without the cliche motivations like "We're saving the world from the big bad that will destroy it!" or "I am out to get revenge on the big bad, because it burned down my village!". 
 

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I like rotating character focus like in the Game of Thrones books. You could keep it chronological but let the player control villain scenes as well as hero ones.
 

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I like rotating character focus like in the Game of Thrones books. You could keep it chronological but let the player control villain scenes as well as hero ones.


I have considered that possibility,


For example having a team of villains that one plays as, that serve as the tools of the primary antagonist to further their agenda; who would then as serve as the enemies in one of the boss battles, prior to the primary boss battle. I haven't ruled it out, but because this is a sandbox game, it will be a lot of additional work for when you are playing as the antagonist team.

I think this could work if you made it that you are playing as a player who has good intentions, but goes to dark lengths to achieve them. For example, maybe he wants to bring peace to the world, so he is going to invoke the spell that lets him mind control everyone in the world so they will be at peace with one another. Or something like that.


Questionable means in pursuit of an end is definitely a component I am trying to work with; because the society they are interacting with mistreats the characters, & that mistreatment serves as means for the puppet master character who is giving them their proverbial marching orders, to manipulate them into serving that society's ends. As well as serving as means of exploring those character's identities. 


However, I am not trying to have the characters aim for anything as grandiose as world peace, it's simply that the characters don't care for their particular circumstances; & this serves to motivate them to ally themselves to someone of questionable methods & motivations, in order to bring about that change for their own circumstances. In essence they are "looking out for number one", because no one else around them is.


So clearly I don't want them to be too "shiny" initially. However, I want the players to be able to project themselves onto the characters to an extent, via in game choices. In essence maybe they see the puppet master as a creep, but that doesn't mean the characters can't be a "shiny" that operates outside of society's determined norms, a Robin Hood archetype if you will. Or maybe the player decides the characters like playing the bad guys under the pretense of an authority & service to a greater good, Renegade Shepard from Mass Effect for example.   


Full on swapping over to the antagonist faction though seems to be the least likely choice I would try to work into my game, it would be interesting certainly, so on some level I find it appealing; however, by the time the choice could be worked in, I think it would be too much like Fable 3. When you finally reached the point where you could be the "bad" guy, you had already spent a great deal of time being the "good" guy, that it just didn't seem coherent within the larger narrative. I think it will be something I try on a different project, because as much as I like the idea, I just don't see how to execute it well; without dramatically altering a great deal of the story.
 
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IamGilgamesh

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Here's a game where you play villains. In case that's of interest to you.
 

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