Failing at Evil

I want to be a bad guy. I want to do bad things to people. I want to be a person who does whatever they want without thinking about the consequences.  I want to be the kind of person I and others would hate.  I want to role be an evil character, but I can never pull it off. Every time I try, I eventually fail and the allure of being a venerable hero always wins out. Saving the world is not enough, I also want to be well liked. In videogames, good and evil is often portrayed as a binary system where certain choices either make you more good or more evil. You would think this makes role playing as an evil character pretty easy, but not for me. For some reason I just can’t stick to it and I go into every game with the intent of being an evil guy. I usually only last the first few hours or so before I revert to being good. The bleak setting of Fallout 3 seemed like a good place to be evil, but yet I failed.

The first town I encountered was Megaton and I quickly stumbled upon the quest where you are able to detonate the nuclear bomb in the town center. That sounded pretty evil and cool so I really wanted to do it. As i finished up the local quests, I started caring for the town and its inhabitants. I worried about losing quest lines, about being perceived as a bad person in the game, and everyone in the town seemed nice. I couldn’t blow it up.  I ended up saving the town and watching the other quest line play out in a Youtube video because I really wanted to see what would happen. That incident, so early in game, set me on the path to being a good guy.  After that, it was all about saving puppies and setting a good example for the post apocalyptic world. I even befriended some vampires that were living in the subway as a result, by having an open mind and seeing the good in everyone. Yay. The game threw me for a loop later on, where I tried to do the right thing and ended up killing a lot of people. I came upon a fancy high rise that somehow had withstood the test of time and atomic weaponry. They were having problems with some ghouls who were harassing them and being the good guy I decided to broker an agreement between these two communities. I discovered that these ghouls weren’t so bad, they just wanted to live with the humans in the fancy apartment house. Sharing your wealth and luxury is a sign of selflessness, which is a good thing.  I argued for them  and convinced the humans to accept the ghouls into their community, after which the ghouls decided to murder all the humans. I was so mad that I reloaded a previous save and proceeded to slaughter all those backstabbing ghouls.  I realized that my inability to role play a bad character had evolved. Now, I wasn’t even subconsciously constrained to roleplaying a good character, I had to make sure that the end result was good even if trying to do the right thing resulted in an evil thing. Well, Fallout: New Vegas would give me another chance to be a bad, bad person in a  bad, bad world. But I was wrong, kind of.

I thought that role playing as an evil character would be easy in Fallout: New Vegas. After all, at the very beginning of the game you get shot in the face. It is pretty easy to feel pissed off and mad about that. As usual, it didn’t last long. Within the first hour or so of the game, I met a guy hiding from some bad dudes in a gas station who needed help, and we took out these bad dudes together. It was Mr. House that saved me, at least for a while. With the exception of Caesar’s legion, the numerous factions in the game all operate in a morally grey area to one extent or another. Caesar’s legion was out of the picture for me, especially since I was role playing a girl and the Legion hates girls, but also because they were too evil. But Mr. House was pragmatic, seemed to hate most other factions, and he gave me a clear line to follow where I could be a bit evil, but still be mostly good. He allowed me to do some bad things to good characters. It was going well until I learned more about his past and then It started feeling uncomfortable. The final straw was him asking me to kill the Brotherhood of Steel, who have always been my favorite group  in Fallout lore. I liked the Brotherhood, and so did my character. It was then decided that Mr. House had to go, so I killed him. In retrospect, I am not sure how these events relate to my inability to be a bad guy, because I know Mr. House definitely thought I was a bad guy when I took him off of life support. The fact of the matter is that FO:NV doesn’t have the binary morality system that is so common with other RPGs and it was easier for me to make evil choices in the game. Despite this, I tried to help more than hurt, and I ultimately chose the main quest line that seemed to give me the most freedom to decide how to how to approach the other factions. Needless to say, whenever I could, I approached them with open arms and a friendly smile. Except those cannibals, but those people were evil.

Sometimes the game itself makes me do bad things. In Dragon Age: Origins, I had to balance my do-goodiness with some snarky remarks, a few backhanded compliments, and the occasional evil act because I wanted Morrigan to be my best friend. In general though, I always role play good guys but I never want to.  I suppose it is more accurate that my characters in these games follow my own moral compass.  In life, I try to do the right thing, and I am quite happy being that way. I like the way I have turned out so far and I am excited about where I will go. My desire to be the bad guy in RPGs doesn’t come from a desire to be one in real life. It might come from the fact that in RPGs like this, good moral choices in quests are usually better rewarded. Maybe I do not want to be an evil character because I feel that I might miss more quests. Perhaps my desire is driven by the fact that it is so hard for me to actually do it.

Or just maybe what happens is that I want to be a character that is like myself, or rather what I want myself to be. It is much clearer in videogames to know when you make a good decision than in real life. Whether it’s a number that changes or your character’s appearance, you clearly know when you acted evil and when you were good. Life is much more complicated and every good deed often has a negative impact in ways that can be hard to realize. It is messy but games clearly quantify how good or evil our characters are. Perhaps the simple, binary morality systems in these games allow me to be the person I strive to be in real life. I try my best to be a good person and although I know I can always do better, I’d like to think I do a pretty good job at it. Honestly though, I don’t really know.

But in videogames, I know that I am a good person.





This was written for Critical Distance‘s Blogs of the Round Table. For anyone who wants to read the best of the best monthly writings about videogames, I strongly urge to look at their site.


  1. […] The game criticism site Critical Distance has a feature called “Blogs of the Round Table” which basically suggests a topic for other blogs to write about (like a blogathon), and this time the theme was “Games within Games.” This was one of my favorite entries, about the games players create within games – either more challenging modes, like completing a stealth game without ever being seen (much less killing anyone), or role-playing games that stretch what the game is actually designed for. Some other interesting articles included this one on playing Skyrim as a pacifist, and this one on trying (and failing) to play RPGs as an evil character. […]

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