Monday, January 31, 2011

Question of the Week: Warm Fuzzies

So you’ve got this lair, or this orbiting space fortress, or this princess locked in a cage in your gray-bricked, lava-filled dungeon. You’re on top of the world for the most part, aside from the occasional marauding hero or superspy or fashion-victim plumber.

But you’re only human(ish). Sometimes, you have a nice big dinner and a couple of cocktails and you just want to take a night off and watch Love, Actually. Sometimes you yearn for the companionship of some good friends who aren’t, who have never been your henchmen. Sometimes you just want to ride a pony.

It’s the question of the week, people. And that question is:

Jay: I’m gonna go with the Illusive Man from Mass Effect 2. Okay, maybe he’s not technically a villain, but the lack of transparency behind his agenda coupled with an evasive and deceitful leadership style make him an NPC no Shepard could trust. He’s a total hard-ass when Shep has contact with him via hologram in the Comm Room, but what if that’s all for show? What if he needs to put up that front in order to get his job done? Underneath that rough exterior is a man who just wants a little intergalactic peace and a hug? Leading Cerberus has got be stressful and certainly can’t afford him much “me-time,” let alone time to socialize and let his hair down. I imagine he takes full advantage of the quiet periods between mission briefings. Perhaps after the comm array shuts down, he likes to grab a nice magazine, pour a little bubbly and draw a bath? Would that be so weird? All I’m saying is, if I were the puppetmaster of a military space fleet, I’d need some downtime too. And that gorgeous, starlit view from his space-Barcalounger just screams afternoon cocktails.

“If I let you win, can I have a pony?”
Dan: Who could possibly have a softer side than the villain who has been with me the longest? My old arch-nemesis, the Chessmaster. Our immortal battle began in sepia tone on Game Boy (“Belcome… to Cheffmafter”) and has jumped from computer to computer ever since.

It’s a frustrating sort of villainy, because there’s always the knowledge that, free from the restraints that I place upon him, he would be absolutely free to crush me at any time. (I am assigning the male gender because of the wizened old man image that appears to be the Chessmaster’s favored form). These days (in Chessmaster 9000 and several earlier versions), he takes on a number of personalities, each with some interestingly imagined biographical information. I can choose to play against anyone from fictional young Cassie (Rating: 23; “Though she and her friends own a lot of dolls, Cassie rarely plays with hers”) or the very real 1927 world champion Alexander Alekhine (Rating: 3057; “After the war he was criticized as an anti-Semite, a charge he firmly denied”). Behind the curtain, though, it’s always the Chessmaster pushing the pawns, winning or losing based largely on how much “softer side” I decide to dial in. And what could be more villainous than that?

Annie: I really want my answer to be Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, because there is a small part of me that always feels bad for him when he does that kind of whimper-moan thing, dude is also clearly too far gone to come back from the dark side if he ever existed anywhere else to begin with. I also considered GLaDOS, but decided she was probably unrepentantly sadistic. And of course, villains for whom we know an origin story are right out, since we’re already painfully aware that they did have a soft side, but it was probably destroyed by a combination of tragic circumstances, romantic rejection, and not enough vitamin D (LeChuck, I am talking to you).

I thought about this for probably longer than I should have, but in the end, I decided to go with Bowser. We don’t really know why he does what he does, but he’s a persistent bastard. He clearly wants to rule the Mushroom Kingdom, given his repeated attempts to do so. This usually involves kidnapping of some kind, though he does seem to make it a point not to actually hurt anyone. On top of that, many of Bowser’s stunts occur during celebrations or special occasions when everyone is meant to be celebrating. Is it possible that he just wants to be included? Could it be that he’s just jealous? Or perhaps he has some kind of deep self-loathing at work in his mind, believing that he is destined to be evil because he is some sort of augmented turtle, suffering from a form of gigantism. If only Bowser would take a clue from Raphael and co.: being an enlarged, genetically modified turtle need not doom one to a life of villainy. In fact, with a little training, a giant rat, and some pizza, one can really make a good go of it.

Sam: I could go with the flip answer of SHODAN from System Shock, but like GLaDOS, it’s pretty clear that she’s mostly soulless and antagonistic. Then again, she did do the whole motherly thing with The Many; raising the kids, jettisoning them into space, watching them turn against her, having to kill them and start anew—the heartwarming story of how SHODAN got her groove back. I’ll call to see if Taye Diggs is available.

I’m going with the G-Man from the Half-Life series. At the very least, this guy has to have some pretty bad-ass stories that would be worth hearing about over coffee, you know? Like, I can see him kicking back, chilling on an ottoman, reading some sort of intergalactic bad-ass newspaper. He probably has a dachshund or, like, a Houndeye as a pet. I’m thinking there’s a Mrs. G-man, who thinks he’s a high-school principal (“I like to think of myself as more of a princi-pal, Mr. Freeman”) or a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company.

Kirk: Of all the villains that I’d imagine might have a softer side, the one that first comes to mind is Dr. Ivo Robotnik, A.K.A. Doctor Eggman from the Sonic the Hedgehog series. As tricky as some of the early battles I had with him were, the dude was always a little more than a pencil-pushing dweeb, jacked up in his various mechanical inventions in order to stand a fighting chance against Sonic. So it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that this frizzy-haired academic-type would harbor a few hidden, embarrassingly cute tendencies. After all, he was kidnapping bushels of super-cute woodland creatures! Sure, he may say that they’re for experiments or some such, but I think that in reality he just wants them to hang around his apartment and keep him company as he knits and watches his stories.

David: There are very few villains I would like to hang out with, socialize, and have a beer with. For the most part, they are pretty full of themselves, and if I needed that I’d go hang out in the Mission district more. [Editor’s note: Dear Missionites, the opinions expressed by David Tracy do not necessarily reflect those of Gamer Melodico. Our own Kirk Hamilton might just like to issue a response. Wait for it…]

There is one villain, however, who is just sociable enough to be my choice. I agree with Annie: the villain with the softest side is Bowser. Yes, yes, he is all about Princess Peach, but so is Mario, who just plumbs away with his brother and waits for a crisis to show that he cares. At least Bowser is pro-active and isn’t afraid to make the first move. Bowser is evil, yes, but he socializes with everyone—he plays tennis, races carts, and even plays board games with them in Mario Party. He can’t be all that bad. I want to ask him what the dealio is with Miss Peach—maybe he thinks he thinks the way to her heart is by playing sports and games with her friends. She should really look beyond his whole giant spiked turtle-ness and see him for what he is: an achiever, a go-getter!

Dan: Seems like the Bowsers have it. Anyone else want to weigh in? Let us know in the comments!
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