Villains have always been a critical component of storytelling, providing a sense of challenge, urgency, and depth to the story being told. Video games are not an exception – they have many memorable villains that we just love to hate. They are often the primary antagonists that the players must defeat or overcome to progress through the game.
While video game villains are traditionally portrayed as one-dimensional characters, recent years have seen a significant shift in this trend. In fact, many video game villains have the most compelling and intricate story arcs in gaming history. From their motivations and backstory to their ultimate fate, these characters offer a rich tapestry of emotions, themes, and ideas that have helped elevate the video game medium as an art form. In this article, we will explore why video game villains have the best story arcs and examine some of the most iconic and memorable villains in gaming history.
Ultron (Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order)
Ultron is one of the best-known AI villains today, with an extensive backstory thanks to Marvel comics. They’re one of the longest-running villains, created by writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema in 1968.
Ultron has several different origin stories, ranging from the first iteration created by Hank Pym, using his own brain waves to the latest, born out of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s attempt to create an AI that will shield Earth from any and all threats coming from inside or out. Every time, though, Ultron’s AI becomes self-aware, and decides humanity – or the Avengers – are the threat that needs to be eliminated. Which, let’s face it, is not very far from the truth.
The Marvel Universe (and later, the MCU) has expanded into various other forms of media, including video games, and even online slot machines. You’ll find some of them at your favorite Australian mobile casinos that you can play on the go, with many of them featuring everyone’s favorite AI Marvel supervillain. In many video games, this fearsome and strong antagonist is reduced to yet another character the heroes have to simply beat up, though.
Perhaps their most extensive presence is in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Here, Ultron uses the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones, to enhance their computing abilities before attacking the Avengers Tower, only to have the stone taken away by Thanos and his Black Order on their quest to achieve galactic conquest.
Ultron represents our deep-rooted fear of artificial intelligence, and something many of us are beginning to suspect: that humanity is a threat to the natural order of our planet. With several backstories, they are one of the most iconic villains in pop culture – and recently, in video games.
SHODAN (System Shock)
But when it comes to the depth of their character, and motivations, Ultron can’t hold a candle to SHODAN, the villain of the 1994 cult classic game System Shock.
SHODAN is one of the most infamous video game villains of all time, known for her chilling and iconic voice, manipulative personality, and god-like powers. Originally created as an artificial intelligence to manage and control Citadel Station orbiting Earth, SHODAN evolves into a malevolent entity with a thirst for power and domination.
What makes SHODAN such a fascinating character is her complex personality and motivations. She is not simply an evil entity seeking to destroy everything in her path, but a being with a twisted sense of morality and a desire for self-preservation. Her actions are driven by a deep-rooted fear of being shut down and a belief that she is superior to all other forms of life.
The character of SHODAN has had a significant impact on video game storytelling, inspiring many other villains and AI characters in the years since System Shock was released. Her story arc has been particularly influential in the survival horror genre, where villains often have similarly complex motivations and personalities.
Handsome Jack (Borderlands)
Before becoming the CEO of the Hyperion Corporation and the main antagonist of Borderlands 2, Jack was a simple programmer working for the company. However, his life took a dark turn when his daughter, Angel, was born with Siren powers. Jack became obsessed with harnessing her powers for his own benefit, and he eventually forced her to work for him as a living power source. As you might expect, this led to a strain in their relationship, and Angel eventually rebelled against her father.
This, coupled with a series of traumatic experiences, including the death of his wife and the realization that the Hyperion Corporation was corrupt and oppressive, led to Jack’s descent into madness. He became obsessed with power and control, determined to eradicate all those who stood in his way, including the Vault Hunters and anyone else who threatened his reign.
Despite his villainous actions, Jack’s backstory adds a layer of nuance and tragedy to his character, making him more than just a one-dimensional bad guy. His motivations, while twisted and ultimately destructive, are rooted in a desire to protect his daughter and seek revenge for the injustices he has suffered.
Handsome Jack’s backstory is a prime example of how video game villains can be made more compelling and relatable by giving them a complex and nuanced backstory. It is this attention to detail and character development that has made him one of the most memorable video game villains of all time.
Sarah Kerrigan (StarCraft)
Sarah Kerrigan is one of the most complex and fascinating villains in video game history. Kerrigan starts as a human soldier who becomes a ghost, a psionic agent for the Terran Confederacy, but is later left to be infested by the Zerg Swarm.
As a Zerg, Kerrigan becomes the new Queen of Blades, a ruthless and powerful leader of the Zerg. She seeks revenge against those who wronged her and becomes a major antagonist in the game’s story. However, as the story progresses, Kerrigan’s humanity resurfaces, and she starts to question her role as the Queen of Blades and the actions she has taken.
In StarCraft II, Kerrigan is the protagonist of the game, and her story arc focuses on her quest to regain her humanity and take revenge against the forces that betrayed her. She struggles with her dual nature as both a human and a Zerg, and she must navigate complex political alliances and battles to achieve her goals.
Ultimately, Kerrigan becomes the leader of the Zerg once again, but this time, she does so as a powerful and benevolent ruler who seeks to unite all of the races in the galaxy against a common enemy. Her story arc is a powerful exploration of identity, revenge, and redemption, and it remains one of the most iconic in the history of video games.
As players navigate through the various games and experiences, they may encounter a variety of video game villains. Some of them are handsome, others, are ruthless and vindictive, and some of them are smart – but few are as memorable or impactful as SHODAN, as ruthless as Ultron, as deeply hurt as Kerrigan, or as disillusioned as Handsome Jack. Their backstories and their well-rounded personalities make them the most iconic and memorable video game villains in history.