The Bergman Files: How to Be Evil in Video Games

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[Editor’s note: For the next week or so, we’ll be running a series of posts from Jason Bergman, senior producer at Bethesda Softworks. Jason’s a nice guy and an unique game industry figure because he’s worked as a journalist, a publicist and has been on the developer side for a few years now. He’ll be gracing Techland with his wit and wisdom about everything from breaking into games to behind-the-scenes glimpses of the making of Fallout: New Vegas. We’re super-glad to have him on board and think you’ll enjoy his insights.]

What’s come before:

The Bergman Files: So You Want to Work in Games, Huh?

The Bergman Files: Ten of the Best Visions of the Post Apocalypse

Is there anything more fun than being an evil character in a video game? Oh, sure, sometimes there’s some guilt involved but, really, there’s nothing quite like indulging your dark side. While I generally play the good guy in games, I do like to cut loose now and then and get evil. And some games… some games really let you be downright despicable.

BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favorite games ever, primarily because of just how evil you can be (for the record, being good is fun, too… it’s a great game). In KOTOR, you can extort money from people (and then kill them anyway… hahah!), make people do things they really, really don’t want to do (and then kill them anyway…hahah!) and well, then there’s Mission and Zaalbar. Mission is a teenage Twi’Lek girl, and Zaalbar is her trusty Wookie best friend. They’re lifemates. They’re inseparable. And you can use the force to make Zaalbar kill her for you. Naturally he then turns on you, but who cares, because he was an annoying Wookie anyway. Hahaha! Good times.

(More on Techland: Interview: BioWare’s Daniel Erickson on Building The Old Republic)

Sometimes it takes some real ingenuity to be really, really evil. In On the evil path in Fallout 2, you’re tasked with assassinating the Vice President of the NCR. That’s a difficult thing to do, unless you plant a bomb on his son and wait for him to path inside to his father. Trigger the bomb, and blammo, you’ve just killed the Vice President without having to infiltrate his compound. (For the record, I had no idea that was possible until Feargus Urquhart, who worked on the game and now heads up Obsidian, pointed it out to me…crazy!).

Fun as that is, there are, of course, limits to what I want to do in games, even on the evil path. I don’t, for example, want to play a war game where I’m killing civilians in a modern, realistic situation. When I played the infamous “No Russian” mission in Modern Warfare 2, I wasn’t offended, I just chose not to shoot any of the civilians, and until absolutely forced to, didn’t shoot at police officers either. I thought it was actually a pretty clever way to put me in the body of an undercover agent, and raised lots of personal questions about what I’d be willing to do in that situation.

(More on Techland: Modern Warfare 2: This %$#ing Game is #$%ing %^&#ed Up)

What I really don’t like is when moral choice in games is purely superficial. Since KOTOR is set in the Star Wars universe, everything is pretty black and white, and the storyline shifts based on your actions. In Fallout, things tend to be a bit grayer because of how chaotic post-apocalyptic society is. Some games make the effects purely cosmetic, which is a bit of a letdown for someone like me. If you’re going to do it, go whole-hog or go home.

But when a game does it right, no question, being evil is fun. I love the Legacy of Kain games because they let me play as a truly despicable character. There’s no real choice there. You are not playing as a nice guy. You’re playing as the undead demon vampire who destroyed the world. (Oddly enough, that was a choice at the end of the original game. The sequels have all assumed you opted for the bad ending). And that’s cool.

(More on Techland: Dead Space is Dead; Long Live Fallout 3)

I may not want to kill civilians in real life but, when I play Fallout: New Vegas as a crazed psychopathic cannibal, I pull out my machete the first time someone says something that ticks me off. That’s different to me than Modern Warfare 2, where the situation I’m in is actually somewhat plausible and realistic. In a fantasy scenario, where nothing resembles my real life? I want to be as evil as the game will let me.