The construct of power within video games is an interesting one. Most games that afford freedom of choice to players do so with the understanding that the player will behave in a certain way – complete goals and achieve an end target. Yet this isn’t always the case. Sometimes gamers don’t want to behave as intended. Sometimes being good just isn’t fun; we just want to be bad. Power is what you make it and when you’re the boss in your own virtual kingdom, who’s going to stop you from becoming an all mighty tyrant?
Moreover how do games try and stop you from going on an unending quest of evil? Being endlessly evil sounds fun, but if there’s no consequences to your actions then it won’t remain fun for long. To this end, many games create push backs designed to punish and discourage outright tyranny in video games. Sometimes these take minor forms, while other times they can end your run of evil dead in their tracks. Depending on the game and the situation, it leaves you with plenty to consider.
It all depends really on what you’re controlling. Some titles give you dominion over cities, countries or other institutions – where the consequences of your evil deeds are felt by those who place their trust in you. The Rollercoaster Tycoon series became a fan favorite for the amount of freedom it afforded gamers, including in the evil department. Here you can build your own rollercoasters, including deathtraps, designed to murder your park guests for pure entertainment. The only direct consequence to this is that your parks rating craters, hitting you in the pocket and causing you to lose out financially. But thanks to the level of detail pushed out in these games, you could easily make that money back by whacking up the price of food and other condiments. Everyone’s got to eat right? Plus of course the most evil act of all – charging patrons for use of the toilets. That’s just downright evil right there.
Being an evil leader can also be fun in the SimCity series. Even though there’s no moral compass in-game, the options are there for you to go wild if the mood takes you. Budgets can be slashed for services you don’t deem priorities – and its you citizens that suffer directly. Hospitals can go wanting. Roads can go unkempt. Taxes can be raised and lowered on your own personal whim. It’s within your power to enact Ordinances that benefit your pocket over the city – legalizing gambling almost always impacts the neighborhood it ends up being planted in.
You can even go one step further and unleash disasters for your own personal amusement – your Sims are almost powerless to stop you. The only fight back comes in the form of civil unrest – as those you demean put their tools down and protest. This forces Sims out of your city as services creak to a halt, reducing your once prosperous city to a wasteland of abandoned houses and silent avenues. Still if it means not having to fork out for school buses, I’m fine with that outcome.
One genre where being an evil ruler isn’t just a side-attraction but actively encouraged is the 4X and 6X strategy genre. Here games have long offered the choice of going full on tyrant; in most games it’s a victory condition. Being an openly aggressive player comes with its own problems though – not least that AI and other players have the power to try and stop you. Build an army that’s ever bulging and the AI will notice, forming alliances to try and quell your ever broadening reach. You can take fight other civs endlessly and proclaim your power, but the game assigns you a warmonger trait that’s hard to remove – making dealings with others much harder down the line. If you fancy getting your hands on precious resources, you best be willing to take that land quickly.
The introduction of City States in Civilization 5 changed this dynamic further – as these small nations present an ever sweet temptation for expanding tyrants. Typically these City States come with one or more luxury items, and so the appeal to take them over or bully their riches from them becomes great. Bully too much however or attack one to many City States and they’ll cut you off for good – their riches not intended for your bad ways.
Some of these strategy games go even further. Galactic Civilization 2 and 3 puts all galactic civs into a United Planets by default (A sort of space UN). This is the central area for over-seeing relations between different species and keeping up to date with the diplomatic side of the galaxy, but you can always opt out of this. Better yet you can attempt to subvert the system and throw your control over the entire organisation – dictating control of policy and tormenting smaller civs that can’t compete against your broad power. Force up trade taxes, push through resolutions that benefit you.
Heck you can go totally overboard in these games and wipe out entire species if your heart desires. When invading planets, your usual aim is to try and preserve as much of the world as possible. Yet alongside this, the option to go totally crazy and start dropping meteors onto planets is right there. You can effectively reduce planets to rubble – and with enough tech blow them up outright. Nothing says bad ass tyrant like recreating Alderaan in your gaming experience. The only downside to this, not a single other species will want to talk to you afterwards for fear of meeting a similar fate.
Another genre of game where openness is afforded comes in the shape of sport management titles. In Sport Interactive’s Championship Manager series (Now Football Manager) there were plenty of ways for gamers to go rogue. In these games you assume the position of manager over a soccer team, which also means you gain control over development of players. If for some reason you decided to take a dislike to a particular player, you could effectively bully them unchallenged. This could be achieved through various means, from stopping them training through to simply fining them wages for “no reason”.
This mental anguish can derail in-game careers and in worst-case situations; lead to players outright going AWOL for months just to get away from you. The repercussions of this though are almost disastrous, as teammates take an equal dislike to you and even work to undermine your position. The game assigns a players like/dislike of you and behaving in this fashion is a great way to get on the bad side of said players friends – which only harms you in the long run.
My absolute favorite sports title to go rogue in still remains Ultimate Soccer Manager 98/99. Here you could go well beyond simply ruining careers – turning yourself into an effective mafia don. Encouraging players to take drugs, taking bribes to throw matches or simply attempting to bribe referees to fix matches for you. Nothing was really off the table in this game, yet getting caught would result in a swift end to your managerial career. It was mostly done as a satire of the mid-1990’s bung scandals that existed in English football, but provides gamers with enough scope to enjoy the rewards if they’re smart enough to get away with it.
But if we’re being honest the absolute king of tyrants in video games must be Paradox’s Crusader Kings – a series that has become infamous for the exploits of its most ruthless leaders. In particular Crusader Kings II, which has a bountiful selection of ways for gamers to not only inflict their evil desires on their dominion – but do it just for fun. Dismember rivals, imprison lovers or stage assassination attempts on those you just fancy taking out. The game is a cornucopia of choice and doesn’t hide the evil options out of reach.
Several of the game’s character traits are outright designed to force you into making terrible decisions; cackling all the way as your insanity rises. It won’t take long for those around you to plot and scheme against you, but half the fun of the game is that it feels entirely part of the experience. Don’t like a rival king? Go to war with him and imprison him. Fancy forming your own papacy so you can excommunicate whomever you fancy? Go for it. Your rivals are probably doing the exact same thing to you, which is all part of the fun.
In most cases being an evil ruler is a limited run thing. Games don’t like to encourage it too much, for fear that you run unchecked and break the experience. But sometimes its nice to be able to indulge that kind of evil streak – and its fun to see how games respond to such outbreaks of tyranny. Being bad is fun, and there’s plenty more examples where being a bad leader can be the best of fun.
What are your favorite examples of being able to be bad in video games?