In this article, I’ll take a look at five times where the hero in video games wasn’t all that noble. In fact, on some occasions their actions could be considered to be downright villainous. Sometimes it will be specific nasty acts that they committed in an otherwise heroic campaign. On other occasions, the whole story will be turned on its head by a villainous twist.
Much like with the recent villains article, there may be some spoilers. But once again, I have chosen some pretty old games. So odds are you’ve either already finished these games, or you’re unlikely to do so.
They’re neither the hero we need nor the hero we deserve…
It’s not easy being a video game hero. By necessity, you have to start out weaker than your enemies. If you didn’t, it wouldn’t be much of a game. And then there’s that pressure to be good and do the right thing all the time. Ugh, it’s just too much! Well, for some it really was too much. Here’s some video game “heroes” who didn’t always manage to do the right thing after all. First up, it’s Mario.
I’m not just talking about the number of skulls he stomps into the kerb in his attempt to reach the Princess. No, for this act of villainy, you have to turn the years way back to 1981 – to Mario’s debut, in Donkey Kong. According to the game’s manual, Donkey Kong was actually Mario’s pet ape. Even back in 1981, legally you couldn’t really keep a gorilla as a pet. But at least Mario loved and looked after his furry friend, right? Well…no. The manual also explains that Mario was abusing him. Here’s the explanation: “[Donkey Kong] is actually [Mario’s] pet who was mistreated.”
What kind of abuse can it mean? Well, we can’t be certain but here’s a screenshot of Mario standing next to a caged Donkey Kong with a whip in his hand. The screenshot is taken from Donkey Kong Junior.
Is it any wonder that Donkey Kong wanted to escape? When Mario finally makes it to Donkey Kong, does he seek a peaceful solution and apologise for mistreating his pet? No, he throws him off of a skyscraper. Nice. Basically it’s a precursor to Planet of the Apes.
2) Tim, Braid
Following on nicely from Mario, the hero of Braid appears to be doing just the same as Mario did all those times. No, not abuse gorillas! I mean, rescue the princess. However, at the end of the game it is revealed that the Princess was actually trying to escape from Tim. You’ve actually just been controlling a creepy stalker. And things get even worse for the princess in the game’s true ending. When he finally manages to catch her, she explodes!
3) James Sunderland, Silent Hill 2
The Silent Hill series has a lot of characters who were driven mad by guilt. One of the most morally ambiguous of these is the protagonist of Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland. Three years prior to the beginning of the game, his wife Mary was struck with a terminal disease. She deteriorated to the point of having violent mood swings, lashing out at James in anger. Due to a combination of pity and anger, James lashed out at his wife and killed her by suffocating her. During the entire game, the player is meant to believe that James visited Silent Hill in order to find a trace of his deceased wife, who he believes died from an illness years ago. In fact, the town of Silent Hill is borne from his repressed psyche that’s fabricating memories which helped him believe that his wife was dead all those years.
4) Wander, Shadow of the Colossus
The hero of Shadow of the Colossus slays sixteen beasts on his quest to try and restore Mono’s soul – the woman he loves. So far, so Monster Hunter World, right? Well, it turns out that Wander stole a sword meant specifically for killing these Colossi. Also, in his short-sighted quest to restore Mono’s soul, he released the dormant powers of an ancient evil entity named Dormin. Oops!
5) Booker, BioShock Infinite
Okay, this is one of the more recent games on the list. So if you haven’t already finished BioShock Infinite and you think that you may do so someday, please skip this one.
Still here, eh? Well, BioShock Infinite has a great story. This is partly thanks to the bond between the game’s hero Booker and Elizabeth, who was imprisoned in Columbia since she was an infant. The game’s antagonist is Prophet Comstock, and his actions are truly vile. But then the game’s ending flips everything on its head; it’s revealed that Booker himself is Prophet Comstock, due to the existence of an alternate timeline that arises when Booker accepts his baptism. It’s a wonderful ending. His character is also an example of how a person is capable of being either a hero or a villain, depending on what they are subjected to.
What are your favourite examples of villainous acts committed by characters who were – or at least, appeared to be – heroes?
Want more opinion pieces? You could try Do you stroke the kitten or put it in the blender? Videogame morality next. Or you could read Dragon Age Inquisition theory: When Solas revealed his master plan in a chess game.