RETHINKING ANTAGONISTS

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So recently I was thinking about those old, classic debates on 'who's the better villain' all across the gamingsphere, and how they generally boil down to Kefka/Sephiroth, more or less. A ton of people put a ton of weight on games based on their antagonists. I chucked and then I thought...who gives a shit?

Don't get me wrong! We should absolutely judge characters based on their merits; bad antagonists, and bad characters in general is a mark against a story. There's also stellar stories with dramatic, show stopping villains. That's fine! But thinking on it a little...aren't we putting ourselves into a hole by constantly narrowing what an antagonist is supposed to be and what their role is in narratives?

Take for example, the Deus Ex series (GREAT series, by the way), a series that is more or less universally praised as having a stellar plotline/narrative. To those familiar, the character Bob Page is generally regarded as the ultimate and central character antagonist. But...the spotlight isn't on him too much, though, and that's fine.

While yes, he does have a fair bit of characterization in the original game (and he is indeed your final obstacle), and Mankind Divided did a great job expanding him, the main 'antagonist' throughout the bulk of all the games isn't Bob Page himself; it's the shadow figures that run things, the conspiracy, the fog in the search for the truth. Even Majestic 12, the mess Page made, is a composite of a lot of things going on. The player and protagonists both have plenty of conflict even when he isn't around.

Even though Deus Ex has many, many antagonists, there's not too many show stopping, one liner 'bad guy' characters that fill that role, it's the struggle itself.

I'm rambling. The point that I'm trying to make is that are we limiting ourselves with the expectation that games must have 'villains' in the form of dramatic characters such Sephiroth and the like? Yes, games must have conflict, absolutely. But I think it is purely an JRPG trope where that conflict has to be in the form of a central, dramatic, show stopping, scene stealing character. And yes, games generally should have bad guys (of some sort) to fight and antagonists to clash against, I'm not saying otherwise here.

While there's plenty of mainstream games that have figured it out already (Deus Ex, the Witcher, Mass Effect, etc), let's talk it ourselves!
KatanaHiroshi
I am definitely not in VTuber hell.
4197
Agreeing with this, though. If there's no conflict, nothing's going to make a momentum for the story. It's pretty much a basic recipe that only the spices (the baddies and such) can make it even better.

Though, an antagonist doesn't have to be like a physical object. It can be in a form of mental disorders and such or something that makes conflict. Plus, the reason conflict is made anyway is due to misunderstandings, which are made due to our perspective... which can be derived as the real reason the plot ever existed and possibly the "plot antagonist" and the "plot maker" at the same time.

Also, an antagonist doesn't necessarily need to be "evil". He just opposes the side the protagonist is in. If the protagonist were some overlord (Hasvers approved) trying to make his words to survive against the people who would try and kill him, that pretty much makes a point that a protagonist can be somewhat "evil" in a way.

TL;DR: An antagonist is a character that opposes a protagonist and pretty much can be in a physical or mental form. An antagonist doesn't necessarily need to be "evil".

(Plus, I do remember having a lesson about "struggles" from our Values Education teacher which sums up to this.)
Sooz
Oh no, not the Hall of Death again! The only way out of here is death!
4342
The best antagonist is whichever one was in the big RPG I played as a kid.

Antagonists really only matter in relation to their protagonist and how they motivate them (and, by extension, the player). I made a big effortpost about the main types of villain the last time we had this discussion. So that's there.
I think you got the right core idea here though.
I feel many approach the plot with "LOOK THIS AWESOME BAD GUY HERE, ISN'T HE AMAZINGLY EVIL?!" or use it more as a crutch instead of creating and overreaching conflict around a common theme, issue, problem, atmosphere, perhaps even personality traits of your main characters in reverse display (like good things gone mad).
And seeing it encompass the whole game just makes more sense and feels a lot tighter and better developed than having one bad guy chase the next. I remember Shadow Hearts 2 having a villain that was obvious from the start, then beat that villain, to then have another villain appear that takes over .. just because ugh.
Variety is fun!

It boils down to a more general design philosophy. Approach the game as a whole, not just as a construction of one part leading into another.
I think there are all kinds of villains in RPGs already. If anything, there aren't enough Kekfas and Sephiroths. (And let's not forget Lezard Valeth!)

I'd also like to see more games where you can be a Kefka yourself (the only game I know is Soul Nomad And The World Eaters --- well I guess UnderTale as well).

All those "I had a bad childhood / have good reasons for being a villain" villains really all just feel like "We only gave him a reason because otherwise players complain about it".

Final bosses that are natural disasters can also be nice.
InfectionFiles
the world ends in whatever my makerscore currently is
4353
Really been rehashing the same old discussions, huh?

And "villain" from any of the Mad Max movies is a pretty good start
author=InfectionFiles
Really been rehashing the same old discussions, huh?

And "villain" from any of the Mad Max movies is a pretty good start

This topic isn't 'what makes a good villain', it's more rethinking of 'what an antagonist is' in the first place, including, but not limited to, a single person or persons.
Yellow Magic
I'll never regain the bones I lost from my loneliness and sorrow
3046
I think FFX is a pretty good example of antagonism in a jRPG that isn't a clear-cut case of "they're the bad guy! We need a super climactic scene involving them!'
pianotm
The TM is for Totally Magical.
23248
Feldschlacht IV
InfectionFiles
Really been rehashing the same old discussions, huh?

And "villain" from any of the Mad Max movies is a pretty good start
This topic isn't 'what makes a good villain', it's more rethinking of 'what an antagonist is' in the first place, including, but not limited to, a single person or persons.


Well, if that's the case, then a story told from the point of view of the villain would mean that the villain is the protagonist and the hero is the antagonist. The antagonist is whoever acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. I think "what makes a good antagonist" would be a better way to describe this discussion.

The antagonist, in my opinion, works best when he or she reflects the personality of the protagonist.
Ultimately, all you need for an antagonist in any story is a character whose goals conflict with the protagonist's. In games, since you're controlling the protagonist and most players want to do good, the good versus evil thing is just something you naturally fall into. Game stories aren't usually about their characters, so the stakes have to be pretty high, and that's where saving the world comes from.

This is also the reason fantasy writers are kind of seen as hacks in the world of literature. They tend to use these good vs evil tropes with really high stakes. This is an oversimplification, but doing that allows you to get around the finer points of literature. There's a reason all the greatest books ever written rarely have a story like that. This is also why WW2 makes for such compelling literature, even though WW2 writers tend to be seen as hacks as well.

Think of things in terms of conflicting goals rather than good and evil. I think that's the first step toward getting out of the Kefka/Nazis trope.
author=pianotm
Well, if that's the case, then a story told from the point of view of the villain would mean that the villain is the protagonist and the hero is the antagonist. The antagonist is whoever acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. I think "what makes a good antagonist" would be a better way to describe this discussion.

The antagonist, in my opinion, works best when he or she reflects the personality of the protagonist.

If you make the bad guy the protagonist and the good guy the antagonist, then you still have a central show stealing antagonist, which is exactly that the opening post listed as an example of what we maybe not need every time.

Anyway, let's see if I understood the topic right. We maybe don't need the antagonists to be that dramatic they usually are in JRPGs. For example, the main opposing force could be a whole clan.

Now, this is not unusual by its own. However, usually there's a leader or some Councillor behind the throne feeding the leader misinformation that causes the clan to antagonize the protagonist. The late game would have you finally confront the leader and/or Councillor and defeat them. After that, the problem would be over.

However, what if there is no central characters that acts as a driving force behind the clan's antagonistic attitude towards the protagonist? The clan is opposing the protagonist because the vast majority of the clan members think they should do so. There will be a leader and maybe a Councillor as well, but they are just organizing what the clans-people feel they should be doing, they are not in any way or shape the driving force. There may also be other people in the clans who are more significant than most others, but there's the same deal with them, none of them are the driving force. Even if the protagonist could kill every named antagonist, it would not affect the main problem of the clan being an enemy the slightest.

Here the protagonist has to either make peace with the clan or subdue/destroy it. The named antagonists are not the central force behind the conflict, their role is instead to serve as a way for the protagonist and the clan to communicate. The drama has to a large extent been moved from single people to a mass of people.

I think this sort of role changing of the antagonists is what this topic is about. Well, if it's not, then an explanation would be appreciated. If it is, then I just gave an example of how you could do so.
Kloe
I lost my arms in a tragic chibi accident
2344
I prefer awesome evil MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA villains personally, I don't think we NEED to rethink them, but I get the whole "It's psychological and compliated plot" it's just that many players won't care about that, and MWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA villains are more fun to make. ^_^;
author=Kloe
, but I get the whole "It's psychological and compliated plot" it's just that many players won't care about that,

I think a lot of players (and critically acclaimed games) would disagree with that, especially in respect to RPGs, but you like what you like!
Sooz
Oh no, not the Hall of Death again! The only way out of here is death!
4342
Hey guys I'm gonna pop into your topic about making villains other than the traditional kind to say that I prefer the traditional kind. Hope you have enjoyed my input on this matter!
author=Crystalgate
author=pianotm
Well, if that's the case, then a story told from the point of view of the villain would mean that the villain is the protagonist and the hero is the antagonist. The antagonist is whoever acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. I think "what makes a good antagonist" would be a better way to describe this discussion.

The antagonist, in my opinion, works best when he or she reflects the personality of the protagonist.
If you make the bad guy the protagonist and the good guy the antagonist, then you still have a central show stealing antagonist, which is exactly that the opening post listed as an example of what we maybe not need every time.

Anyway, let's see if I understood the topic right. We maybe don't need the antagonists to be that dramatic they usually are in JRPGs. For example, the main opposing force could be a whole clan.

Now, this is not unusual by its own. However, usually there's a leader or some Councillor behind the throne feeding the leader misinformation that causes the clan to antagonize the protagonist. The late game would have you finally confront the leader and/or Councillor and defeat them. After that, the problem would be over.

However, what if there is no central characters that acts as a driving force behind the clan's antagonistic attitude towards the protagonist? The clan is opposing the protagonist because the vast majority of the clan members think they should do so. There will be a leader and maybe a Councillor as well, but they are just organizing what the clans-people feel they should be doing, they are not in any way or shape the driving force. There may also be other people in the clans who are more significant than most others, but there's the same deal with them, none of them are the driving force. Even if the protagonist could kill every named antagonist, it would not affect the main problem of the clan being an enemy the slightest.

Here the protagonist has to either make peace with the clan or subdue/destroy it. The named antagonists are not the central force behind the conflict, their role is instead to serve as a way for the protagonist and the clan to communicate. The drama has to a large extent been moved from single people to a mass of people.

I think this sort of role changing of the antagonists is what this topic is about. Well, if it's not, then an explanation would be appreciated. If it is, then I just gave an example of how you could do so.


I think that's a very interesting idea! And yeah, things like that is what the topic is about.
@Crystalgate I feel this is what it is about. And one great way to do it.

There are of course also a lot of plots where eventually you do reach an antagonist of sorts - kinda like reaching the mystery culprit guy in Persona 4 (or 3) - but the overreaching conflict that enabled them to become that way is linked, but separate. The whole underlying theme and conflict is triggered by the antagonists, in a way, but a thing on its own that could well exist without them.
A lot of the SMT games work that way actually, and I love them for that (and many other things).

I think it's a really important topic to consider because how you shape the conflict is how you make it interesting. Having multiple layers of involvement, responsibility and more just gives it a lot more depth, variety and flavor.
I'd really hoped to see some more discussion around it, to be honest.
It's not clear cut path, but I find it much more satisfying and interesting when I do see it.

@Kloe: If you have more fun doing it one way, all the power to you~

That said, I sure care about it! I mean, I don't think this is necessarily a question of how many like it. Maybe more just want it clear-cut and simple or don't care. But then a decent number would still like it, and there is great value to be had by catering to a specific audience that sees little of what they want.
And it's also fun to consider a broader view in theory for all the different layers of creation you can entertain yourself with.
The antagonist of any story is the challenge the hero needs to overcome, whether it be external, internal, societal, personal, impersonal or other. What makes a good antagonist, though, is how they relate to the hero themselves and how that is made apparent through the story.

You can have an impersonal antagonist quite easily but it won't work out that well if there's no reason for the hero to want to beat it. The links between hero and antagonist are important, whether they're a loudly-laughing super-villain or a virus that is spreading across the world. How the hero views, interacts and is affected by the antagonist makes for whether it's a good one or not, most of the time. (There are some antagonists who are great despite having a terrible hero to bounce off.)
Sooz
Oh no, not the Hall of Death again! The only way out of here is death!
4342
author=Liberty
You can have an impersonal antagonist quite easily but it won't work out that well if there's no reason for the hero to want to beat it.


TBH that's not really on the antagonist, it's more what the protag's goal is. Boiled down to their most basic, most stories are about the protag trying to attain a goal, and the stuff in their way that they have to deal with.

The main reason we usually think of antagonists as a singular villain is because it's extremely simple and easy to write- one unifying force to tie together all the challenges. But there's no reason it can't be a force of nature, or a concept, or any other abstract thing, other than this makes it harder to make a final boss.
Dragnfly
Beta testers!? No, this game needs a goddamn exorcist!
1730
One of my projects has no specific one individual as a villain. It's a group and no specific one is the leader. They function basically as a council. The final battle involves several of them. And I feel that what really limits people with the conflict in games is the belief that there needs to be a specific individual to pin everything on.

The majority of the conflict in the project I mentioned is more along the lines of man vs nature and man vs. self. The man vs man component is more for world building than for the actual story.

Like Sooz mentioned, we usually confine the game's crisis (or any story's crisis) to a specific villain because it's easier to have a final boss that way. Plain and simple. It's much easier to get around that in certain types of games, like a strategy RPG, but I think with some work you can do it in any story.
author=Feldschlacht IV
author=Kloe
, but I get the whole "It's psychological and compliated plot" it's just that many players won't care about that,
I think a lot of players (and critically acclaimed games) would disagree with that, especially in respect to RPGs, but you like what you like!

I actually agree with Kloe. Also, if we go by critically acclaimed games, they often also have "MWAHAHA" villains. See Kefka. And I bet Sephiroth is popular because he kills so many people and summons something that going to destroy the whole planet and looks like a god in the final battle (well if we ignore the last last one) and not because of his deep and complex plot.

If you don't make the player hate the antagonist, then the villain simply won't be memorable.
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