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I'm an Evil Basterd

Posted on 24th Sep 2009 at 10:16 by Joe Martin with 30 comments

Joe Martin
Those of you who follow the bit-tech blogs and podcasts with anything more than a cursory interest will know that my extra-curricular gaming habits lately have been…focused to say the least. I’ve been playing Baldur’s Gate exclusively, pausing only to rush through Kane and Lynch: Dead Men after a Michael Mann marathon left me wanting a certain type of adventure.

Baldur’s Gate, as I mentioned when I set myself the challenge, is my Everest. It’s the mountain I’m climbing to prove something to myself, namely that I have an attention span longer than – hey look, there’s a squirrel outside!

I’ve not really blogged about my time with the game since then – and for those of you who are curious, I’m still in Baldur’s Gate 1 and have completed all quests in the lower half of the world map. I’m a male, true neutral, half-elf conjurer called Jacob accompanied by Viconia, Imoen, Shar-teel, Jaheira and Khalid. I was tempted to go with a full-on, all woman band of adventurers, but I always had a soft spot for Khalid.

More to the point, I had a really horrible experience with the game yesterday.

I'm an Evil Basterd *I'm an Evil Basterd
The village in question

It didn’t seem to be anything important at first – I was just exploring a section of wilderness and enjoying the Tom Waits tunes I had playing in the background (I never did like the music in BG) when I stumbled upon some enemies. Xvarts, specifically – blue-skinned pseudo-goblins who litter the early areas of the game as experience fodder.

I attacked them, naturally. I’m still fairly low-level at the moment as I’ve yet to go North to the bigger quests, but a barrage of Imoen’s arrows, Jacob’s Chromatic Orbs and a few sword blows from the rest was enough. I looted the corpses, moved forwards and found another batch of Xvarts. Rinse, repeat – and by the time I was ploughing through the fifth huddle of little blue men I was getting bored.

Bored and, to be honest, kind of disillusioned. I was thinking about the matter of just roaming around and blindly killing everything had become somehow oddly mechanised. I was going along with a macabre rhythm of magic missiles and loosed arrows, when I could have equally dealt with the situation with a couple of non-violent sleeping spells or colour sprays. It’s not like Xvarts are worth a lot of XP, or carry any good loot. You’re lucky if you can grab ten gold and a vanilla shortsword off their corpses.

I'm an Evil Basterd *I'm an Evil Basterd
I don't mean I'm like Brad Pitt - but there is a resemblance...

Then, just as I was at the point of questioning of why I was killing all these Xvarts, I got my answer. The Xvart leader stepped up to me and asked in broken English why I was killing his people.
We’ve done nothing to youse!” He declared, surrounded by his butchered brethren. “Why you kill us?

The answer, it suddenly appeared, was simply that I hadn’t thought about it. I’m big. They’re little. They’re aggressive, I respond to that. At no point did it occur to me that they were aggressive because a bigger, fully armed troop had marched into their village with their weapons drawn. I just walked in and killed them with all the ambivalence you’d expect of a True Neutral character.

On reflection, I found the whole thing rather uncomfortable. I chose the True Neutral alignment to give my character the maximum amount of freedom in the game, yet I didn’t even exercise the freedom to think when given the option. In fact, in the time that I had proceeded this far on my train of thought, I hadn’t even stopped killing. I’d slaughtered every Xvart in the village, looted the bodies and bested Ursa the Cave Bear who had been summoned to defend the village.

I'm an Evil Basterd *I'm an Evil Basterd
I killed them so slowly they thought dying was a career!

Standing in the aftermath, I was confused about what I’d done. Was it good to slaughter the Xvarts, who often prey on Humans, even though I couldn’t prove they’d done anything wrong? Or was it wrong to needlessly slaughter a village of enemies that existed for no other reason than to be defeated insofar as the game worked?

Compounding the issue for me was the fact that I was playing a game. That meant that whatever I’d done should supposedly be termed as entertainment – which raised similar thoughts to those I had with The Path about whether the sensation of discomfort was itself enjoyable. It also meant that the entire experience was temporary. With a couple of clicks I could re-load to an earlier point and erase the whole thing.

But I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t, really. I could say it’s because I wanted to learn the lesson, or because I realised it was just a game, but that would be a lie. The only vaguely good reason I can conjure is because I wanted the XP, no matter the cost and that I was too lazy to source that experience somewhere else. Either way, I don’t think I’m True Neutral anymore – I’m too much of an Evil Basterd.

Have you ever had an experience like that? Tell us in the forums.

30 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Bauul 24th September 2009, 11:45 Quote
I presume after speaking with the Xvart leader, you killed him and looted his corpse as well? Yup, definitely evil. :)

I think this kind of emotion is something unexplored in games. Braid did it best of all. The slowly dawning feeling that actually you had no idea what you were doing, or why, culminating in the horrible sinking feeling when you realised you were the bad guy was immense, but it's pretty unique amongst games (although the "Would you kindly...?" twist in Bioshock was sort of similar).

Reminds me a bit of I Am Legend as well, the whole role reversal in the finale made for one of best of Sci-Fi endings (the book that is, not the god-awful take-the-whole-point-of-the-story-and-****-on-it film).
DeathAwaitsU 24th September 2009, 11:48 Quote
wow, bit philosophical there :P, you must really love that game.

As to the question, i can't think of an experiance like it, but i'm sure i have (is too early to think about, i havent even had a coffee yet lol), if it comes to me i'll post again :)
Xir 24th September 2009, 13:17 Quote
...after my Harkonnen career (Dune), and my NOD career (diverse C&C's), and my Zerg career, and my Nazi career (Battlefield...and so on)...

I do tend to the Basterd side, yes.
Has it bothered me? No.

The bad guys aren't alwas better, but usually better dressed and more...fun?

Ooooh...we're so politically correct, we've got to write basterd wrong so it doesn't get blotted out with *** :D
CardJoe 24th September 2009, 13:19 Quote
Definitely better dressed. The Artreides' blue cloaks have got nothing on those black military uniforms.
Krikkit 24th September 2009, 13:21 Quote
I think the biggest realisation that I'm totally evil in games came with Star Wars: Empire At War...

I've never played as a Rebel, I always, immediately, play as the Empire, and proceed to conquer the galaxy and crush the rebels with the utmost ruthlessness. If there are people on the planet where the rebels are, I destroy their homes and then them, preferably with a horde of AT-AT's.

In the space I simply level up until I can buy Star Destroyers then just parade around the map, destroying everything possible.

[edit]Good point about Dune too - I always picked a different side in there, because they were all fairly nasty once you got into it, but extreme prejudice is always exercised.

Another one that springs to mind if the DoW expansions - I always played as the Codex.

Basically I always choose the baddies, don't know why. Maybe we should start a club? The Evil Basterds.
Xir 24th September 2009, 13:23 Quote
Yup...look at star wars....raggedy bunch of good doers. The only neat style is in the imperial army!
Don't even get me started on uncombed wookies or ewoks or hardly dry-behind-the-ears-whatever-jarjar's-cruel-joke-of-a-race-is-called. :D

Comb the desert! (oh...but that was spaceballs)
Dosvedagna 24th September 2009, 13:26 Quote
I realised i was evil in fallout 3.

one of the first missions you can do involves collecting some money from a supposed prostitute who owes drug money - when she asked me for help i shot her and stole the money.

That games make you do some NASTY things lol
Hugo 24th September 2009, 13:34 Quote
I don't know about being evil per se, but give me the chance to detonate a nuke in a game and you can be damn sure I'm going to do it.
stoff3r 24th September 2009, 14:07 Quote
I allways feel bad about attacking animals in the Tomb Raider series. Why can't the game throw some evil nasty orcs or ninjas at me? I would love to kill them instead. I feel the same way in Age of Conan, I try my best sometimes, to avoid killing animals if I can, I actually say to them: just stay there, you don't want do die today? right? AAArg.

I also did a lot of evil things in Fallout, one of them was a mistake. I accidently took an item or was somewhat enemified with a girl I really didn't want to kill. But surely she had to have a gun, and I didn't have a recent savefile :,( Felt so bad afterwards.
Krikkit 24th September 2009, 14:10 Quote
Sounds like you're more of a semi-evil person. I would've capped her and taken everything she owned. That, and I executed everything in Tomb Raider I could find.
B3CK 24th September 2009, 15:07 Quote
For me I think I realized it during C&C, when Cane asked which capital to blow up first. It took me several minutes of indecision before I selected my own Washington D.C..
CardJoe 24th September 2009, 15:59 Quote
Possibly the thing I felt worst for was in Mass Effect when I killed Wrex myself, with zero argument on my 'bitch' playthrough. He objected for a second, so I just went in and did it.

In Baldur's Gate 2 as well, I always felt really ****ing terrible for telling Keldorn to stay as a Paladin for the order rather than going back to his family when they needed him - I just didn't want to lose him for the party.
bpdlr 24th September 2009, 16:42 Quote
Another superb article Joe.

"That meant that whatever I’d done should supposedly be termed as entertainment " I love it when games overturn this stereotype. Why *should* games just be fun, and not educational or didactic?

Another thing I've found in a lot of games is that the bad side simply loses out on game choices, and tends to be pretty one-dimensional. Why not more complex, conflicted characters? - Horza Gobuchul from Iain M Banks' "Consider Phlebas" comes to mind.
thehippoz 24th September 2009, 17:15 Quote
not really.. look at it more as besting the programmer behind the AI myself

against real people, that's when your real personality shows lol especially in like quake 2- you could pretty much gauge a persons intelligence level when you played them in a duel.. I mean the strategies were so varied in those map levels given the physics- you could literally label someone a dumbass or average.. when you knew them in real life, that was pretty accurate

against AI grind.. I look at it as a rat pedal and don't think twice about it really- but I do look at ways to make it faster, like alot of people.. want to invest the least amount of time to get to your goals in the game
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Possibly the thing I felt worst for was in Mass Effect when I killed Wrex myself, with zero argument on my 'bitch' playthrough. He objected for a second, so I just went in and did it.

In Baldur's Gate 2 as well, I always felt really ****ing terrible for telling Keldorn to stay as a Paladin for the order rather than going back to his family when they needed him - I just didn't want to lose him for the party.

yeah.. well I gotta admit wrex was tough to get rid of given the history of his people- was a really good game =]
Combinho 24th September 2009, 17:23 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Possibly the thing I felt worst for was in Mass Effect when I killed Wrex myself, with zero argument on my 'bitch' playthrough. He objected for a second, so I just went in and did it.

I always play all my games trying to be good. I think the only time I got renegade points in Mass Effect was during the DLC, but I still maintain that I did the right thing. Maybe I'm just too nice.
Dosvedagna 24th September 2009, 17:28 Quote
KOTOR was brilliant for this sort of thing.
i always made sure i played the game through twice ( i completed it a lot of times) being as good and as evil as possible - the script for some of the evil options was brilliant haha

i think im gunna play mass effect, everyone keeps telling me its brilliant, i just havn't got round to it :)
Xtrafresh 24th September 2009, 21:51 Quote
i had this happen to me in Fallout 3. Normally, i play goody-two-shoes first, and the evil SOB on the second playthrough. But when the guy in the first village asked me to do the evil thing, i just dropped everything i was planning on doing and went ahead. After watching the nuclear explosion 7 or 8 times, it finally dawned on me to ask why the guy wanted the village blown up... i was quite shocked that i had just helped him clean up the view from his balcony.
thehippoz 24th September 2009, 21:55 Quote
lol yeah xtra.. was for that old *******- I blew it up too
yakyb 25th September 2009, 09:51 Quote
sometimes i enter a game trying to be evil thinking hey i'm normally good i'll be evil this time but i always end up being good

im playing NWN2 atm and given the choice of join the watch / join the bandits i thought am i **** going to join the bandits they want to get money of this poor shop keeper oh and they attacked my party twice already with little provocation


when i played the witcher i did come through very much neutral however as it explained both sides of the argument very well and both sides had there reasons good and bad so i decided to walk away with my friends safe
Xir 25th September 2009, 12:43 Quote
...didn't get it, I'm in karma heaven in Fallout3, absolutely good...just because i didn't blow up the town (no, i wanted to plunder it myself) and I didn't let the kids rot in slavery (no, i wanted to plunder the slavers myself).

For some reason the game thinks I'm good, while I just kill anyone coming hostile against me, and trade everyone else...
Took me a while to realize that this is no use, now I'm rich but can't do anything useful with the money
thEcat 26th September 2009, 04:51 Quote
The Witcher was a fine example of the old proverb 'two wrongs may not a right but they do make for a good game' I loved the conflicting moralities. It also featured one of my favourite implementations of consequences, the party and who you decide to take, so simple and so much fun.

Evil moments, moments that made me think:

I once stopped playing The Settlers due to the inherent and repeated genocide. This was during the Bosnia crisis so external influence had a lot to do with the feeling.

Putting a bullet through my brothers brain in F.E.A.R. Just an engineered scenario in a naturally violent game.

The bait and switch in Penumbra: Black Plague, that one got me even if it was a trick.

It's several years now but the situation I remember most came from a third party quest mod for Morrowind called Children of the Night II. Drug addiction, filicide, prostitution, bisexual relationships, incest, torture, rape are all suitable topics for an adult themed game. They feature in literature, they feature in paintings, they even feature on T.V. so one day they will have to feature in computer games if the phrase 'games as art' is ever to gain true credibility. The CoN series has them all and uses them to great effect in creating a gritty and emotionally involving experience. As a third party mod, uncensored by government or big corporations it can get away with this, which is the reason I shed a tear, and your god kills a kitten, every time someone signs up for GFWL. Sorry, getting off topic.

After a long and involving story you are faced with a situation where you have to beat certain answers out of a helpless young woman suspended in a cage. Just you and her in an empty prison cell, her name is Hygina. Torch light flickering on damp walls, her defiant taunts fill the air. The vision you had of Ariela, your kidnapped companion, and the repeated rape(?) she is enduring still fresh in your mind. Hygina is certainly responsible for the kidnap, but at her mothers request. Ariela, her sister and sometimes lover, the mother priestess of a dark cult, a diary in your pocket where Ariela has written of her growing affection for you. Affection, or are you just a useful source of drugs?

Cold blooded physical torture, possibly murder, in a setting that put it beyond a game. Agendas mixed and motives unclear this became a question of true morality. Justice, vengeance, jealousy, lust at what point would I, could I, step over the line?

This brings me back to the unasked but I feel relevant question of games as art. While the de rigueur killing spree in a supportive environment with limited consequence is fun it can at best be likened to X-Factor, Cops on Camera, the scribbling of a three year old - popular and/or enjoyable in context but hardly thought provoking. Joe asks 'whether the sensation of discomfort was itself enjoyable' ? I don't think it's time to prescribe a nettle vest approach to game design but I do feel to be taken seriously as an art form computer gaming must be allowed to become emotionally evocative, questioning of authority, morality and socially acceptable norms. Subjects that make you stop and think.

This doesn't have to be dry and dusty, or surreal to the level of The Path. Fallout 3 tackles prejudice without missing a beat, or a kill, along with the other Bethesda stalwarts of corruption, religion, drug use (except Australia ;) ) and slavery, only thing missing, and the best line by far in Oblivion, necrophilia. Mass Effect surpassed all my expectations but one highlight was the question, at what point is the chemical castration of an entire race justified?

Thought provoking stuff and there are many other examples in the gaming world, though more often than not the issues are trivialised. The question is how far can the issues be pushed before the censors or console manufacturers intervene? bpdlr mentioned Iain (M) Banks, would Consider Phlebas in game form pass without remark(1), or The Bridge, the BBC got away with the comedic exploding grandmother (Crow Road) still I'm sure my little example, tame by Banks standards, of the overbearing mother and her two estranged daughters would cause them apoplexy.

(1) Actually it's a long, long, time since I read this but knowing the warped imagination of Mr Banks...

Epilogue
In the end I did follow through with the story, it is after all just a game. Even so, with my major skill in blunt weapons, I used a wooden club, it was the softest I could find ;)
Kris 26th September 2009, 22:51 Quote
What a post, +rep Joe :)

One example that pops to my mind is being annoyed at the 'halo' around your head in Fable... and then i tried to do some evil quests... but the sad part is that for me the game never gave me a true chance, or rather a chance that seemed worth it... Why go and slaughter a trader's camp for some quest if you know you might need to trade with them? And many more such examples exist, I am sure.
Sometimes it feels like the game developers add the 'evil' path of playing through the game as an afterthought, not because they had planned the game to be about choosing the way you play.
Xir 28th September 2009, 09:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by thEcat
I used a wooden club, it was the softest I could find ;)

Aaah..the softness of your heart be blessed :D
l3v1ck 28th September 2009, 23:09 Quote
WTF? You haven't got Minsc in your party? He's the coolest game character ever!
l3v1ck 28th September 2009, 23:52 Quote
Quote:
The Xvart leader stepped up to me and asked in broken English why I was killing his people.
“We’ve done nothing to youse!” He declared, surrounded by his butchered brethren. “Why you kill us?”

The answer, it suddenly appeared, was simply that I hadn’t thought about it. I’m big. They’re little. They’re aggressive, I respond to that.
If I remember rightly, you don't get a choice. They attack you on sight. It's not like you have a conversation the choose an option to attack them.
CardJoe 29th September 2009, 09:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by l3v1ck
If I remember rightly, you don't get a choice. They attack you on sight. It's not like you have a conversation the choose an option to attack them.

That's true, but it doesn't mean you have to fight. You could just stealth through with invis. spells, render them asleep with spells, or just turn and leave. They aren't a threat, have no loot and don't appear to be bad guys in any obvious way. Just Xvarts living in the wilderness.

And Minsc is good, but I've played with him before and don't like Dynaheir.
l3v1ck 29th September 2009, 11:30 Quote
I always let Jahira die so I could keep Khalid, but not her. If you removed her from the party when she was alive, he'd leave too.
She's worth playing with in BG2 though, purely for the extra missions you get to play because of her Harper involvement.
Plastic_Manc 29th September 2009, 18:20 Quote
It always bothers me about being evil in games such as Medieval: Total War. I wonder whether my intentions are really to "set the populace free from their evil dictatorships" or to just bludger anyone who opposes me to death then work my civilians to the bone to achieve as much profit as possible in order to build another army to go forth and butcher.

A battle not going your way? Why don't you slit the throats of your prisoners? That'll **** them up!
Grinch123456 1st October 2009, 01:58 Quote
Nothing, and I mean nothing anyone does in any game can compare to the horrors you can unleash on the universe in Space Empires IV and V.

I was the Phoenix Alliance and him the Quentin Republic, some group of humans with space ships that wanted to grow. I was playing with a friend for about a week non-stop, excluding the 7/11 trips for heart-stopping butter-filled goodness.

Now, he tried economically taking over other races but I just flat out assaulted them. I had fleets numbering in the hundreds of ships coming in and just pounding the living crap out of planets, destroying their entire infrastructure. When they wouldn't surrender, I "glassed" the planets and asked them to surrender again. Sometimes, they numbered in the tens of billions of alien people. In fact, due to the fact that I had immigration treaties with some of the races, I would often be killing almost as many as a 100 million of my own race living on their territory! This "surrender or die" cycle continued for each planet until they either gave in or I exterminated every single planet that empire controlled and every single living being on that planet so the empire was no more.

Why, you may ask? Simple. I wanted more space to build more ships and mine more stuff. At the end of this game, when it was just me and my friend sitting across each other, ready for a long and drawn out war, we calculated how many people and ships we mercilessly killed. Him? 15 billion people and 100 ships. Me? More than 150 billion and 600 ships, not counting fighters, satellites, drones, or weapon platforms.

I was some kind of twisted, horrible, intergalactic mix of Alexander the Great and Hitler.
Elton 1st October 2009, 05:20 Quote
Sadly sometimes it's really hard to be good.

For example in CIV IV, Usually I turn out to be quite the powerful country, so most of the time I play the 'big guy" in other words I had the edge on everything, I just didn't do anything. What does this result in? Almost everyone begging me to be their ally. I ended up wiping out all of them like INGSOC in 1984, allying with one, killing the other, then doing the same over and over..

While I was gaining land, the others were winning a Pyrrhic victory, or a severe defeat as I would only lend support, then once the coast is clear, I would blitz the town I just gave to an ally.

Interestingly my friends still think I'm the nicest player since I was "willing" to give them help...

Even funnier is the fact that I extended my hand of assistance to all nations. By the end game It was me with the big continents all conquered, and by the time the other 4 guys figured it out, all they had were paltry armies and nations that were smaller than Prussia (pre-Fredrick) and had the military might of Belguim in WWII.
Quote:
I was some kind of twisted, horrible, intergalactic mix of Alexander the Great and Hitler.

At least you fought a long war, all I did was wear them down slowly and subtly...and then gobbled all of them within minutes.
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