SWTOR: Why is it so hard to play the bad guy?

kronkEvery time I roll up a new SWTOR character, I keep having the best of intentions to walk down the dark side. After all, my operative is pure light (with a few revenge-related hiccups along the way), so it’s all about seeing how the other side lives. But the weird thing is… I’ve never been able to stick with a dark side character for very long. I simply cannot connect with one.

It could partially be that most “evil” choices are of a sociopathic nature, playing to murder, betrayal, and utter greed. Extremes aren’t always that attractive. But I think a more important aspect is that I’m always looking to connect with my character, and while I might make noise sometime about being the rebel anti-hero in a game, there’s a line that gets crossed when my avatar becomes the bad guy or gal.

Playing an evil character, for me, satisfies a morbid curiosity about what may happen if I pull the red lever. It may even be gratifying to not always play by the goodie two-shoes rules or to put annoying NPCs in their place. But very rarely does it end up endearing that character to me.

Weird as it may sound, I genuinely care what NPCs “think” of my character. I certainly do care what I think of him or her too. When I am helpful in a quest or perform some feat of justice, it makes me smile inside. I become endeared to this character, because they’re what I’d envision I would do if I was in their place and had their capabilities (and utter fearlessness of death).

None of us in real life are truly good, but I think that most of us aspire to be and are attracted to virtues lived genuinely. It shouldn’t be surprising that these feelings translate into video games, especially ones that seek to emulate (on a basic level) the moral choices we face.

Thinking of all of this, I had to pull the plug on my new bounty hunter. I just couldn’t play the bad guy, even over on the Empire side. I spent my monthly cartel coin allowance to unlock a Twi’lek and rolled up a new (female, because the male voice is way too deep for my taste) bounty hunter.

I made a game of seeing how quickly I could blitz through Hutta to catch up with where my old character was at. I think I clocked in at under an hour, picking light side choices all of the way through. This time around, the character “fit” a lot better and I was able to sink into the role. Sure, she may go dark side choice now and then if it fits the situation, but she’s not going to be cutting off any more heads and giving them to grieving widows.

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16 thoughts on “SWTOR: Why is it so hard to play the bad guy?

  1. Sylow July 17, 2015 / 9:16 am

    Strange. During the three months i actually played that game, my impression was quite different. Mind you, i only played the Trooper storyline, but i never managed to get far away from neutral. Indeed i intended to be a “good” trooper, so the plethora of “evil for evils sake” dark side choices and their obvious stupidity mostly amused me. At the same time i found that unfortunately also a lot of the light side choices were not so much “good” as guillible, simple minded and shortsighted.

    But alas, of course a Commando soldier meeting deserters has to support them when deserting, even when giving them the option to return to post without being reported and thus without any punishment is evil. And that’s even before repeatedly letting somebody who already betrayed you get away, so he can backstab you again, despite the fact that you fought your way and thus killed many enemies just to get him.

    At least there usually also were “acceptable” options, disregarding those where the 3 words pointer on what the option would be points in one direction and the actual conversation then immediately runs into a different one. The annoying part was that some in-game rewards are tied to this mechanic. Those of my friends who played “faithful stupid” or “rabbit psychopathic” were able to get the all-light and all-dark equipment. For my “slightly good” character some equipment slots were permanently empty as the system forbade me to use gear there.

    Thus SWtoR is the only MMORPG i am aware of, where RP actually is being punished.

  2. Missy's Mojo July 17, 2015 / 9:53 am

    While I don’t have a hard time playing on the bad side, I have a hard time actually choosing all the bad options heeh, either I am good or neutral. Guess my inner compass control me to much. It’s just pixels but still, I feel bad if I go all out bad and evil xD Which is sometimes stupid because I end up missing a lot of the fun parts, fun conversations etc.

  3. Tyler F.M. Edwards July 17, 2015 / 12:03 pm

    I’m with you, Syp. I’ve never been able to enjoy playing bad guys (or girls or non-gendered species) in games. It’s one of the main reasons my least favourite StarCraft race is the Zerg. I feel too much sympathy for NPCs (most of them, anyway), and I just like playing the hero. In the real world, I feel powerless to address the injustices of the world, but in a video game, I can make a difference, even if it is just pretend. It’s very satisfying.

    That’s not to say I won’t occasionally make darker choices. I’m not above some bloody vengeance if a bad guy deserves it, for instance. And sometimes I disagree with a game on what is good or bad. To continue using SW:TOR as an example, I was very frustrated that choosing to not snitch on the romantic relationship between two Jedi padawans was considered a Dark Side choice.

    The only exception is if a game is just so utterly ridiculous I can’t take it at all seriously. In Fable, I was a murderous sociopath.

  4. Rohan July 17, 2015 / 12:23 pm

    Try Trooper. There are two types of Dark Side choices. One is “ends justify the means” where you to any lengths to ensure victory, even if it hurts individual civilians. The other is “being cruel or mean for fun”. If you just take the first type of choices you’ll end up at about Dark Side II or III.

    I too find it hard to go fully Dark. But Dark Side trooper where you sacrifice anything to ensure a Republic victory is a solid option.

  5. Nick Martin July 17, 2015 / 1:26 pm

    The issue I always had was because you were often just so comically bad, so it wasn’t believable. The Light Side choices typically fit what the light side was all about… often even being in the wrong while being right. Bad was more “I’m going to just murder some people for the giggles.”

    That’s probably why the Imperial Agent story worked so well… you were so often in that gray area that either choice would fit. Contrast that to things like the Inquisitor, Jedi, or similar stories, and you just wanted to go with the lesser of two stupids, which was usually light side.

    Course, then there’s also the Sith Warrior, which was just a far more entertaining story when you play through it on the light side.

  6. The Guilty Party July 17, 2015 / 1:53 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever been able to go full-evil in any Bioware game. At best, I’ll choose some pragmatic darkside/renegade/aggressive options, but it still always leaves me mostly on the good side. I guess the closest thing was doing Rivalry with some companions during DA2. It worked because sometimes your companions wanted dark things, and going full-rival with them was basically saying ‘I’m your friend but this is crazy, I’m not supporting this behavior’.

  7. Shintar July 17, 2015 / 2:14 pm

    @Sylow: The connection between alignment and gear is really minimal, so you can play whatever you like without harming your character progression. I actually wrote a post about this “myth” (and others) a couple of months ago.

    As for the main post: I’m with you, Syp. I can’t do any worse than neutral/slightly dark side without losing interest in the character. If that’s a sign of really liking to be heroic though, what does that say about people who really enjoy playing evil?

  8. Stephen Muray July 17, 2015 / 2:41 pm

    In SWTOR, the Imperial Agent’s storyline was exceptional. Of all of the ones I saw, my Sniper’s was by far the best one, full of shades of grey and trying to do what’s best for the Empire, *despite* the Sith’s terrible leadership.

  9. Helena Khan July 17, 2015 / 2:51 pm

    I find that it is possible (or at least easier) to overcome your inherent distaste in choosing the “evil” options if they match the moral compass or beliefs of the character. There is a need to match that choice with the internal logic.

    Barely touched SWTOR, but ran through KOTOR a couple of times on both the light and dark side and hit full on both. And managed to do so without causing pain for pain’s sake. Perhaps the underpinnings could be described in terms of the rationale behind crime and punishment – if someone commits a crime against you, punish the offender.

    But to punish, simply because you can? Not so much… not even for one given over completely to the dark side.

  10. Scholar-Gipsy July 17, 2015 / 2:56 pm

    I think there’s more going on here than just “I’m a person who aspires to be good in real life, and I care about what real-world acquaintances care about me, so those things are necessarily true in a game as well.” I mean, that may be exactly what’s going on for *you*–I take your word for it–but my experience with SWTOR was different.

    I’ve played and enjoyed the game on both the Light and the Dark Side, but my first choice of character was always going to be a Sith Inquisitor, and I enjoyed the hell out of making the most theatrically wicked choices available at every turn. I was certainly invested in both my character and his story, but that investment/identification never made me feel revulsion at his depraved actions.

    (I should note that in real life I am almost absurdly softhearted: I work in a helping profession, volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter, and share my life with a menagerie of rescued street cats. Wouldn’t claim that I’m a saint by a long shot, but I’m sure not a sociopath, either.)

    I don’t know if it’s that my Inquisitor was relatable (or, lest I flatter myself, aspirational, rather) on the level of his intellect, his mordant speech style, his determination, et cetera sufficiently that I could ignore, or at least be okay with, his turpitude, but I didn’t have trouble roleplaying him at all.

    Or…here’s an alternate theory, one I prefer:

    I recall a piece of writing (possibly in “Danse Macabre”) where Stephen King talked about how much fun it had been to kill off most of humanity in “The Stand.” Now, King’s a guy who gives out, ahem, king-sized candy bars every Halloween, who gives effusively of both his time and his money to numerous local and national charities, and who altogether seems lovely to interact with. But as he puts it (and this *is* in “Danse Macabre”) writing–and consuming–horror fiction keeps the psychic gators fed so that they don’t slither out of our mental basements to chew up our real lives. Perhaps enjoying fictional suffering, even evil, acts as a valuable shunt for impulses that are far from socially apt.

    Of course, everyone’s different, so there may well be no one-size-fits-all theory here. But I got a charge–heh, heh–every single time I blasted some poor Republic simp with Force Lightning, I won’t deny it.

  11. Vagrant Zero July 18, 2015 / 12:08 am

    Best part of TOR is being able to kill the people that need killing while still (largely) being a good guy. I didn’t find it hard to make “dark side” choices if the person I was harming deserved it. If anything, it felt damned good. I got to mete out the kind of justice I prefer without going to jail for it.

  12. Dolnor July 18, 2015 / 8:44 pm

    I think it is because of your real life choices and current realities. I am the same way…I still haven’t played any of the Elder Scrolls Dark Brotherhood missions/quest lines. Thieves Guild, no problem…killing innocents, no can do! But then, I don’t play games like I am “suppose to”…just ask my fellow The Older Gamers (TOG) members! -)

    TQQdles™

  13. Sylow July 20, 2015 / 5:40 am

    @Shintar: It’s not about how badly you are punished for RPing. The mere fact that SWTOR is the very only MMORP(?)G out there which punishes RP is one of the reasons why i consider the game unacceptable.

    Also, as far as i know the neutral player by now at least has some, albeit inferior, options for that slot, but when i played you ran with an empty slot, where every other player had an item. Combine that with the subpar community and things were just uncomfortable. And to clarify that “subpar community”, that’s in the meaning that when we were in group instances and things were not running well, people were inspecting each other and then blaming me for everything bad happening because i had one unused equipment slot and that obviously was the reason for everything going wrong, despite i previously did the same instance with the same tank (but other DDs) already before and things were perfectly fine.

    So yes, within a good community the punishment for RP probably would’ve been way less painful, but it would’ve existed nevertheless and still would’ve been a terrible idea.

  14. Redbeard July 20, 2015 / 4:13 pm

    I’ve never been able to go full on evil in my choices, whether it is SWTOR or other games. I’m just not that sort of person.

    Does it make me a goody two shoes? Maybe, but I’m the sort who would always try to do the “right thing”.

  15. Chestnut Stonebough (@ggchestnut) July 23, 2015 / 3:17 pm

    Sometimes I’m surprised at how the choices end up being light or dark. I haven’t played enough to know ahead of time, and I usually choose based on what my character herself would do based on her loyalties and personalities. But, I don’t think I’d ever have an easy time playing a full on Dark Sided Sith, for many of the same reasons you’ve mentioned.

  16. James November 7, 2015 / 10:50 am

    I find that I love playing dark side. Just murdering random people for the fun of it really makes me sympathise with my character. Which is weird seeing as I go to a private school and am quite intelligent. I suppose it’s just too much fun to kill an imperial officer’s son for the fun of it and then watch him rage at me.

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