Monday, July 4, 2011

Good, Evil, and the Players

Confession time- I have a hard time being evil in games. Whether in RPGs or video games, my characters tend towards the saintly, even if I'm trying to portray them as roguish and chaotic. This says things about my escapist fantasies, but not much about me as a person- it's easy to be heroic and self-sacrificing in a game, when there are no consequences that will carry over into the real world. On the other hand, it's also easy and fun for some players to act evil and dickish, knowing they aren't hurting any flesh and blood people.

Still, the question remains- why? Why is it so hard for me to hear the phrase "your alignment has shifted towards evil," whereas for other players it's not only easy but expected?

One thing to remember is that for most RPGs, it's easier to run a "good" campaign than an "evil" one. In a typical campaign (especially in Dungeons and Dragons,) the Game Master motivates the players with promises of treasure, experience points, and the chance to pull off impressive heroics. The first two things can still be offered to evil characters, but "evil" campaigns are notoriously hard to run; if players go too over the top, it's hard to take it seriously as more than a comedy game, while if they play a straight game of manipulation and coercion, some players and Game Masters will grow uncomfortable. There was even a book released to help Dungeons and Dragons games handle evil (whether or not it was the players doing it,) and the fan reaction to it was mixed, to say the very least.

Playing an evil character in a "good" campaign is even harder, though I've played in a game where two players pulled it off (their characters were greedy and callous but not interested in screwing over the rest of the party.) It also can come down to the Game Master; some go in with no expectations, some portray the world as full of puppies and babies to be protected, and some can get downright sadistic about beating the idealism out of more traditionally heroic characters. Experience on the part of the players also comes into it- if you've played a knight in shining armor a hundred times before, it can be fun to throw aside morality for a game or two.

I know some of what motivates me to play heroes is my love of old movies and my desire to emulate them. I want to be a traditional hero, the kind they'd write epics about. Maybe my character can get a little cynical or jaded, but I want them to always do the right thing in the end. What the right thing is may differ from character to character, but I want them to leave a positive change on their world.

I'd like to hear other opinions on this, though. If you like playing evil characters, what aspects do you like? If you like being a hero, are your reasons different than mine? I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

High Noon and What Came After

I find it interesting that so many movies feel the need to ‘respond’ to High Noon. Well, maybe interesting is the wrong word- more like baffling. I read about the attacks when it came out, calling the hero unmanly for showing fear and appearing to almost cry, and my reaction is a stunned cry of "But it’s High Noon! How can anyone hate High Noon?"

Apparently, some people did- or even if they liked it, felt the need to make a movie showing what should have happened. Rio Bravo and High Plains Drifter are both in some ways responses to the movie, though the responses are not quite the same. Rio Bravo is the response of a swaggering father saying "Son, you should be ashamed of yourself- you don’t need to rely on the townsfolk! And don’t show no fear, neither!" High Plains Drifteris the response of a troubled younger brother going "No man, what you oughtta do is go back there and kill every last one of those ungrateful sons of bitches!"

Funnily enough, I love all three of these movies. Rio Bravo is a delightful ensemble adventure, and the romance between John Wayne and Angie Dickinson is appealing (even if it is cribbed almost line for line from the director’s earlier movie, To Have and Have Not.) High Plains Drifter is a banquet of the bizarre, an epic, nihilistic horror movie masquerading as a western. I don’t even mind the rape scene- it certainly isn’t the most evil thing Clint Eastwood does over the course of the movie, which acknowledges that all those mysterious men with no names are scary for a damn good reason.

In the middle sits little old High Noon, an allegory for the Red Scare or Korea or urbanization or whatever us modern viewers like to attribute to it. It would be irritated by Rio Bravo’s response and horrified by High Plains Drifter, and would generally try to stay out of the conversation.

Why is it this movie provokes such strong reactions? There are many controversial movies and many ideas to be rebelled against, but why does the simple story of a man abandoned who sticks to his principles simply because it’s something he has to do (while being broken up inside that no one else seems to see it that way) upset people?

I don’t know. All I know is, while John Wayne looks on disgusted and Clint Eastwood paints the town red, tired and scared old Gary Cooper must stand by himself.

For High Noon, it’s a rather fitting position.