What’s So Bad About Bad-Guys?

The seeming majority of plots in pretty much all stories, movies or video games can be summarized by the sentence “The good guys get the bad guys.” Sometimes this is just a partial narrative to a different plot, but it seems it’s almost always included.  There’s an interesting mental quirk that almost everyone has, people like to see a bad character “get what’s coming to them.”

The flip side to this is what I’ve started calling “Bad-Guy Anxiety,” which is the anxiety that accompanies the perception of the bad guys “Being Bad.”  In movies, these are the cringe-worthy scenes when an innocent person is about to be snuffed out, and the audience knows it’s coming. People have trouble staying still, even just keeping their butts planted in their seats.  Some people can’t help but yell “WATCH OUT!” when watching horror movies.

My 6 year old has a crippling case of bad-guy anxiety when playing video games. She’s working on it, and for a kindergartner I am in no way surprised. Bad guys can be scary, particularly when someone is not accustomed to the experience. She freaks out every time she sees a bad guy, but that doesn’t stop her from playing the game. If anything it seems to make the experience more fun for her, although she would deny that.

So scary. Image courtesy of lightfiretech.com

Back in the dark ages when I was a child, the archaic video games that we had still had the power to induce bad-guy anxiety.  If you have ever seen a young kid playing a NES, it’s a whole body exercise, well before waggling was expected and promoted by more recent games.  It was just a natural reaction to the anxiety that goes with “not wanting to die.”  As silly as the comparison from a game to real life is, ask almost anyone playing a video game, and they will wholeheartedly agree that they’re actively trying “not to die.”  After all, they may only have “2 guys left”, you don’t know!

Illustrator’s note: The author of this post was totally whooshing his head back and forth yesterday while playing a car racing game.

Fun Fact:  this helps you jump farther

This anxiety is paired with people’s depth of immersion.  The more zoned-in to the game, the more real it feels.  More realistic graphics automatically make a game universally more immersive.  I had no trouble immersing myself in games like Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda on the NES and even more ancient relics like Number Munchers.  But not once, did I ever care when I was greeted with “You have died of dysentery” on ye olde Oregon Trail.  There’s no anxiety or buildup involved with that one, it’s just “Bam, dysentery”, time to think up something clever for the gravestone.

Lava, the ultimate immobile bad-guy.

Bad-guy anxiety is a great thing.  It’s a sign that the game is working, that the real world is at least not wholly consuming your emotional state.  Without the emotional ride, games are too easy or boring.  It’s an important part of the experience that make the plot an enjoyable thing.  It’s part of the emotional roller coaster that makes the whole of an experience worthwhile.  If a movie only ever had happy moments, what would be the point?  If there’s nothing to overcome, there is no winning.  Bad guys are one of the more direct obstacles that are used as plot devices.

So don’t hate on bad guys in games and movies, they’re there for your sake.  They’re doing just what they’re supposed do.  They’re not bad, just misunderstood… and sometimes hungry :).

Just don’t go being a bad-guy in the real world!


Author: Aszid

I have a beard.

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