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!


Video Games and Me

I know of no other medium that is as powerful as interactive video games can be.  A person can fly to the farthest reaches of the universe, throughout the expanses of time, see things that never have and never will exist, based only on the limits of technology and human imagination. All while building thumb and butt callouses and not even standing up.  As with all new media, it’s had a rough start, and rough acceptance in society, but video games have grown into a billion dollar industry.

I started coding when I was 8 years old.  Inspired by the archaic video games of the early 1980’s, playing on an antique computer with a radiation spewing amber-monochrome monitor. It’s been my desire since that time to create games of my own.  Some of my earliest inspirations were games such as Willy the Worm, Space War, Jump Man, and who could forget Lode Runner.  All are quite simple by today’s standards, but once upon a time it was not such a crazy idea for *one* person to be making a game.

I’m not even sure how many times I’ve started working on a game for my own learning and enjoyment.  In my youth I would enjoy making the concepts, basic rules, and game engine bits, but never followed through to complete an *entire* game.  I once created a DOS sprite editor, it even had mouse support.  Not such a trivial thing in the dark ages.  It’s not until adulthood that I’ve come to realize that I was having so much more fun coding than I would have had playing any game I myself made.  To be realistic here, as a child I thought I wanted to build an awesome game because I wanted to play an awesome game, a notion that seems outright silly to me now.

Fast forward to the future, where we’re all living now, the number of video games available is mind boggling.  There’s more video game content being created each year than any one person could possibly complete in their lifetime.  What was once just for us nerds has been thrust into the mainstream.  Movie stars have admitted to playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games.  Even among early video games, role-playing games were shunned as ultra-nerdy.  Television networks devoted to sports are showing video game tournaments, what has this world come to?  Aren’t those guys supposed to be beating up nerds?

There’s a gaming platform in the pocket of most people in the modern world.  I wouldn’t go as far to say that everyone with a phone is a gamer, but I’m not sure I know anyone that doesn’t play a video game now and then.  Jigsaw puzzles, solitaire, and match-3 galore.

Here I am now, an adult by most measures, with a nostalgia based love of video games.  I’m a software developer, but not even remotely in the direction of games.  Every now and then I get an itch to make a game, but the itch never lasts long enough for a completed vision to take form.  Unlike many types of art, video games are not timeless. Technology progresses and old video games die.  Someone building a game is fighting a battle against technological advancement.  If technology  progresses too far, a game that is being made might be left behind before it’s even completed, a potentially disastrous consequence for developers.

My most recent prototype, space-game-alpha

When dabbling on my own, I’ve not worked on any of these projects with thought to marketability or even with the thought to sell them.  In that respect I’ve avoided the battle against technology.  In recent years this trend seems to have gone weird, with retro pixel games having a resurgence of sorts.  Games like Shovel Knight and Terraria are showing the world a thing or two about pixels in the modern day. Sandbox games like MineCraft and Creativerse are somehow seeming to bring pixels into 3d and it’s working.


These recent games are quite inspiring.  Maybe there’s more people out there than I think that want to see what I can make, what WE can make.  As it turns out I’m no artist, I’m a nart. We’ve rolled around a few ideas recently, but have not yet found the one, the one that must be made.  We will find it and it will be awesome, and more importantly it will be fun to make.

Possible future game sprite