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The Diabolical Motivations of 11 Video Game Villains

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Mortal Kombat Wiki

We all know the drill: drop in a quarter or hit “start” on your controller and suddenly you’re the world’s only hope. For some reason, every violent gang and alien race in the known universe (this one and parallel) cannot stand human civilization, and when they’re not trying to enslave us, they’re trying to slaughter us. Have you ever wondered why, though? Here are the motivations of 11 video game villains.

1. The Red Falcon Organization

Contra Wiki

The villains of Contra had a pretty straightforward goal, which was to try and take over the world. You would be forgiven, then, for wondering if Pinky and the Brain were behind the entire affair. In fact, the original version of the game (released in Japan) involved a terrorist cell called the Red Falcon Organization, which was based on the Galuga archipelago of New Zealand. As no such archipelago actually exists, we should assume that a.) the game really happened and Mad Dog and Scorpion destroyed it; b.) the Red Falcon Organization actually created an artificial archipelago, not unlike Dubai created the Palm Islands; or c.) the game is a work of fiction and we should stop asking so many questions. For what it’s worth, in the American version of the game, you’re fighting space aliens in South America.

2. Mother Brain

Metroid Wiki

Let’s start by pretending that Captain N: The Game Master never happened. Concerning the video game Metroid, everyone gets so caught up in the revelation that Samus Aran is a woman that they forget about the game’s more impressive female: a one-eyed brain in a jar called Mother Brain. What does this hermetically sealed villain want? Biological weapons. To acquire them, she needs only to accumulate metroids, which are space jellyfish that can be weaponized through exposure to beta rays. Mother Brain uses an army of space pirates to build her jellyfish collection, and to repel our green-haired, yellow-armored adventurer.

3. Shang Tsung

Mortal Kombat Wiki

In the original Mortal Kombat, there is an elderly grandmaster that observes each fight and offers such commentary as “Excellent!” or “Flawless victory!”, as well as such instructions as “Finish him!” This villain is called Shang Tsung, and he is also the final boss in the game. So what’s with all the fighting, anyway? Turns out Shang Tsung was the first Mortal Kombat champion from centuries ago, and is cursed to consume the souls of his vanquished foes in order to maintain his power and youth. He ends up taking control of the tournament with the goal of destroying Earthrealm. Anyway, it’s no more outlandish than a giant WMD-collecting brain in a jar.

4. The Mad Gear Gang

Capcom Wiki

In Final Fight, Mike Haggar is a former professional wrestler who is elected mayor of Metro City. It seems the city has a crime problem, and who better to clean up the streets than a guy who knows the difference between an arm-bar leg-sweep and an axe handle elbow drop. The Mad Gear Gang, fearful of this, kidnaps Mike’s daughter in hopes that the mayor will bend to their will. They really should have guessed how this would all play out.

5. Shub-Niggurath

Quake Wiki

In the video game Quake, scientists experimenting with teleportation technology accidentally open a gateway to another dimension. Monsters begin to flood our military bases, and only a lone, gun-toting human stands between them and the annihilation of our species. (This is also the plot of the video game Doom.) The leader of—in the game’s words—the “hundreds of ugly changelings and monsters” is Shub-Niggurath. She (yes, Shub is a she) is probably better known from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, where she is also known as “The Black Ram of The Forest with a Thousand Ewes.” Derivatives of the original work describe her as either an outer god or a Great Old One. In any event, you don’t need to read the book to figure out that she’s trouble.

6. Mezmaron

Pac-Man Wiki

Why do the ghosts keep chasing Pac-Man? What do they want? As we eventually learn from the Pac-Man cartoon, which I watched religiously as a child, Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Clyde are on a quest for Pac-Land’s power pellets. An evil villain named Mezmaron, who looks like a cross between Destro, Dracula, and Optimus Prime, leads them. This was an actual TV series.

7. Ganon

Zelda Wiki

In the original Legend of Zelda (the one with the gold cartridge!), an evil wizard named Ganon has stolen the Triforce of Power, which is a magical triangle in the land of Hyrule. He needs only the Triforce of Wisdom to consolidate his rule. Princess Zelda, in an attempt to slow Ganon, breaks the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces and (somehow) hides them in really dangerous monster-infested dungeons. Ganon eventually finds and kidnaps her, presumably to torture the locations of the Triforce out of her. An elf boy named Link eventually rescues her. They really ought to make a sequel to this one.

8. The Master

Fallout Wiki

A century after total global thermonuclear war, a new order arises from the fallout of civilization. While the mighty, mighty men of vaults scattered around the country go on with their jolly days, human survivors, mutant hordes, robot armies, and giant scorpions fight it out in the wasteland. One man calling himself the Master goes so far as to create a super mutant army and launches a movement called “the Unity.” His goal is to bring peace to the world by removing the divisions between creatures. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to mutate all of humanity. His plan makes great headway, but alas, into each life some rain must fall, and a lone vault dweller talks the Master into suicide. Humanity’s troubles are not over, however. There will always be another war. Because war? War never changes.

9. The Nihilanth

Half-Life Wiki

At the Black Mesa Research Facility, scientists are experimenting with portals when they discover an alien dimension called Xen. I probably don’t need to say that things don’t go as planned, because the Xen soon launch a full-scale invasion of Earth. (And, in fact, conquer Earth, as we learn in Half-Life 2.) At any rate, the Nihilanth is the Xen mastermind leading the aliens. He (it?) is the creature responsible for holding open the portals through which the monsters travel. It is insinuated that Earth is targeted not because monsters explicitly hate humans, but because there’s an ongoing Xen civil war, and we’re just an unfortunate part of the conflict’s expansion.

10. The Kilrathi

WC News

Wing Commander took the best elements of every book, film, and television series ever made in the space war genre, synthesized them, and somehow created something even better. (Twenty-three years later, I still can’t watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars without thinking, “I remember doing that in Wing Commander. That was a great mission.”) In those games, the enemy comes in the form of the Kilrathi, a feline empire governed by an apparent monarchy. They’ve been locked in a devastating war with humanity for decades, with neither side giving an inch or offering an olive branch. (How bad does it get? At the end of Wing Commander III, humanity commits genocide, obliterating the entire Kilrathi homeworld.) The whys of the war are a bit unclear. Indeed, to the participants maybe they’re not that important. All that matters is the mission—to win one sector at a time, one sortie at a time.

11. Dragonlord

Bitmob

In Dragon Warrior, the kingdom of Alefgard lies in darkness and ruin under the dominion of an evil sorcerer called the Dragonlord. Where did he come from and how did he take over the world? Good question. During a self-imposed exile years before, a young wizard entered a cave and encountered a dragon. He expected the next few minutes to involve flame and the crunching of bones—the usual script for dragon encounters. To his astonishment, however, the dragon knelt before him and would soon carry out his will. So here’s a question: All the dragons in the world will obey your command. Do you smile and go about your business, or do you take out that list of people who’ve wronged you and strike down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger? AND YOU WILL KNOW HIS NAME IS THE DRAGONLORD—and so on.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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12 Facts About the Smithsonian's Collections
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With 19 museums spread along the East Coast, the Smithsonian Institution has become the country’s richest repository of American history. From culture to science, zoos to space exploration, the federally-backed archive has spent nearly 200 years preserving and educating. Check out some facts on its history, how a new species of dolphin was found hiding in its archives, and how the founder eventually became part of the collection.

1. ITS FOUNDER NEVER SET FOOT IN THE STATES.

Wealthy British globe-trotter James Smithson (1765-1829) had acquired an estate worth roughly $500,000 at the time of his death and ordered that all of his assets be inherited by his nephew, Henry James Dickinson. There was one twist: The estate was to be turned over to the United States in the event Dickinson died without an heir of his own so the country could build a hub for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Henry, then 18, died just six years later, and so President James Polk signed the act approving the Smithsonian Institution into law in 1846. Curiously, Smithson had never even visited the U.S. Why leave such a legacy to a foreign nation? Smithson never commented on his decision, leaving people to guess that it was either because he was impressed by democracy or because he wanted to enrich a country that, at the time, had only a few educational hubs.

2. NO ONE WAS REALLY SURE WHAT SMITHSON WANTED.

A portrait of James Smithson

“Increase and diffusion of knowledge” can be interpreted pretty broadly, and it took the United States a long time—roughly 10 years—before anyone could agree on what to do with Smithson’s gift. Educators, politicians, and civilians all had a unique notion of how to spend his fortune, including opening a university, a library, or an observatory. Ultimately, the Smithsonian Institution was a compromise, involving many of these ideas. By 1855, construction on the main building was complete at the National Mall in Washington; it was designated as a National Museum in 1858 [PDF].

3. THEY HAD TO HIDE THEIR COLLECTION FROM AXIS FORCES.

At the height of U.S. involvement in World War II, museum curators knew that Axis forces would have designs on destroying the vibrant culture housed at the museum’s main location at the National Mall. To protect these irreplaceable items, the Smithsonian arranged to have them shipped to an undisclosed location—now known to be near Luray, Virginia—and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. They didn’t return until 1944.

4. SMOKEY BEAR LIVED AT THEIR ZOO.

Smokey Bear takes a bath at the National Zoo

Yes, that Smokey Bear. (And there’s no “the” in his name.) In 1950, a bear cub that survived a raging forest fire in Capitan, New Mexico, was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service and named Smokey after the popular ad campaign mascot of the era. As a living symbol of the effort, he spent his remaining 26 years at the National Zoo, a constant recipient of visitor attention and hundreds of jars of honey.

5. THEY DISPLAY JUST ONE PERCENT OF THEIR COLLECTION.

In order to execute Smithson’s mission statement, the Smithsonian has had to morph into the greatest display of hoarding the world has ever seen. All told, the Institution’s various artifacts, specimens, and other arcana is believed to number in the neighborhood of 137 million, with an official museum estimate of 154 million. Just 1 percent of that is available for viewing at any given time.

6. ONE CATEGORY IS USUALLY OFF-LIMITS FOR VIEWING.

17th century human remains found in Jamestown, Virginia

Evolving public attitudes over the decades have prompted the Smithsonian to be very wary of displaying human remains. While they’ve collected everything from shrunken heads to the “soap man”—a corpse whose body turned to a soap-like substance thanks to a chemical reaction to soil—most of it remains out of public view.

7. AN EXHIBIT ON NUCLEAR WAR STIRRED CONTROVERSY.

For a planned exhibit of the Enola Gay, the bomber plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, museum organizers drew criticism in 1994 for presenting material that some veterans groups and members of Congress felt was politically charged. The museum agreed to omit text near the display that some felt dwelled on the horrific effects of the bomb, as well as references estimating the U.S. and rival casualties that might have been suffered if the bomb had not been deployed.

8. THE WEIRDEST ITEM THEY’VE CATALOGED IS A CRAPPY VIDEO GAME.

The box art for the Atari 2600 game E.T.

Amidst many internet lists of strange Smithsonian catalog items—taxidermied animals, beards, and other miscellanea—nothing seems more incongruous than the 2014 inclusion of a 1982 Atari video game based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Renowned for being produced quickly and for helping to fuel the video game crash of the early 1980s, supplies of the cartridge were buried in a New Mexico landfill and only recently excavated. One went into the museum's archives.

9. THEY TURNED DOWN JIMMY DURANTE’S NOSE.

In the 1950s, actor and comedian Jimmy Durante was easily identified by his bulbous nose, a three-inch-long (from bridge to tip) feature that led to his nickname, “the Great Schnozzola.” Sensing a publicity opportunity, Durante’s management arranged for a makeup artist to create a plaster cast of Durante’s nose and offer it up to the Smithsonian as a piece of Americana. Frank Setzler, the museum’s head of anthropology was unimpressed. “Heavens, no,” he was quoted as saying. “Who would want that? The only place we could use it would be in the elephant display.”

10. AN UNDISCOVERED SPECIES OF DOLPHIN WAS LURKING IN THEIR INVENTORY.

A dolphin skull from a recently-discovered species

With so many specimens, the bowels of the Smithsonian almost certainly harbor secrets that can surprise even scientists. In 2016, two researchers in search of fossilized marine mammals stumbled across the skull of a 25-million-year-old river dolphin they named Arktocara yakataga. Said to have been found in Alaska, the dolphin may have dwelled in the Arctic. It was estimated that the skull—plucked from obscurity because one of the researchers found it “cute”—sat on the shelf for 50 years before being identified.

11. THEY’RE COMMITTED TO PRESERVING DOROTHY’S SLIPPERS.

Possibly the most iconic pair of footwear in pop culture, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz have become a Smithsonian trademark. In 2016, the Institution successfully raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter to build a state-of-the-art preservation case to protect the kicks from deterioration. While star Judy Garland wore several pairs during filming and the Smithsonian’s are mismatched, it’s clear that visitors want to keep them in condition for any future travels along the yellow brick road.

12. SMITHSON EVENTUALLY BECAME PART OF THE COLLECTION.

James Smithson's final resting place within the walls of the Smithsonian

In 1904, some 75 years after his death in Italy, Smithson’s remains were about to be disturbed. U.S. Smithsonian officials were alerted that his grave site would be displaced because of a nearby stone quarry expansion. The Institution took the opportunity to have his casket shipped to America so he could be interred at the site of his legacy—the Smithsonian itself. Escorted by Alexander Graham Bell, the casket traveled 14 days by sea. The body was entombed and topped off by a marker in the Smithsonian, where it remains viewable by the general public.

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