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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.