Villains with dimensions are important. They add emotion, motivation, and a sense of believability to the world.
While there’s plenty of room for the mad gunman, enraged and begrudged worker taking out his frustrations on the helpless and innocent, his motivations aren’t something that we can empathize with.
Let’s take a look at the Joker, one of the most beloved Villains of all time. Why do we love him? Is it because he is crazy, unpredictable, and has no morality whatsoever? Because he is a true Agent of Chaos? I would say that is a big yes to the character, but I really think that we love Joker so much because he is the antithesis of Batman. Joker represents everything that Batman isn’t. It is the dichotomy of the two characters that we respond to. If Joker was a villain in a different comic, he probably would be no where near as popular as he is.
Now let us take a gander at a Villain that has a motivation that we can empathize with.
“Anyone with half a brain can see that mankind has gone insane. To the point where I don’t know if I’ll upset the status quo if I throw poison down the water main. Listen close to everybody’s heart, and hear that breaking sound. Hopes and dreams are shattering apart, and crashing to the ground. I cannot believe my eyes, how the worlds full of filth and lies and it seems to me evil inside of me, is on the rise.”
“It’s not about making money. It’s about taking money. Destroying the status quo, because the status is not quo.. The world is a mess and I just need to rule it.”
Dr. Horrible is the main character of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog. He’s the main character and he’s a villain. Not only that, but you route for him through the entire movie.
We watch him and realize that even though he is a villain, he is motivated and has a believable set of goals. Now while many of us may look at his various courses of action throughout the show as extreme, we can’t help but find a ringing truth to his words about the current state of the world.
Blatantly corrupted politicians making shady deals right in front of our faces, a completely gutted and shit economic system that takes advantage of the lower classes, global warming, terrible health insurance coverage, meager wages for hard work, or apathetic people with uncaring attitudes wandering around like zombies. The list could go on and on.
All of these are something most people feel somewhat strongly about or have some vested interest in. This is why we like Dr. Horrible. He isn’t a terrible person. He just is misguided on how to bring about change.
A great villain will challenge the players, not just in combat and intellect, but socially and morally as well. Playing in those shades of grey is a great way to have the players really look at the foundation of their character and realize that while the villain is wrong in the planning and execution, their idea, and the basis of it, is maybe a bit too close to the players heart.
To bring it back to the Batman example: There have been many times that Batman has stated the reason he doesn’t kill is because he knows that darkness is within him, and he’s afraid that if he were to cross that line, even once, he himself would end up just like the Joker.