Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: My Favorite Villain is Me

Russ Pitts | 15 Jul 2010 09:00
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My favorite videogame villain of all time has to be Admiral Thrawn, from Star Wars: TIE Fighter. It certainly helps that by the time I encountered him on-screen, I was already well-familiar with the character thanks to Timothy Zahn's critically acclaimed, best-selling series of expanded universe novels, but by-and-large, he was just a badass. Also, as opposed to in most videogames, he was my boss.

As I discussed in my my Editor's Note to this week's issue of The Escapist Magazine, I like villains. I respect them. I admire their "don't fuck with me" attitude and willingness to make the hard choices. So when given the chance to actually be the bad guy in TIE Fighter, one of the baddest of the baddest bad guys ever, I literally jumped at the chance.

As I've chronicled in these pages at least once, I once bought a computer specifically to play TIE Fighter. In it, you play as a young starfighter pilot helping the Empire maintain order in a battle-torn galaxy. It's just after the events depicted in The Empire Strikes Back, and the titular Empire has overstretched itself a bit, chasing after the terrorists who have - in a daring suicide raid - destroyed the symbol of the Empire's power.

In retaliation, the Imperial Fleet has launched an all-out assault on the rebel insurgents, who have fled to a far-flung, remote territory, following a cleric of a mystical and long-forgotten religion who is assembling an alliance of guerilla fighters from across the galaxy.

In committing its forces to teaching these dead-enders what happens when idealism is pitted against superior firepower, the Empire has left itself open to pirates, smugglers and other opportunists who are attempting to take advantage of a distracted Galactic police force. Ruling an empire isn't easy, after all. Get preoccupied quashing an upstart rebellion intent on destroying your way of life and before you know it, every fighter jockey with an attitude is knocking on your door, looking for a handout. Luckily your side has the best defense contracts - and Admiral Thrawn.

What made TIE Fighter so unique was that, as opposed to other videogames, it put you in the driver's seat of the enemy forces. As such, you started out in what would typically have been the seat of unimaginable power. Most games put you at a disadvantage on purpose, so that you can raise yourself up to the level of badass, then exact revenge. You'll play as a misunderstood badguy who's really good, or a lone freedom fighter up against the forces of evil. You'll be on your own, have to build your resources, marshal your forces and then deal a killing blow to the baddies.

TIE Fighter dispenses with that pretense and starts you as a badass at level one. You're not struggling to make ends meet as you scrape together a working plan from found parts, like some protagonistic MacGyver. In TIE Fighter, you're The Man, and your sole purpose in life is to beat down anyone who is not with you. Altruism is for suckers without Star Destroyers. You're a part of a well-trained, smoothly-functioning war machine, and your mission is to simply follow orders.

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