As part of the blog blitz for Pixeldust, I am handing you over to T.K. Arispe today who is sharing their guest post, “When is a villain not a villain?” Many thanks TK for taking the time to talk to everyone, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the blitz.
Maria Elena thought she’d sworn off gaming forever. But she hates her new internship, so her brother Balt convinces her to play Heroes of Avonell, a cutting-edge virtual-reality video game with such complex programming that it’s like the non-player characters are self-aware.
Disappointed with the usual cliché job class offerings, Maria Elena’s character Quinny stumbles through a glitch in the game and ends up in Caed Dhraos, a strange city populated with friendly monsters. Quinny decides to work for the resident dark lord as part of his magic personnel, but she can’t tell anybody she’s playing in off-limits areas of the game—not even Balt. Soon Quinny finds herself getting to the bottom of a mystery surrounding an ancient demon and why Caed Dhraos is suffering from the Blight.
But the artificial intelligences in the game really are self-aware, and some of Avonell’s so-called “heroes” have decided they don’t like humanity very much. The game has gone out of control, and Maria Elena and her new friends have to find a way to set things right. Can she save Avonell – and Earth – while juggling her real job and trying to salvage her crumbling relationship with her brother?
Pixeldust is a dive into a fantastical, fun virtual world where the universe may be made of data, but the dangers, friendships, magic, and lessons learned are very real.
Please note, this guest post contains spoilers for Pixeldust.
Growing up, I never rooted for the villains, but I sure felt sorry for them. So much wasted potential, I thought. I mean, villains are usually powerful and skilled—they have to be, in order to present a satisfying challenge for the heroes. It seemed like such a shame to me to have all of those good qualities go to waste, especially when the villain met their end in the climax of the plot. Or, arguably worse, when the villain was redeemed and then immediately died afterward, because obviously once a character has had a change of heart there are no more directions you can go with them. (cough Darth Vader cough)
Whenever I read a book, watch a movie, or play an RPG, I want everybody to win. I want the heroes to be okay. But I also want the villains to be okay. They need help, too. I always feel that twinge of sadness when I get those experience points for vanquishing someone who could have been a cherished friend and powerful ally.
Those thoughts were swirling around in my head when I drafted the character arc for Lord Zaragoz, the villain who doesn’t know he’s a villain. He doesn’t even know he’s a video game character or that his memories are false. Before he meets Quinny, as far as he’s concerned, he has to protect and provide for his subjects, and he has a hungry demon to appease. If that means invading other kingdoms to steal their pixiedust, so be it. Especially because his people were originally driven out of those kingdoms simply for being different, so there is no love lost there.
At first, Quinny doesn’t know Zaragoz is the villain, either. But when she finds out, she’s devastated—not necessarily for her sake, but for his. By that point he has become a good friend to her, and the last thing she wants is for him to be antagonized by all of the other player characters and the “hero” non-player characters. She is willing to put aside his technical role in the game, and focus on the person he is and the person he could be if he started making better choices.
And Zaragoz, to his credit, believes in himself in the same manner. Upon learning the truth about himself, he rejects his villainous role and tries to make things right, and he ends up becoming one of the heroes of the story when the game’s “actual” heroes make some very unwise and selfish choices and put everyone in danger.
After that, I did not callously dispose of Zaragoz simply because his character arc had wrapped up. He deserved better than that. So I had him use his powerful end-boss magic to make his world real, and he became one of its benevolent rulers. He had proven to everyone that he and his people had just as much place in their world as the “prettier” characters, he had chosen his own path and stuck to his integrity, and he got his just reward for his ultimate heroism.
So Zaragoz is really a stand-in for what I wish I could do for every other villain. Villainy is not a permanent status, but a plot construct. Usually, in order to have a conflict you have to have someone opposite the protagonist driving that conflict. But there are clearly other ways to resolve the conflict than by getting rid of the antagonist. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world where everyone was helped rather than hated?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
T.K. Arispe is an illustrator, gamer, and unashamed nerd with a background in animation and webcomic production, including the webcomic Trainer Wants to Fight! which somehow got its own page on TVTropes. She loves interesting stories, well-crafted worlds, and memorable characters, and is passionate about creating quality, intelligent, slightly offbeat media that everyone can enjoy. Most of her story ideas come from random research binges, usually in the fields of theoretical physics, computer science, or oddly enough food history. She lives in California, where she enjoys not having to deal with snow because it is terrifying.
Make sure you visit the other blogs on the tour to find out more about Pixeldust.