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Ambivalence Toward an "Enemy"

Many writers I know seem to have minds that blossom late at night. The mysterious realm of darkest night is a unique time for many reasons, but where I live, there's an especially enticing aspect to the depths of night: It's when a local TV channel shows reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

According to the show's mythology, at any given time in the world, there's usually only one woman, with superhuman strength and skill, destined to be the vampire slayer. At this time in history, Buffy's the one.

In an episode I recently re-watched, Spike, an often-evil vampire who's nonetheless capable of doing some very loving things, tries to instruct Buffy on ways of killing vampires. He tells Buffy how he has killed other vampire slayers over the last several hundred years. These were vampire slayers who came before her. Spike wants her to learn from the mistakes made by her predecessors.

Spike's teaching Buffy how to avoid getting killed takes a strange turn, and ends by his confessing that he's in love with her. She rejects him coldly and treats him like dirt.

He goes back to his lair (lairs are apparently de rigeur if you're a vampire). He grabs a shotgun and marches to her house, intent on killing her. But when he arrives, she's crying on her porch. It takes the wind out of the big confrontation he had envisaged. Spike puts down the gun and comforts her.

What if we transported this general idea of a villain with some good qualities (like Spike) into a game? What if your enemy is evil, but is also occasionally capable of great good? What if he is dying a terrible death, and only you can save him. Will you?

Or what if you go to kill him and find that his wife has just been brutally murdered, and he is beside himself with grief—and he even begs you to kill him so his misery will end. How will you feel? What will you do?

Whatever action you take in the above scenarios, one thing is likely: You'll find yourself in an emotionally complex moment.

Let's take a look at a similar instance, from the Top Cow comic, Witchblade.

Sara, through destiny—a destiny she doesn't want—is the bearer of the Witchblade. It's a magical, organic bracelet with a long history. It can metamorphose into different forms of armor and weapons that turn her into an awesome warrior.

Nottingham is both her foe and friend. Their relationship is difficult to characterize, much like Spike's and Buffy's.

Here he's gotten possession of the Witchblade. Owning it has been his life-long ambition, but it's not his destiny to wield it. It begins growing across his body and face, strangling him and killing him. Only Sara can save him.

If this was a game and you were playing Sara, it would be an emotionally complex moment due to your ambivalence toward Nottingham.

But it would also be emotionally complex if you were playing Nottingham. You'd need to give away the powerful weapon you'd fought so long to get, and you'd need to rely for help on someone toward whom you felt ambivalent.

Game players don't particularly desire to lose power and forfeit their favorite weapon. And, to be honest, some men might not want to rely on a woman they don't like to save them. If you designed the game for players to play the role of Nottingham, and if you wanted to hedge your commercial bets, then you could flip the plot at some point. That is, you could later give the player an even cooler weapon than the Witchblade (which the player wanted, worked for, and finally got, but was forced to abandon), and you could even have a plot turn-around where the player gets to rescue Sara at some point.

Consider another hypothetical game example.

Every time your health points get low, you actually see Death. She's a beautiful, melancholy, but cruel woman. (We'd use NPC Interesting Techniques and NPC Deepening Techniques to make sure she's dimensional and intriguing.)

As you come to know her, however, she starts having mixed feelings toward you. As Death, she wants to claim you. However, she also begins to admire and like you. After all, you've heroically faced and overcome death many times. You're not like the others whom she has so easily snatched. (Because she feels conflicting feelings toward you, this would be NPC Toward Player Relationship Deepening, which is described in Chapter 2.12.)

And, because we'll use some Player Toward NPC Chemistry Techniques (see Chapter 2.11), we'll arrange it so that you also come to like her. For example, after you are victorious in a battle in which your fighting was spectacular, and during which you saved some innocents, Death makes you aware of her admiration for you—despite the fact that, by saving so many people, you've robbed her of some of her prey.

Though you might, on some level, like her, you also fear her and loath her. After all, she didn't just admire you; she also eagerly whisked away the souls of your friends who fell in battle.

The result would be that you'd have several different feelings toward her—and thus it would be a classic case of Player Toward NPC Relationship Deepening (see Chapter 2.13).

At some point in the game, you will die—but instead of taking you to the next realm (in a cinematic), she revives you.

God gave Death her role in the universe, and he doesn't like her disobeying him by reviving men who are dead. After all, the world's balance is delicate, and those who are supposed to die all play a role in the grandiose plan.

And so God has imprisoned her and is torturing her. He would have killed her, but as Death, she can't die.

At this point in the game, your feelings toward her would be ambivalent. You'd like her—she saved your life—but she's also taken the lives of some of those closest to you.

Yet you're compelled to free her because of what she did for you. Risking your life for someone for whom you feel both love and hate is a very emotionally complex situation.

Another Way You Could Employ This Technique

You could have a boss whom you encounter several times during your missions. Each time you set out to fight, you learn aspects that not only "fill in" his Character Diamond (making him more dimensional), but you see qualities in him that gradually begin to give him Rooting Interest (see Chapter 2.10). Then, during the final encounter, he could approach you for help, creating an emotionally complex situation.

The question would then be, who would the player fight in the final battle? Perhaps the boss you thought was the big enemy—the one who asks for your help—was really doing the bidding of an even worse boss who now you'll meet.

You could make the situation even more complex if, in the fight with this new boss, the boss who has changed sides sacrifices himself to save you. So the character you've spent so much of the game hating now gains instant Rooting Interest by sacrificing himself for you.

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