Just because you’re the protagonist doesn’t mean you’re doing good in the world. That’s true for plenty of video games out there, from Destroy All Humans to Overwatch.
Some games are obvious about your evil deeds. Others try to sweep them under the rug. They show you a world with rose-tinted glasses. I’m going to tell you a hard truth: you’re not a good person in these five games. Whether it’s engaging in cultural appropriation, locking up cute animals, or terrorizing your town’s villagers with unyielding control over the world, yes, you’re a force for evil. Even if the game doesn’t make you feel like one, it’s all just a matter of perspective.
So sit back, prepare to have your mind blown, and see if our top choices stack up with your own.
SimCity wants you think you’re a kind-hearted mayor giving your people the resources and infrastructure they need to live in the metropolis of their dreams. That isn’t true. If you’re like most SimCity players, you’re actually very bad at running a city. SimCity is utterly terrifying when you think about the game from your sims’ perspective.
SimCity starts with players taking control of a hamlet and fostering it into a megalopolis through the decades. Everything about the city is in your control—from the power supply to education funding. It’s also incredibly difficult to kick you out of power. You can run your budget into the ground in SimCity 2000 and you’ll still be in power for centuries.
In short, you’re a powerful dictator who cannot be unseated: no matter how heinous the crime, how high unemployment becomes, or how underfunded your fire department is throughout a very on-fire city. You can randomly demolish your citizens’ houses, schools, libraries, favorite stadiums, favorite museums, or whatever else tickles your fancy. It’s gone at the snap of your fingers, never to return. If you’re feeling especially cruel, you can let floods, fires, tornadoes, and alien invasions wipe out your entire town while you hardly move a finger.
No matter what, SimCity lets you be a powerful, unstoppable bully. It’s hard to argue otherwise when you’re the mayor of a city that can’t make you leave.
2. The Uncharted Series
Warning: Plot spoilers follow.
Gaming has a problem with barging into other peoples’ cultures and touring through their belongings. Lara Croft did it as far back as Tomb Raider. Far Cry has its fair share of temple raids too. But then comes Uncharted, which steeps itself in a whole different layer of awfulness. You see, Nathan “Nate” Drake repeatedly tries to steal other cultures’ most sacred objects and, every time, ends up destroying them for the greater good.
Here’s how every Uncharted game goes down: Nate wants the prized possession of an an “ancient culture.” He struggles with his buddies over how to get it, fights a bunch of other people who also want it, and finally finds it. Cue a dramatic scene and another fight or two. Then, finally, he destroys the very things that kept the world’s greatest ancient civilizations together—all without meeting or speaking to those lands’ descendants, except to occasionally shoot them.
In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Nathan eagerly sought El Dorado: an Amazonian treasure plundered by Spanish colonists. He eventually destroys it after his own greed helps unleash a dangerous virus. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves featured the powerful Cinatmani Stone and its accompanying Shambhala city… which Nate also erased from the world. In Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, it’s the Quran’s Atlantis of the Sands. You can probably guess what happened to it. Yep. It’s utterly gone by the end of the game.
The Uncharted series is all about Nate valuing his treasure-hunting fantasies over ancient societies’ beliefs, mythologies, and cultural legacies. Then he fails to learn his lesson, invites even more dangerous people to increasingly deadly objects, and fails to ask the locals if this treasure might be as cursed as the last. It’s pretty disgusting on Nate’s part. Then again, one culture’s prized artifact is just another man’s dream paperweight, right?
3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Warning: Plot spoilers follow.
The story of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is as old as the hills. Aliens invade. Humans steal their tech and kick them off Earth. But that’s only half the tale told in this morally ambiguous game.
See, the members of XCOM—the shadow organization you control throughout the titular series—adopt more than the aliens’ ray guns. The longer you play, the more humanity adopts its foes brutal methods. It eventually culminates in your team vivisecting one sapient alien after another. You even get to watch as XCOM’s lead scientist coldly remarks on the caged creatures’ fates, seconds before they’re cut open.
But that’s okay, right? These are awful alien colonizers we’re dealing with. They deserve the old “welcome to Earth,” no? Well… Not all of them. It becomes clear that most of the “invaders” are genetically modified slaves. They don’t want to be on Earth any more than you want them there.
Sure. It’s kill or be killed in the field, but the whole “secret organization with no public oversight committing torture killings” goes a little far.
XCOM 2 draws the bad guy vs. bad guy thing even clearer. The sequel featured DLC where the aforementioned lead scientist, Dr. Vahlen, goes rogue and creates a cadre of super-aliens. That game’s ending even reveals that the alien invaders want to save the universe from an even greater threat (albeit not with the nicest methods). It’s a bad situation for everyone.
But who knows? Maybe XCOM 3 will finally let us play unambiguous heroes for once.
4. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Surely Animal Crossing doesn’t cast you as a bad guy, right? I mean, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a game all about being a cutesy, friendly town mayor that gets along well with everyone and fosters a sense of community, belonging, and trust.
Wrong. When you think about New Leaf from your villagers’ point of view, you’re an illegitimate mayor who takes control and never lets your people decide what’s best for them. That’s pretty messed up; even in the same world as Tom Nook.
Here’s the timeline in Animal Crossing: New Leaf: your player character is on the way to their new home when, suddenly, they’re declared the town’s new mayor by a city hall employee named Isabelle. Instead of declining the gig, you just go with it and grab power for yourself. By the time the tutorial section is done, we learn the actual mayor skipped town and let the player take their place. This is something that the player character never reveals to the rest of the town. Everyone thinks you were legitimately chosen to lead the village based on qualifications you don’t actually possess. It’s Like “Single White Female: Election Year.”
As mayor, players have full control over their villagers. For one, you can randomly decree town ordinances as you please. You can force villagers to get up early, stay out late, spend way too much money, or plant and water flowers to make the town look “beautiful.” You can also pressure villagers into funding random buildings like bridges and police stations. You can even control minute details about how your citizens go about their lives. For instance, you can force villagers to change their catchphrases, and even exile the citizens you just don’t like. Just give Isabelle the word, and they’re gone.
In other words, you’re a powerful authority figure in Animal Crossing and your entire town’s livelihood rests under you thumb. You shouldn’t even be mayor, yet there you are, deciding everyone’s present and future for them. Maybe it’s time to resign.
Do we even need to argue this one?
Let’s start with the obvious. You’re a “Pokémon Trainer” trapping tiny creatures into small cages that are way too small for their bodies. Players turn these wild animals into violent monsters at your beck and call. These innocent pets are then forced to fight each other until they feel so much pain they pass out. All of this is done for competitive sport, and the world looks proudly upon the trainers that know how to push their Pokémon to the edge. Some of the games even address this issue. But by the end of each, the status quo is right back to where it was.
Meanwhile, you get to run around capturing as many of these animals as you like by beating them up until they succumb to your “Poké Balls.” As for your kidnapping victims, trainers purposefully evolve these animals into humongous, powerful fighting machines that can withstand the pain—all without their Pokémon’s consent. We even know from the anime that not every creature wants to permanently evolve just for the sake of their trainer. Oh, and those that cannot keep up with the fight are discarded as the weakest links.
No wonder Pikachu follows Ash around everywhere he goes. Poor fella probably has Stockholm syndrome.
Meanwhile, Pokémon that aren’t forced to fight are turned into pets, servants, and aids to their masters. Sometimes that’s working as nurses or helping parents cook meals. So your family, friends, and doctors are all complicit in keeping Pokémon subjugated to humanity.
The more you think about it, the more it’s obvious that the Pokémon universe is built on a hierarchy of servitude that revolves around human pleasure, with Pokémon-on-Pokémon battles at the core. It’s sick, it’s disgusting, and the game tries to make it all sound fun for both you and your Pokémon. We find that hard to believe.