30 Days of Video Games: Day 17, Favorite Antagonist

The conflict is the reason I read and reread Frankenstein.  I actually hate the characters.  They’re all whiny and incapable of sucking it up and facing their responsibilities.  Victor always has a fever and is always swooning, and everyone around him buys it and pities him.  Then they get killed.  It’s frustrating and annoying, but the conflicts are what keep me going back for more in that book.  Conflict is necessary in a story; without it, there’s very little story.  Often when we complain that “nothing happens” in a book or movie it’s because there’s no conflict, or the conflict is so subtle we don’t really pick up on it.

The essence of video games is conflict.  It’s a game, so there’s an objective of some sort that must be met.  To meet said objective, we must overcome obstacles; conflicts, if you will.  And then there’s the ultimate conflict of all, the Final Boss.  I think my favorite antagonist would have to be Atlas/Frank Fontaine from BioShock.

One of the beauties of BioShock is that for a game classified as survival/horror, it’s very intelligent.  There’s a great deal of philosophy and moral/ethical issues at stake, and how you play the game determines a lot about how things play out in Rapture.  The underwater city has deteriorated because of a lack of ethics and morals brought on by an objectivist philosophy.  Basically, peoples’ own desire for pleasure as their main basis of existence led to the downfall of Rapture, and the propagation of that philosophy can be traced back to two men: Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine.

Ryan creates Rapture as a place for creative, free thinkers to be free from government involvement.  It’s supposed to be a creative utopia, but perfection cannot exist in an imperfect world.  Where Ryan seeks to run a utopia, his foil, Frank Fontaine, seeks to exploit it.  Their disagreements erupt into a war where Fontaine is supposedly killed.  By the time the protagonist, Jack, reaches Rapture, the city is in ruins.  Jack’s only help comes from a mysterious voice identifying itself as “Atlas”.

Atlas is, of course, Fontaine.  He takes on the name of the mythical Greek titan who held up the world, but is also an allusion to the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, who fleshed out the objectivist philosophies on which the story of BioShock is based.  If Atlas shrugs, the world comes collapsing down; therefore, the world depends on Atlas to hold it up.  By taking on the alias of Atlas, Frank Fontaine has basically declared himself the one upon whom the survival of Rapture rests.

What I like most about Fontaine is that he is a smart antagonist.  Smart villains are the really scary ones.  The big bad ones with all brawn and little to no brain are formidable and a bit scary, but when they can think?  And out-think you?  And use you as a pawn in their larger scheme?  That’s when they get really frightening.  Fontaine has basically used you, the protagonist, to achieve his own ends, and you only really come to realize it toward the end of BioShock.  You’ve spent the whole game surviving mad Splicers and psychotic Rapture citizens only to realize that Atlas, the comforting voice guiding you and asking you “would you kindly” do this favor and that, is the ultimate enemy.  How does that even happen??

Certainly, the moral dilemma about the Little Sisters and the ADAM is a major component of the BioShock experience.  But even more of an ethical issue is the realization that the protagonist, who really is you since it’s in first person, is being a mind-controlled pawn.  Atlas/Fontaine has essentially tricked you into doing his bidding.  For the first two thirds of the game, if not longer, you are going about doing his dirty work, completely convinced that it’s the right thing to do.  Only as you do more research and more of the story unfolds, and then when he tries to kill you bystopping your heart do you realize that he’s no better than anything or anyone you’ve encountered.  Rapture?  Rapture my arse.

Yes, in the end he becomes the big scary brawn over brains final boss.  But that didn’t worry me.  I can use any number of weapons on that.  What did worry me came after the face when I realized that the game had tricked me through Atlas/Fontaine.  While I had the rest of the game to go ahead and track him down and get even with him, it didn’t change the fact that the majority of the game had been what it was.

For those reasons Frank Fontaine is my favorite antagonist because he’s the scary-smart bad guy.   He’s not the scary monster under the bed; those aren’t scary because they don’t really exist.  He’s the predator out for his own gains.  And that is infinitely scarier, becausethat is real.

Tomorrow: Day 18, Favorite Protagonist.  Or, the other side of the coin.

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6 comments on “30 Days of Video Games: Day 17, Favorite Antagonist

  1. You know, I have never technically finished Bioshock. I stopped playing after that moment of revelation and never picked it up again, because THIS!

    “Smart villains are the really scary ones.”
    Heck yes! And Bioshock was great at it!

  2. It’s why Meredith annoys me SO much in Dragon Age 2! She was smart and scary all through the game with her subtle manipulation and iron fist, and then you get to the end and she becomes the scary monster. There was really so much more potential there. In BioShock I feel like that sort of potential is realized.

    • Yeah, well… that’s why I have my own version of DA2 now. It is its own pocket universe completely unrelated to the actual game 🙂

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