Good vs. Evil vs. ?


Back at E3, one of the more interesting announcements was an expansion to backwards compatibility on the Xbox One: original Xbox games were coming to the console “later this year”. When I hear “later”, I tend to assume it means “a long ways off”, but guess what? It’s here. Original Xbox compatibility is available today, October 24, and yes, KOTOR is on the initial list.

It’s been so long since I played anything on the original Xbox that I could only think of two games I’d even be interested in. What I really thought, though, was “If they don’t make KOTOR backwards compatible, then there’s no point to original-Xbox backwards compatibility.”

Back in a previous post, I talked about memorable moments that can happen randomly in open-world games. KOTOR, on the other hand, proves that memorable moments can be scripted, too. (And by memorable, I mean traumatic. In this case, anyway.)

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic won a ton of awards, and rightly so. It was and is a great game. It was also the first game that totally blindsided me. Blackwall completely fooled me, but KOTOR did it first, and for the entire length of the game.

‘Member KOTOR?

*Spoilers for KOTOR ahead.

I was so enthralled with KOTOR that I was basically along for the ride. Enjoying the sights. Whatever they threw at me, I accepted. So when the big reveal at the end came along, it utterly wrecked me. I mean that literally. I went into meltdown mode and set “total denial” to “on”. I actually shut the game off and walked around the house aimlessly, chanting, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no” in my head. (And ok, maybe sometimes out loud.) They were lying. It couldn’t be true. There was no way that I was Revan.

It took weeks before I could think about it without flinching. I was 100% invested in my character as a good person. I was saving the galaxy. Period. Full stop. The idea that what I was actually doing was cleaning up my own evil mess was inconceivable.

He’s a playa.

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against playing evil characters. In The Old Republic, I habitually turn off all of the cues so that I don’t know whether my choices are light or dark side until after I make them, and generally my peeps end up hovering in the neutral zone. I have a Sith Inquisitor who’s just a right bastard, though, and he’s ridiculously fun to play. (Confession #1: I call him “Pimp Daddy Sith” in my head, because he nails everything that moves. I can’t believe how often the game lets him get laid.)

Ahem. Where was I?

In any RPG, half the fun is deciding what kind of person you’re playing. Are you playing yourself, and making the choices that you think you would make in those situations? Or are you creating a character and playing based on what you think that person would do?

I find it incredibly difficult, sometimes, to break away from myself. I might go into a game intending to play an evil bitch, just for the fun of it, but sooner or later (usually sooner), I find myself up against a choice that I just can’t bring myself to make. Not even in a game. Which is probably why I usually end up neutral in SWTOR. If I want to definitively swing one way or the other, I really have to try.

KOTOR paints Revan as the bad guy: a former Jedi who turned against his teachings and later invaded the Republic. He (canonically, sigh) is the cautionary tale about what can happen when a Jedi falls to the Dark Side. When he’s effectively reborn and redeemed, that’s only natural, right? Good wins, evil loses. Yadda yadda yadda.

Revan is more nuanced than that, of course. What you think about him in the beginning is based on what you’re being told, and what you’re being told is coming from a particular perspective. The more you learn about him, the harder it is to see him as a straight-up bad guy. Revan got mad that the Jedi were sitting on their asses while the Mandalorians went on a conquering spree, so he ran off to save the day. He did, though at the expense of a lot of lives and an entire planet. Still, war won. Yay, Revan.

Revan was a hero, but he promptly hied off into the Unknown Regions to figure out what was behind the Mandalorians’ rampage. Mind-control shenanigans later, Revan and Malak got ahold of the Star Forge and were supposed to use it on behalf of the Sith, but they broke free of the mind-control shenanigans and decided to use the Star Forge to create a second Sith Empire. Their plan was to conquer the Republic, unite everybody, and then conquer the real threat–the, uh, other Sith Empire.

In other words, Revan wanted to save the damn galaxy. Twice.

So, Revan: good guy, or bad guy? Again, it’s a matter of perspective. Revan obviously thought of himself as a necessary guy. Sure, he created a second Sith Empire and invaded the Republic… but he did it to save the galaxy (again). He may have created a second Sith Empire, but he didn’t discriminate against aliens, unlike the real Sith Empire. Yes, he fell away from the Jedi, but Revan wasn’t so much about the Dark Side as he was about finding a middle path.

How many of us ever think of ourselves as evil? I don’t mean griping about “always having to be the bad guy” (which is often just code for, “Holy fucknuts, people keep making me make hard decisions!”). I mean how often do you honestly see yourself as the evil entity who’s opposing the forces of good? Most of us think we’re on the side of the angels, or the Avengers, or whatever. Those other guys are wrong. Or evil. Probably evil.

Dividing into two factions is a great way to prevent lasting change. As power is pulled between the two, they take turns advancing their own agendas while simultaneously pulling down things that the other side achieved the last time they were on top. Anyone who doesn’t fit into a faction tends to get left out in the cold, voiceless and unrepresented (or, at best, underrepresented). What gets lost in the process is any hope of objectively figuring out what’s truly best for everyone. Finding a middle way is an almost mythical goal, a Xanadu painted in rosy hues.

Both factions think of themselves as the good guys and those other nitwits as the bad guys. Is either truly evil? Not really. Not the majority. There are fringe elements, outliers, radicals, yeah, but they shouldn’t define the whole. For every evil Darth who’s only in it for the hate (or for him/herself), there’s a million ordinary folks, just trying to live their lives.

Breaking away from good vs. evil and trying to forge a path down the middle, free of labels, can be a noble goal. It can also be a smokescreen. Here’s the test: is that person actually trying to forge a new way that’s better for everyone? Or does it become clear, at some point, that what you have on your hands is an opportunist who’s just taken advantage of a longing for change and used it for his or her own gain?

As the late, great Douglas Adams said in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” He was talking about his fictional Galactic President, of course. Sure. Fiction? Puh. “…getting themselves made President” is pretty spot on, doncha think?

Theron Shan, aka Technoplague. ‘Nuff said.

(Confession #2: My somewhat forgiving stance toward Revan has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that his descendant is hot. And also voiced by Troy Baker. Which is always hot.) (I think that was more of a disclaimer than a confession.) (Also, that Troy Baker thing might be the Saints Row obsession talking again.) (Nah.)

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