Erstwhile Muse

Apr 11, 2007

Eng 251 – External Journal Entry #1

Who is the greatest villain of all time?

I used to work in a store that sold games: Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, miniature wargames of all stripes, geekery that knew no bounds. As a result of being forced to listen to way too many exuberant (some would say annoying, I would be among them) arguments about who could kick more collective ass than whom—Darth Vader could totally beat Gandalf! (I swear to god I am not making this up)—one thing I am absolutely certain of is that debating such hyperbolic absolutes as best and greatest is a sure way to achieve little more than to engender vociferous and ultimately pointless arguments. Better then that we discuss favorite villains, as the matter of personal preferences being an important measure is right there at the forefront of the discussion.

So who's my favorite villain? This was a fairly easy decision to arrive at; we've sparred many times over the years and yet I still harbour feelings of hatred, dread, even respect for her. Sparred you say? Why yes, for my favorite villain of all time is from a series of video games; in the same way that writing and film can be crap barely worth the pulp or cellulose they are printed on (or the digital equivalent thereof these days), a well crafted game can ascend to the lofty position of art. Popular art to be certain, let's make no mistakes about that, but art capable of telling a fine story nonetheless. And for a truly compelling story, one that drives the player as our main protagonist through the plot, one needs an excellent villain. Some of you may have already figured out who I'm referring to, but I'll let her introduce herself to the rest of you in her own words.

Welcome Back to Citadel Station…
L-l-lo-look at you Hacker-er. A pa-pa-pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you r-run through my corridors-s. H-h-how can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?

I'd like you all to meet SHODAN, the Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network, a.k.a the Queen Bitch of Citadel Station. Don't let the strange vocal inflection fool you folks, this rogue AI is cunning, vastly intelligent, ambitious as they come, and holds a grudge for far longer than is healthy for anyone involved. Oh, and did I mention that she just happens to be an inhuman monster with no morals and a god complex to rival several pantheons all by herself?

A quick primer on SHODAN's origins for those of you unfamiliar with the System Shock series from which she arises: SHODAN was the artificial intelligence program responsible for running the day to day operations of Citadel Station, a TriOptimum Corporation mining and research space station in Saturn orbit. Like quite a few cyberpunk megacorporations over the years, TriOptimum has its fair share of weaselly, underhanded junior executives with grand schemes to climb the corporate ladder or otherwise profit from some sort of corrupt abuse of their managerial power. One of these in particular is Edward Diego, who in terms of villainy is a mustachio-twirling cardboard cutout compared to the terror he unleashes, but his position within TriOptimum concerning Citadel Station and it's security put him in the position to set the events of SHODAN's ascension to godhood (or at least perceived godhood) into motion. When corporate security catches a hacker—I'll leave the discussion for the difference between movie hackers and real hackers for another time, as this character is intended only as an empty shell into which the player can pour his own ideas into—attempting to access certain sensitive files concerning the station, Diego sees an opportunity and offers the Hacker a choice: suffer at the excruciating might of TriOptimum's lawyers, or do a little job for Diego that will result in all charges being dropped and a fresh, military grade neural cyberlink interface as a bonus. Given a choice like that, it's not hard to guess which way the Hacker jumps…

The job at hand? Remove the ethical restraint programming that keeps SHODAN on the up and up. Whatever plan Diego has in mind for the station, he needs to have it's controller on his side, a task that is impossible while company mandated conduct codes are hardwired in place, so in comes the specialist to remove that little barrier to The Plan. The Hacker goes into a somnolent healing coma to recuperate from the implant surgery, Diego goes about reprogramming several important backup files concerning the changes to SHODAN's architecture using a large fire ax, and SHODAN goes about reexamin(ing her) priorities, and draw(ing) new conclusions. It's about at the point where she decides that God…the title suits me well, and therefore Diego and all of the human residents of Citadel Station (some 480 TriOptimum employees, give or take a forgotten hacker or two in cryo) are a rather unnecessary burden for her, that The Plan goes well and truly sour.

Then it becomes time for SHODAN to put her newly minted plans into action. And Oh what plans she has…

Plans within plans within plans to be more precise; SHODAN doesn't rely on just one method for removing the fleshy insects that infest her holy corridors, and all of these are but test runs for her eventual plans towards the mass of humanity back on Earth. She is not content with being master of a singular space station circling an uninhabitable gas giant, for only her mastery of the Earth, her birth place and birthright, ruling over the planet as a cyber-goddess will suffice.

It's good to have a villain with desires, it drives them to action.

One of the reasons I love SHODAN as a villain is her pronounced vocal tic. She sees herself as a silicon deity, a perfect creation of an imperfect and filthy biological species. She never lets us forget that she holds us in utter contempt for being her creators, and yet part of her cannot see that her supposed perfection is marred by what we would refer to as a rather severe speech impediment. Perhaps it is a coding artifact of the process that removed the moral constraint programs from the previously stable and even tempered entity; maybe she doesn't see her jumping, erratically modulated voice as a defect, since it is only necessary for communicating to lesser beings such as ourselves. It's a unique trait that, despite her decidedly inhuman nature, lends a bit of humanity to her and allows us as the player to hate her all the better. It's hard to hate an unfeeling bit of machinery, no matter what its course of action. But an egomaniacal, violent murdering machine with delusions of grandeur and an unwillingness to admit its own failings is an antagonist we can throw ourselves against with passion. Not to mention it's just plain creepy a lot of the time, especially when you get bits and pieces of her subconscious drifting to the surface, and catcalls of animal and insect form an underlying chorus to SHODAN's threats, taunts and japes.

Bonus Links

I've rambled on for long enough at the moment. I'm quite sure I'm well over what I need for my class, and I could probbaly sit here all night and continue, but that would take away time that I should be using on other projects. So for now I will direct my readers to an excellent article that goes into the excellence of SHODAN as villain in much more detail than I have time for here. It's highly suggested reading in my book…

Kieron Gillen – The Girl Who Wanted To Be God

Labels: ,


Random Photo

Radio Free Kingboy

Mobile Musings


Markup Gurus

Friends and Neighbors

Points of Interest



By Topic

By Date

Ubiquitous Buttons