The Complex Villain (Part I) – Porky from Earthbound

[Currently listening to: Starbound OST]

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There’s plenty to love about the stereotypical villain. Baddies like Final Fantasy VI‘s Kefka or Super Mario‘s Bowser are so memorable because of their over-the-top power-mongering. They’ve got no reason to cause our heroes trouble other than for the “evulz”.  Motive isn’t really in focus here; we just want them to cause a little mayhem – the hammier the better.

Think about Disney’s typical villain recipe:

  1. Must want power/control/revenge.
  2. Does not necessarily require backstory.
  3. An eccentric personality certainly helps.

With this perfect fusion of attitude and wickedness we’re guaranteed to love the antagonist, but not so much that we want them to win. I love Maleficent and Hades, but I’m too attached to those movies’ protagonists to root for the opposing team with their barely-developed motivations.

The system works in fiction, especially when the point – or moral – of the story doesn’t require more than a two-dimensional villain. But, of course, in the real world cruelty isn’t born in a bubble. Circumstances and choices (of both the individual and outside influences) can shape the sinful nature of man into someone more complex than a power-monger. Maybe your story’s villain needs that sort of development.

He may not be our grittiest example of a complex baddie, but in this post we’re going to look at:

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Porky Minch.

(Pokey? Porky? Dangit, localization, why must you make things so confusing?)

Here’s a bully with two games in a trilogy focused on his motives. Even though in Earthbound our “big bad” is Giygas, it quickly becomes clear that Po(r)k(e)y is the antagonist to watch (partly because Giygas is just nebulously “out there” controlling the evil in people). And in Mother 3, even though the main party doesn’t even meet him until the last hour of the game, his actions behind the scenes make it clear what sort of person he is.

There’s just too much to cover about Porky (whatever, I’ll just go with that form of his name) in one post, so you know what that means…

…IT’S A PORKY-PALOOZA ALL MONTH LONG!

So! To begin, let’s talk about the way he’s introduced in Earthbound. I’m referring of course to the importance of –

Origin

Who is Porky? Why is he important to the story? How is he introduced? What vibes does he give off?

A villain should make a memorable entrance; it doesn’t need to expose his villainy right away, but it should at least set up the character traits that will foretell a fall from grace. (Even a surprise villain’s motivations need to make sense.) Porky, at the start, is pushy and a bully, but by and large is no real threat. He’s the typical obnoxious kid next door. We’re guaranteed to remember him, though, partly because of his attitude.

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The other part? Well, that would be –

Relationships

Your villain needs to matter to the protagonist. Otherwise, what’s the use in them conflicting? Some stories make it immediately apparent that their baddie intends grief for the hero. In Porky’s case, it’s further into the game that we realize he means business (oh, come on, it’s funny), but the way he treats Ness at the start assures us that their relationship not only has history, but it’s also one blue-colored cult away from turning sour.

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Even the most 2D villains can have a relationship with the protagonist, though. What makes Porky more complex is the secondary relationships that have shaped him – primarily, his relationship with his parents.

This relationship is more inferred than the blatantly antagonistic one Porky shares with Ness. Aside from the abusive discipline we see his father administer at the start of the game, the rest of our information comes from inference in just a few lines of dialogue: like Mr. Minch’s constant focus on money and importance, or the fact that Mrs. Minch has a “gentleman friend” visiting the house at the game’s end while her husband is away.

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Circumstances – positive or negative – will rouse a response in the receiver. You can see this in the whole history of mankind. Since good fiction reflects this characteristic of man (again – positive and negative), it follows that in-story circumstances need to rouse a response from our characters as well. So in light of the information we’ve covered so far, let’s take a look at Porky’s –

Reactions

Porky ‘s upbringing hasn’t left much room for gracious behavior, and it’s honestly something you pity in him instead of hate. He seems to want a good friendship with Ness, but his anger and broken home life cause him to act out in other ways.

What’s he been taught to do when the world doesn’t give him what he wants? Well, it could be argued that his only reference – his father – has taught him that importance is the key to satisfaction. So he seeks it – higher and higher until finally he has it, fully corrupted by Giygas’ hatred.

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In the end, he’s a power-mongering villain like so many others, but what makes him different is his backstory of abuse and inability to foster positive relationships. He’s a reflection of many real people with real struggles and real sins. In some ways, we relate to him more than we relate to the game’s heroes.

But that’s only scraping the surface of Porky’s psyche. In our next video game post, we’ll see what makes him tick in Mother 3.

 

Earthbound is the property of Nintendo and Shigesato Itoi. You can play it via the Wii U virtual console.

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