Tales of Berseria's Velvet Crowe is pissed, and for good reason. She's out to kill the so-called savior of her world, who did a serious wrong to her and her family. She happens to have a sweet demonic hand and some powerful, badass friends at her disposal, but in her quest, she definitely operates on the wrong side of the law. Velvet is just the latest of many excellent anti-heroes in the world of gaming, though her gender marks her as a bit different from the norm. Why do we seem to love being a little bit bad in video games? Anti-heroes are popular in all fiction, but it's particularly personal when you're actually controlling a character who doesn't always make the most moral choices. I think playing characters like Velvet can be good for us, especially when the game allows us to explore important real-life issues in the process.
Velvet has come along at a great time for me, as I'm feeling downright enraged by various things happening in the world around me. Even the most mild-mannered person (which admittedly I'm not) has a bit of a streak of violence and vigilantism in them. Playing an anti-hero in a game is a great way to work through those feelings in a safe way and consider real-life issues from a different perspective. Not to mention, it's downright cathartic to play as Velvet and skewer baddies with my giant demon claw. Her anger and cynicism mirror my own in my worse moments
The fact that Velvet is a woman helps. Most famous fictional anti-heroes are men and many have familiar personality types. You know - the Robin Hood, the Han Solo, the Count of Monte Cristo (or is it the Liam Neeson in Taken?). When creating a female anti-hero, writers have fewer easy tropes to fall back on. That can mean a better focus on the character's motivation and inner struggles. I'm not super-far into Tales of Berseria yet, but I've already seen Velvet's origin story in great detail and witnessed some lovely, subtle character development from her. Another female anti-hero in gaming that comes to mind is Fetch from Infamous Second Son and Infamous: First Light. She was given a similarly detailed and interesting origin story that showed exactly why she holds a grudge against Law and Order. Neither character is always "likeable," but both are relatable and very fun to play.
Not every game gets this balance right. I'm not personally fond of titles in which you play all-out evil for no particular reason (unless they're silly and fun about it, like Overlord). Neither am I fond of villainous female characters who fall into the "generic seductress without explanation" category (demonizing female sexuality is lame!). These types of poorly-drawn characters don't make much sense. After all, everybody considers themselves the hero of their own story. Without a proper motivation or psychological character study, anti-heroic or villainous characters can really fall flat. They're ok if you're looking for some mindless slaughter in your video game time, but you're not likely to remember or appreciate them long-term.
Who hasn't felt like stepping outside the bounds of the law in real life? Playing as a villain or anti-hero in a game can help us explore those feelings or provide catharsis when we're working through depression or anger. The best game writers give us characters whose shoes we can step into; people who have been wronged in some way and turned to darker methods to get what they want out of life or even to change the world for the better. Is vengeance ever the right path to take? Do the ends justify the means? When is violence justified? Characters like Velvet from Tales of Berseria can help us explore those difficult questions, and I'm sure glad she's come along when she has for me.