When asked, in a variety of venues all over the internet, to name the top videogame villains of all time, the consensus usually drifts in the same way. There are tons of these lists floating about in the ranty game-ether, and they always go the same way. There's generally a parade of Sarah Kerrigan, Psycho Mantis, and Mother Brain, sometimes with Bowser thrown into the mix, sometimes Diablo, but always culminating with the same guy: Sephiroth from FFVII is the most ultimate, horrible villain of all time.
No, actually. He's not. I mean, Sephiroth is a total scary badass, don't get me wrong. In all fairness, a genetically modified dude with cat eyes and a god complex who wants to control the planet is fairly daunting, when one tries to ponder it as a reality. Clearly, if this individual existed in the real world, and this scenario came to pass, it would mean a lot of destruction, uncertainty, and death for innocent young flower sellers.
It's just that Sephiroth is kind of obvious. And it's easy to have a villain that is so alien, so obviously different in nature from the role the player takes on as protagonist. Even if there are circumstantial, superficial similarities between Sephiroth and Cloud, it's still pretty much in the bag that our hero is going to do right or die trying.
To me, a truly good villain is one that makes us question things. Perhaps, through snippets of illicitly told origin stories and flashbacks, we come to sympathize with the struggles of this person. Human curiosity is such that when we encounter actions on the part of others that do not make sense, we often try to understand the character's motivation. This is called empathy, and it's a fairly typical response. But a truly masterful villain has to be able to simultaneously attract and repel us, and to me, this takes a bit more than a luxurious silver man-mane and megalomania. Much the same way people put obvious B.S. on their OKCupid profiles about the things they most value in a potential partner, I decided to list the qualities that I think contribute to a really great villain. Of course, the mastery of a good villain is always in the nuance, so the doing of this exercise maybe detracts from my point a bit, but the elements that I came up with were ambiguity, sadism, insidiousness, manipulation, and betrayal. Fun!
And so, I present to you the five villains that I find to be the most intense, most frightening, and the ones that unsettle me the most. I have no doubt that some of my choices will incite confusion (and possibly comment flaming, if you're so inclined. Whatever.), but I will do my best to state the case for each one. And so, without further ado, here are my top five videogame villains of all time.
Pyramid Head- Silent Hill series
I figured I would start with a fairly straightforward choice in Pyramid Head, aka Red Pyramid Thing, aka Triangle Head. Pyramid Head generally makes it on to most people's villain lists, though he's usually not in the top five. Reasons cited usually involve some combination of the following: His head is obscured by a scary, pointy thing. He carries a huge, rusty sword, except for the occasions when he is carrying a huge, rusty spear. This spear is probably some kind of demented phallic symbol, representative of one of Pyramid Head's apparent pastimes, raping the lesser monsters who populate the execrable alternate universe of Silent Hill. Delightful.
All those reasons are pretty awful. Indeed, there are a variety of hypothetical scenarios I can come up with, many of which involve being stuck in a makeshift Confederate hospital during the American Civil War, each of which would be more pleasant than dealing with Pyramid Head's accessories and hobbies. However, these are only partially representative of why Mr. Head is on this list for me. Beyond the blatant monster-violation and penchant for headgear that appears to combine the worst stylistic elements of executioners and the KKK, there is something more subtly disquieting about Pyramid Head. He does not speak, but moans at times, indicating that perhaps he is in some kind of pain. He also appears to have the body of a man, and both of these details are suggestive of the idea that maybe Pyramid Head was once a man, as well. Following this line of thought, one is forced to wonder who he was before, how he got there, and what happened to him to make him this way (yes, I know one of the endings of Silent Hill: Homecoming kind of addresses this, but unless you've played that specific game and gotten that specific ending, it's still freaky and mysterious. And if you have, it's not mysterious anymore, but it's still freaky as hell).
Many have suggested that, at least with the initial appearances of Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2, he is representative of some aspect of protagonist James Sunderland's psyche. Namely the part that feels guilty for that whole pillow smothering mess with his wife, because it's kind of difficult to tell whether it was a "You're terminally ill and I'm releasing you from your pain" mercy killing, or "Hurry up and die, you're acting like a psycho and I've not been laid in over three years" sort of killing, which is, you know, murder. These things are, of course, never really that clear cut. It was probably a bit of column A and a bit of column B, but if Pyramid Head is some entity manifested of James' guilt over Mary's death, then it kind of makes the rest of the game make sense. It explains the presence of Maria, who is pretty much sexy, not-ill version of Mary, the creepy faceless nurse-sluts, the fact that the letter disappears over the course of the game. Yup, it's all in James' head.
Except, if it's all in his head, then why are there a bunch of sequels featuring the same horrifying monsters? Do ALL of the sequels featuring Pyramid Head happen in someone's head, nested in James' head, Inception-style? Because that seems far-fetched even to me, and I'm the one who's writing this nonsense to begin with.
Clearly there is at least some objective existence of Pyramid Head and his grotesque pals. And in fact, there are even a couple of scenes in various episodes of the franchise that show more than one Pyramid Head, suggesting that he is not a unique specimen. But if that's the case, what is he? Was he a person? Is he a demon? Does his entire race dress like that? When one gets too deep into the analysis of it, one only ends up with a logic loop. It's best to just let it go, knowing Pyramid Head is a Möbius strip, and the world of Silent Hill is non-orientable. The various people who have worked on the game have been very careful not to endorse any particular alternate ending as canon. I, for one, hope this never changes. The need to explain everything and the overdrive into which it puts our brains when we try is precisely what makes the ambiguity of Pyramid Head so frightening.
King of the Cosmos – Katamari Damacy
I bet I can guess what you're thinking. It involves the letters "W", "T", and "F", and the questioning of my mental state. I mean, you might not be wrong. It's said that crazy people don't believe they're crazy, and I've spent an awful lot of time in the writing of this article thinking about what makes otherwise normal people snap. However, sometimes the snapping of someone is not based on a sudden deviation of normal. Sometimes, if the person in question has been out of touch with reality from the beginning, a glimpse of real life can be what pushes them over the edge.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I present for your consideration the case of the King of the Cosmos. Peculiar yet benevolent ruler? Or sadistic and abusive parent? He may seem foppish enough on the surface, with his fancy collar and purple Goblin King pants, but we must consider all the underlying details of the situation in order to truly understand what is going on.
I would like to enter into evidence, exhibit A: The Prince. 5 cm tall, this son of the King is constantly ridiculed for his size, and ordered to perform absurd errands involving the collection of debris, garbage and other potentially harmful things , including live animals into compacted masses. Not only is this a clear case of child neglect and endangerment, but the items that the Prince is made to collect have all been put there on purpose by the King. And does the Prince get a bag and maybe some gloves to do these chores? Or perhaps a wheelbarrow of some sort? NO. He has to push around a giant ball with weird little nubs all over it, which looks suspiciously as though it is meant to be chewed on by dogs or else used as some kind of sex toy.
On top of all that, the supposed reason for the collection of these things is to amass celestial bodies, which have suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the sky. Only it wasn't that mysterious, because in fact, the reason that the stars are missing is because the King of the Cosmos himself accidentally knocked them all out of the sky during a raging bender the likes of which would make Rick James himself ashamed.
Finally, in the instance that the Prince does not meet the King's expectations, which are sometimes stated outright, but sometimes left ambiguous, the Prince is cast down to the ground on his hands and knees in the pouring rain and black of night. He is then berated by the King for his failure, which is often blamed upon his small stature. On the occasions that the Prince does please the King, his hard work is immediately seized by the King, and either thrown into the sky, or smashed into stardust. At times, the King attempts to bribe the Prince by promising to leave gifts amongst the scattered items, most of which are more humiliating than delightful to a young man of the Prince's age. The King has also kidnapped and hidden many of the Prince's cousins, who he must try to rescue during his collection attempts, in a situation not entirely unlike the film, The People Under the Stairs.
Though we do learn in subsequent games that the King of the Cosmos may also have had a less than idyllic childhood, and obviously has some unresolved issues with his own father, this whole twisted scheme is a classic case of child abuse. And who among us has stood up for the Prince? I'm ashamed to say that I cannot count myself among this contingent, for I ran him ragged, collecting every flower pot, school child and giant octopus monster I could. The King of the Cosmos sunk his gloved claws into me, as perhaps he did you, and we helped him! We aided him in the cruel and inhuman treatment of this own son. The King of the Cosmos deserves no better than the worst criminal in the justice system today, but perhaps his true villainy is the clever manipulation by which he made each of us a willing participant to this perverse charade. Did you roll around the house? The town? Did you enjoy it? Did you continue to do it, even after receiving the King's unenthusiastic approval just to see if you could impress him? Yes, you did. We all did. I rest my case.
The 5th Level in Flower
OK, OK, hold on, hear me out. I know that Flower doesn't technically have a protagonist, so how can it have a villain? And maybe I just got too much into the personified aspects of the game. I mean, the floating petal train doesn't even have a face. And I know I wasn't alone in thinking that it was actually a bit boring at first.
That all changed when I got a better sense of the big picture, though. By the second level, I was raring to go. I was painting the grass with impossible colors, swirling around rocks and soaring over canyons. I had a few friends who knew that I was playing it for the first time, and I paused between each level for the brief exchange of tweets.
During the first pause, I noticed that I was suddenly in a great mood. I hadn't really been in a shitty mood before, that's not really my thing. But suddenly, I felt awesome for no apparent reason! I went back to the game, elated, and continued to collect flower petals. Soon, there were windmills and twilight, and as I continued spiraling across whatever magic land this was, the night sky rose, full of stars. I wafted across some farmland, leaving blobs of turquoise light in my wake, and paused again to get some water.
By this point, I was completely euphoric, and the only way to convey this properly in tweet form was by hitting caps lock.
"HOLY CRAP!", I exclaimed. "I JUST TURNED A BUNCH OF HAY BALES INTO GLOWING BEACONS OF RADIANT CYAN AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHY! I FEEL AWESOME!"
Once the proper hashtags were added, I had to make use of twitlonger, which I normally dismiss as sort of a rookie move, but I was practically ecstatic with the beauty I'd been witnessing on my flatscreen. Nothing could stop me. I was the Freddy Mercury's voice of vehicular flower petals.
But then, I decided to give a cursory glance to my @ replies before resuming, and what I found was deeply troubling. My friend, who I shall refer to here as "Buzzkill" had responded to one of my rapturous declarations with the following:
"@chernobylheart So, you're at the haystacks? Just wait. HEH HEH HEH #doom"
I thought Buzzkill might be messing with me. After all, my circle of friends is largely built on near-constant trolling attempts and mutual admiration and respect for any such attempts that are executed with finesse. However, "#doom" seemed kind of inelegant, even at that moment, when I might as well have just inhaled the vaporized, rose-scented tears of a unicorn.
I cautiously unpaused, and initially, nothing seemed amiss. I continued fluttering through the haystacks, and lit up one after the next in gently glowing blue. As I hit a checkpoint, the streetlamp began to glow, as had happened previously quite a few times. But then suddenly, there was a loud buzzing noise, like worse than when my upstairs neighbor leaves his phone vibrating on the hardwood floor above my bedroom. The lamp on the screen exploded, and my point of view changed to reveal the road ahead choked with smog, buzzing wires, and spiky looking electrical towers. My petal train seemed to recoil in horror. I was crestfallen.
I plowed my way through the 5th level, reduced from my glorious flower dragon form to a singed handful of wilted violets. I ended up adopting the strategy that it was probably better to have as few petals as possible for this level, as anytime I touched any obstacle at all, I received a shock from the towers which just charred me anyway. I thought it would go on forever, and in fact, I almost gave up at one point. It was as though my mood was entirely dependent upon my petals, which had all but given up the will to live.
To tell of it now almost sounds comical, and perhaps it is. But the experience of it was more akin to when one wakes up from a particularly intense nightmare with a very real sense of devastation. When you try to explain it to someone, it always sounds stupid. And only you remember how you felt at the time, even if it also sounds stupid to you later on.
Why did I include this, and who is the villain? Well, to address the first part first, the reason I included this example in my list of villains is because the experience of it forced me to feel things that were rather more intense that what I've dealt with in run-of-the-mill boss fights. Having been built up in such a way for the first few levels and then to have that high suddenly, bluntly reversed felt very much like an emotional betrayal. So who's the villain? The electrical towers? The dev team? Jenova Chen himself? I can't say. I do know after reading about the game that it was made this way intentionally, and the intention was obviously successful.
I cannot speak for everyone who's play it, of course. But out of curiosity, I actually sat with four friends who hadn't played it, one at a time, having cleared the saves each time to start fresh. Three of them had very similar reactions to mine. The fourth one threw the controller down, and to this day, he still hasn't been able to finish.
Yes, it's just a silly game, and the player isn't even playing as a human. But on the other hand, is there something about the removal of a recognizable avatar that the creators of this game knew would mess with our brains? I'm still not sure. Maybe my tap was laced with something that day, who knows? But I will say this: I've played an awful lot of games, and I've never felt the sense of loss and ruination I felt during this game in any other. Normally when we feel this way, it's because life has simply dealt us a shitty hand in a momentary round. No rhyme, no reason. However, when the feeling is induced by a human construct, I'm inclined to think that there's villainy afoot somewhere…
Brotherhood of the Black Cap – Machinarium
I know what you're thinking. "What? That game was so chill and cute. How can anything in it be scary? Maybe slightly ominous at worst". And you know, the overall vibe of the game is completely PG.
However, if you were to zoom out and look at the facts of the opening scenario, they are as follows:
-You are Josef. You wake up in a Junkyard, removed from your city. You are not sure how you got there.
-You are missing some limbs. Let me say that again: You are missing some limbs.
-You have been forcibly separated from your girlfriend, and you have no idea what's happened to her.
-Before you can even proceed, you must figure out how to repair your ravaged body, and this process involves fishing things out of murky, septic water and also a bit of bribery.
Yes, Josef is a cute robot, and we assume that since Josef isn't screaming over the charming, glitchy soundtrack, he probably does not feel pain. However, add some nerve endings and different music, and this is at least as disquieting as one of the better entries from the Saw franchise.
As Josef works his way through the puzzles of the game, the story unfolds in the form of illustrated flashbacks. There is not a word uttered throughout the entire game, but the player is made aware of the circumstances under which Josef has found himself in his current predicament. There is a gang of evil robots, denoted by their black caps, that has apparently infiltrated the robot city police force in order to forward their own nefarious agenda. In addition to creating the opening scenario, they've also kidnapped your girlfriend and forced her into slave labor in a tiny kitchen behind a heavily guarded door.
At one point in the game, you yourself are apprehended and thrown into a cell block with a few other robots. One of them is so listless and broken that all he can do is communicate that he wants a cigarette, which you must figure out how to make for him. The other robots are clearly traumatized to the point that, as you maneuver to escape your surroundings, they recoil from any movement in terror, implying that they've clearly suffered unspeakable torments at the hands of their captors.
As the emergence of events continues, and the state of affairs becomes more clear, the player becomes aware that the Brotherhood of the Black Cap has penetrated so deeply into the inner workings of the robot city that they have gained access to Josef's friend, the Big Head robot. While it is not explicitly stated what this robot's job actually is, one gets the impression that it is something vital to the proper function of the city. On top of the that, the Brotherhood has planted a bomb on the tower where the Big Head robot resides. While fixing the Big Head robot's brain, Josef learns that he and his girlfriend were accidental witnesses to the Brotherhood's original failed plan, hence the initial dismemberment and kitchen enslavement. Josef then proceeds to repair the brain, disarm the bomb, flush the Brotherhood down a giant drain, and rescue his girlfriend to fly off into the sunset.
Unfortunately, in the final scene, as Josef and his girlfriend are flying away, their escape vehicle crashes, and they are carried away by two separate machines, which calls into the question the level of the Brotherhood's infiltration. Was the collision a final act of sabotage? Are the flying machines agents of a sleeper cell, activated only upon the demise of the Brotherhood leaders? Am I analyzing this too much?
Probably. But the fact that such a brutal chain of events is presented in such an adorable and unassuming way is disconcerting. There's a fine line between paranoia and naivete, people. And when we become too trusting, we also become blind. And that's when the Brotherhood sneaks in.
Tim in Braid
Yes, Tim is the protagonist. This is possibly the worst spoiler of all the spoilers in this article, so for the love of all that is good and right in the world, don't read this if you plan on playing this game at all, EVER. I mean, I guess it's already ruined now, so whatever.
When Braid begins, you know very little about Tim, save that he's trying to rescue a Princess with whom he's had some kind of falling out, and he's wearing a suit. Tim has to climb stuff, bounce off of things, jump over things, and perform other typical puzzle platformer maneuvers. At a certain point, not too far into the game, the player discovers that Tim has the ability to move backwards and forwards in time. Not in the Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure phone-booth-through-a-wormhole-sense, but in actual real-time. As in "I'm running backwards and this weird pine-cone monster is also moving backwards, and when we go forwards again, I'll know to jump on his head this time". You can speed it up a little bit, but there's no jumping backward an entire century or anything like that.
While Tim's goal seems to be rescuing this mysterious Princess, the more immediate goal of the player is to collect puzzle pieces, which unlock the last stage of the game, and also stars. So, platforms, princess rescuing, stars… Sounds kind of like Good, Old-Fashioned Mario, but with a bit of a melancholy twist. Perhaps it's "Mario Realism". The working explanation that I came up with as I was playing involved the idea that Tim and the Princess had been through some traumatic videogame stuff before (perhaps something akin to a Bowser kidnapping) and gotten through it, and had settled down to a normal life. They now lived in a suburb and perhaps had office jobs, which would explain Tim's suit. And maybe the current situation had come about as a result of Tim working too much, or drinking too much, or some other tedious bourgeois thing that causes fights in relationships. It sucks, but it's fairly common. However, maybe the Princess had then somehow gotten kidnapped again, or some form of the previous traumatic videogame stuff had resurfaced, and Tim had abandoned work to go save her.
"Ah", I said to myself. "The point of this game will be that he remembers all the things he loves about her, and they will reconcile at the end. Or at the very worst, they will realize that they aren't right for each other, and agree to be just friends, if the writer has decided to put a sassy twist in the plot".
Certainly, this situation isn't unheard of in modern films and literature. To be honest, it's actually pretty tired at this point. But because video games haven't been around as long, in many cases, writers have only recently begun infusing plots with the subtlety and nuance one might expect in other mediums. I know this is probably going to incite rage in some, but before you rend me limb from limb, realize that I'm talking about the entirety of human literature, and the entirety of all films ever made, and that the gulf even between those two mediums is ridiculously wide in terms of the time in which we've had the technology. And any time there's a new technology, we always tend to dick around with it a bit, or at least take it for some test drives before we really try to push it to the limit of trying to portray an artistic human vision with multi-dimensional characters and realistic and/or well crafted fantastic plot lines. And you know, there's also nothing wrong with not doing this, either. Shallow can be fun. My point is, though, that only in the past decade and a half have we started to see a regular trend of games that go deeper than "I need to make this guy look like a dude with a sword, and I need to make things look cool when they blow up". And look, you probably still disagree with me, here, but I need you to just come with me on this one, because I need to get back to my point about Braid.
Which is that the scenario that I constructed in my head as I was playing seemed reasonable enough, based on what my experience with its contemporaries and the current character development climate. As I solved each puzzle the picture of a workaholic, alcoholic Tim became clearer, and I thought "Yup, this is totally a commentary on the American Dream™ and how it is about as realistic as the standard Mario plot. Because the whole "Get a good job and a house and babies" way of life is desirable, but it doesn't inherently make everyone happy. Some people marry the wrong person, some people hate their jobs, and some people just need to be doing something else entirely.
I played on, secure in my smugness that I had it pegged, that this was to be the 500 Days of Summer of indie games: Pretty, predictable, and idiosyncratic enough that only a total hipster would call it completely contrived. It only seems super-deep if you've been living your life in a shallow way to begin with, but it's still kinda thought-provoking. That's all I thought Braid was. And that is precisely why I didn't see the horrible reveal coming AT ALL.
Cut to the final scene, and witness a giant knight in armor, Princess in arm, hanging from a vine. "I have you!", he shouts. "Help!", She screams, leaps out of his arms, and runs. Tim can only follow her underground, and they must work together with just the right timing; jumping, pulling levers, and outrunning a wall of flame. Tim finally makes it to the house that the Princess has entered. But the door is locked.
And then, Tim reads.
"He inferred. He deduced. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. He was searching for the Princess, and he would not stop until he found her, for he was hungry. He cut rats into pieces to examine their brains, implanted tungsten posts into the skulls of water-starved monkeys".
Wow, that's twisted. Only, it's not the story of the giant knight, or some as-yet-unseen monster. It's Tim's story. Tim is the monster, and he has been the whole time. The books go on to reveal that Tim's mom might have been kind of a sadist. The show snippets of Tim being abused, and in turn being abusive. There are also multiple quotes associated with the Manhattan Project, but more on that in a moment.
As we step back into the world, we are made to see that the scene in which Tim and the Princess were working together to get to the safety of the house was actually playing backwards. In fact, the entire game has been running backwards. The Princess is running from Tim. The levers and switches are all traps that she is attempting to set in order to stop him as he chases her, and the knight from whom she appears to escape is actually rescuing her. "Help!", she yells to him. "I've got you!", he says, as he picks her up and carries her away from the scene.
Now, all princess-rescuing cliches aside, that revelation is kind of a shock. Many folks have made the analysis that Tim is actually a scientist who was working on the Manhattan Project (which was the detonation of the first atomic bomb). This is largely based on the usage of the quote by Harvard physicist and project director Kenneth Bainbridge, "Now we are all sons of bitches", which was in reference to the success of the project. Bainbridge famously spent the rest of his life attempting to end the development of nuclear technologies as weapons and to put the control of such technologies in the hands of civilians to used for energy, as opposed to destruction. It is thus not that big of a stretch to see Tim's efforts to chase and contain the Princess as the futile attempts of the remorseful creator of an instrument of mass death to undo what he has done. This is completely feasible, and if it makes you feel better, go ahead and think it. I definitely felt better about it after looking at it this way.
However, anyone with a shred of scientific background knows that you can't just go with the conclusion that you like best simply because it seems to fit. That would be both intellectually lazy and ethically irresponsible. In order to have a thesis one can really stand behind, one must try to poke as many holes in it as possible, and this is where it always gets ugly.
If the player has successfully collected all the stars in the game, they will be seen in the sky outside of Tim's puzzle house, forming the constellation Andromeda. The significance of this is somewhat ambiguous; In Greek mythology, Andromeda was an Ethiopian princess who was chained to a rock as a virgin sacrifice for a sea monster. Her mother, Cassiopeia had bragged a little too loudly about being hot, and Zeus, the final boss of Greek gods and apparently not a fans of milfs, sent Cetus the sea creature to destroy the coast. Unable to kill the monster, the king went to the oracle of Apollo, which said that the only way to appease Cetus was a virgin sacrifice, which was sort of a panacea for any troubling situation back then. Luckily, Perseus came along, just as Cetus glorped his way up from the murky depths for a snack. Perseus was pretty pumped, as he'd just killed Medusa the Gorgon, so he turned the sea monster to stone with her head, and rescued Andromeda who then married him.
I like to think that this is representative of Tim's original intention, that maybe he didn't start out as a monster, but his love became all weird and obsessive, and maybe the Princess overreacted, and the whole thing just went to hell. However, maybe playing the role of Perseus is just what Tim thought he was doing in his own twisted reality. I mean, we've all seen Silence of the Lambs, right? Or at least one of those made-for-tv biopics about real serial killers, and how they manage to justify the unspeakably horrible shit they do with some odd combination of narcissism, entitlement, and perpetual victimhood. And this is what makes the whole thing so unsettling. We would each like to think that we're good people. We may not be perfect, but when push comes to shove, we know right from wrong. We're above this kind of thing, and we could never be so easily manipulated by bad circumstances and misguided passion as to behave like Tim, here. Or you know, the Son of Sam.
But here's the thing. If you've finished the game, you just did behave that way. I mean, not really, not in reality. And the Princess got away, which is a weird win-condition in and of itself. In fact, perhaps that is the way in which the game redeems the player, in a way. You're supposed to be glad that she got away from you. But the fact remains that you've been laboring under a profound delusion the entire time. "But wait!", you may be saying. "I didn't know about any of that stuff that happened before the game started! I had no context!". And you are not wrong. However, if Tim is as obviously psychotic as his actions betray him to be, maybe he doesn't have any context for them, either. That's what makes it scary.
In recent years, we've seen some chilling incidents come to light. Now, regardless of how you feel about various wars and conflicts and religions, I'm going to assume that we all agree that it's not cool to torture people. If you want to argue about that, then you're probably either a troll or a contrarian. Hopefully. But I digress. The thing that is important to realize in the context of wars, following orders, and torturing other human beings is that studies show (look up Stanley Milgram's "Obedience to Authority" if you don't believe me, but it's basic Psych 101) that almost any one of us can probably be turned into a sadistic torture monster under the right circumstances, which are often quite torturous to begin with. Take an undisciplined ne'er-do-well, throw him into boot camp, and watch him get ripped to tiny shreds, only to be completely rebuilt as a well-oiled machine of a soldier by his drill sergeant. A few years of additional training later, and he is on guard duty in a military prison. At this point, his loyalty is to his commanding officer, his fellow soldiers, and anyone his commanding officer tells him is worthy of his loyalty.
Obviously, I am not saying that soldiers are evil or stupid. In fact, civilians have metric shit-tons of reasons to be grateful for the sacrifices that generations of these people have made, regardless of where any given person falls on the political spectrum. What I am saying is that the process by which one becomes a disciplined, trained member of the military is not an easy one, nor is it generally considered pleasant by most. Perhaps in a big picture, eyes-on-the-prize kind of way, but nobody enjoys brutal physical workouts and verbal abuse. And this process can have the effect of re-socializing people to the point that they lose any prior context to their actions, and just do what they think they are supposed to do when confronted with an immediate and pressing situation. Sound familiar?
At this point, we've covered an awful lot of ground, and perhaps I've lost some of you along the way, so here is where I tie it all back up. The point here is not to dwell on things that have happened, particularly with regard to war crimes, or to try to figure out who is responsible for them, or why they occurred. The point is not to say that Braid is a sinister game because it manipulates us into being either a potentially homicidal sociopath, or a delusional physicist in a dream world trying in vain to atone for detonating an atomic bomb. The reason that Tim is at the number one spot on my top 5 villains of all time is because he makes us deeply uncomfortable. It's not as simple as "we all have a little evil inside of us", or "anyone can be made into a torturer", because that would be easy. That would be clear-cut. In order to avoid that, you simply avoid those situations which are notorious for cultivating such atrocities whenever possible.
No, the discomfort comes from the uncertainty. "DO I have this in me? I thought I had beliefs and convictions, but what if the only reason I feel those things is because I think I'm supposed to? What if my acceptance of norms in my life, relative to my situation turns me into Tim? Or worse, what if it's just that I fear that they do, so I rebel against them, and THAT is what turns me into Tim? How do I know what to avoid so that I don't become Tim? Or for that matter, how do I avoid dating somebody that has the potential to become Tim?!". Tim may be evil, or he may just be delusional. He may be that way because of how he was socialized. You and anyone you know may have the potential to be a Tim, you may not. You may already BE Tim and just not realize it, because that is sort of the point. And that idea, if you have even the smallest capacity for rational thought, is utterly and profoundly unsettling.