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State of the Union: Seven lessons video game villains can learn from Biff Tannen
by Greg Mengel

Cinema is riddled with memorable, easy-to-loathe villains. For over a century, film history has left a trail of brilliantly nefarious antagonists - characters so thoroughly evil that it's not uncommon for audiences to stand up and applaud when their comeuppance finally comes. Cruella de Vil. T-1000. The Joker. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, easily come to mind.

Think it's going to be easy for video game villains to catch up? Hello? HELLO?! Anybody home?! Think, McFly! Think!

Though its antagonist gallery boasts a few burgeoning stars, the video game industry has a long way to go before it can match the dream team of scoundrels, miscreants and tyrants found in over a century of film. To close the gap and ascend into antagonist Valhalla, video game villains need a coach.

Enter Biff Tannen. Music.

Simultaneously one of the most loved and hated film baddies of all time, Biff represents some of the best qualities of a Grade A jerkwad antagonist yet caught on film. He's callous, he's egotistical, he's belligerent, and people the globe over love to hate him in large doses.

Buckle up, buttheads, and enjoy a free guided tour through seven of the graduation requirements at the scenic Villain University, compliments of Professor Tannen.

7: Pick a loyal posse

Don't knock the 3D glasses. They're prescription. ...and is that Billy Zane?!

Few matters are as important to a nefarious villain as the selection and cultivation of choice goons. Do you want them smart? Do you want them dumb? Should they be outspoken, or should you have their tongues removed to ensure that they won't squeal under pressure? Decisions, decisions.

On one aspect of the perfect henchman, however, all can agree: loyalty.

Few antagonists boast cronies as devout as Biff's entourage. Without a moment's hesitation they blindly follow their leader into righteous battle against skateboarders, gunslingers, and manure trucks. These guys are dying to break the laws of both society and fashion for their ruthless boss.

Villain who could use this lesson: Darth Vader [1]
C'mon, Stormtroopers... You were cloned for this. Cloned. And yet twenty of you can't score a single hit on Han Solo, despite the fact he's wearing black trousers in a white hallway. You need to start earning that health insurance you use so frequently.

Villain who could teach this lesson: Giovanni
Jesse and James love working for Team Rocket so much, that they wrote a poem about it. Is that loyalty, or teenage puppy crushing? Either way, they'd capture a hundred Pikachus just for an approving smile from Pokemon's Godfather.

6: Antagonise your opponents

There's no better way to chisel away at a rival's defenses than to douse him with a waterfall of insults from the riot hose of verbal abuse. A wise man may shy away from battle. But once you find that special word that grates at their being?

Then it's dancing time. Vaya con dios, friend.

Villain who could use this lesson: Donkey Kong
Endless levels, and he only lets a stream of barrels do his talking. A verbal taunt or two would have been nice.

Villain who could teach this lesson: Dutch
Words are needles. They don't cause much damage... until applied to the right areas, in rapid sequence. Warning: that link is as spoiler as it gets.

5: Laugh in the face of new technology

So, your enemy invents a new piece of transportation before your eyes, and looks more natural riding it than Robin Hood does holding a bow. Do you pause, even for a second, to calculate how best to tackle this new threat?

Hell no. Neither does Biff.

When Marty breaks out a skateboard, Biff charges at him like a bull at a red silk scarf. When that doesn't work, he chases him with a car. This blatant disregard for higher technology in battle reminds me of the Ethiopians fighting off the Italians just before World War II. Armed with spears, and riding horses, this poor African mob very nearly pushed back an encroaching army of rifled infantry, bombers, and tanks. Sometimes all it takes is guts.

Villain who could use this lesson: Ganondorf
So you don't have the complete Triforce. Do you really need it to conquer Hyrule? Really? Genghis Khan created the largest land empire ever seen, and he did it entirely without your magical ability to turn into a titanic three story pig monster.

Villain who could teach this lesson: Arthas
When the Horde and Alliance march on Icecrown, they do it with airships, powder, and guns. They're nearly annihilated more than once by the claws, blades, and cold hunger of several hundred thousand charging, technologically-uninclined undead.

4. Find your own Gray's Sports Almanac

"I wish I could go back to the beginning of the season, put some money on the Cubbies!"

Biff is to the Gray's Sports Almanac as Sauron is to the One Ring. It is the secret hen that lays him his golden eggs, and with it he becomes more powerful than anyone could possibly imagine.

It's not always possible, but finding and securing a gem like this can double or even triple a villain's power. There isn't an antagonist around who doesn't become exponentially more frightening with a secret weapon which can tip the balance of nature in a way that fundamentally alters the course of the future (see lesson number one).

Villain who could use this lesson: GlaDOS
When you have an ultra-secret weapon, like the Portal Gun, you don't give it to a disgruntled inmate you've been holding in solitary confinement. That person will use it both for science and vengeance.

Villain who could teach this lesson: Kefka
Without magicite this clown would still be getting harassed at birthday parties.

3. Teach your kids everything you know

Nurture or nature?

Every Biff we encounter, from grandaddy Buford 'Mad Dog' Tannen to grandson Griff 'Speaks-like-a-young-William-Shatner-on-meth' Tannen, is basically the same guy. There are unique quirks to each of them, but it's clear that a whole bushel of apples has fallen very close to the tree. Genetics may have something to do with this phenomenon, but I personally think it has to do more with a pattern of reliable parenting.

Villain who could use this lesson: Dracula
The Lord of Darkness has one son, Alucard; just one heir to instil with his hopes and dreams of a darker tomorrow. Does the prodigal son embrace his Gothic inheritance? Nope. On the contrary, he leaves the castle in a huff and joins Trevor Belmont and the God Squad. Ouch.

Villain who could teach this lesson: Bowser
Bowser Jr. wants to grow up to be just like his dad, and everybody knows it. This little guy is harassing Mario with bombs from the Bowser Balloon while he's still in nappies! Talk about your good start.

2. Confidence, butthead!

Nothing puts the raw, unapologetically brazen confidence of Biff Tannen on display like a conversation with himself.

Spend one minute with Biff and you'll know that he wouldn't pull a single well-groomed, 50s-styled hair for you. This is vitally important for any aspiring villain to learn, because a villain without confidence is about as easy to topple as a skyscraper without a foundation.

Villain who could use this lesson: The Origami Killer
Does a serial killer who reaches out to the friends and loved ones of his victims for emotional closure sound overly confident to you? Me neither. The Origami Killer has a lot of psychological loose ends that he needs to tie up before he can unlock his potential as an philosophically-unshakable homicidal maniac (see: Charlie Manson).

Villain who could teach this lesson: The Flood
When you're an ancient race of hungering alien parasites locked away in the deep places of the galaxy, there's really no reason to care what people think of you. If you did, you'd probably just end up feeling self-conscious.

1. Mould the world in your image

Biff's 1985 [2]. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Few locations have been stamped with the personality of their leader like Biff Tannen's alternate-timeline 1985 Hill Valley. This is what a Gray's Sports Almanac can do: create a unique brand of villain recognisable throughout the world.

King K. Rool had the Gangplank Galleon. Liquid Snake had Shadow Moses Island. Louis XIV had the Palace of Versailles. A man's personality, good or evil, is best represented by his castle.

Villain who could use this lesson: Carmen Sandiego
By avoiding customs agents like some sort of international ninja, Carmen deliberately avoids keeping a home base. But what good does that do her? She needs some sort of Fortress of Solitude where she can stash her stolen artifacts, or at least buy some furniture with all the money she gets by selling them on eBay.

Villain who could teach this lesson: Deathwing
Say what you want about his sheer lack of character development - this angsty, angry dragon took an Azeroth that Bambi would love, and remodelled 90% of it using fire into a craggy, molten wasteland that a cockroach wouldn't call home.

In conclusion... this. Over and out.


[1] Vader from LucasArts video games - not the films.[^]
[2] Often confused with present-day Detroit.[^]

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- Greg Mengel

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