It's surprisingly hard to find a “normal” character in a video game, but it’s all too easy to find knife-wielding clowns and artfully inventive serial killers. Gaming’s obsession with violence has made for some of pop culture’s wildest psychos - characters who are as entertaining as they are terrifying and unhinged.
They come in a variety of types. Sometimes it’s an unnerving, wide-eyed stare. Sometimes it’s the blood-soaked clothes and calmly whispered threats. Whatever tips us off to these character’s particular brand of insanity - a subtle hint or, more often that not, a murderous monologue - these psychos rank as the best in gaming. They pull us in close and refuse to let go. Despite all the bloodshed and disturbing behavior, it’s hard to look away.
The Clown Prince of Crime reigns supreme as a psychopathic savante in film, television, and comics. Rocksteady, creators of the latest Batman game series, took the Joker’s personality and voice from Batman: The Animated Series and ramped up the sinisterness match the Arkham series’ dark vibes. As likely to crack a joke as he is to cut someone’s throat, the Joker quickly became one of gaming's most beloved maniacs.
Mark Hamill’s gleefully sadistic performance as the voice of the Joker keeps him unpredictable as he deftly shifts between charming silliness and pure darkness often within the same line of dialogue. His pale white face and blood red smile turn every horrific act into a joke that you don’t want to be on the receiving end of. The Joker has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times, but Rocksteady managed to do the character justice by amplifying the darkness that lies behind every joke and smile.
Far Cry’s charismatic and insane villains could fill their own list, but Vaas remains the most memorable psycho to grace the game series. Oscillating between calm, polite commentary and volcanic blasts of rage, Vaas is the darkness at the heart of Far Cry 3. His mood swings, the result of a drug-warped mind, add tension to every encounter - especially as he's waving a pistol in the your face. Whether pouring gasoline on a woman or tying a cinder block to a man’s ankle, Vaas is almost always enjoying himself. He isn’t the primary villain in Far Cry 3, but Vaas remains the most memorable bad guy because of that wide-eyed, unhinged insanity.
Backwoods psychos are a horror genre staple, but Resident Evil 7 managed to reinvigorate the cliche with flair. From the lumbering, chainsaw-wielding patriarch Jack Baker to the glassy-eyed, wheelchair bound grandmother, every member of the Baker family is a threat - and that’s before the sci-fi element of Resident Evil makes a return.
The members of the Baker family know every mildew covered cupboard and dark hallway of their house and they prowl the premises spouting creepy phrases and clutching their weapons in the hopes of gaining a new member of the family. When you are forced to sit down and eat dinner with the family - in perhaps the most nightmarish version of an awkward family meal - the depths of the Baker family’s insanity becomes clear. They want a new plaything and they’ll get one whether you submit or not.
Trevor Phillips is Grand Theft Auto’s id unleashed. He shoots, stabs, burns and tortures a string of victims over the course of Rockstar’s So-Cal crime epic, all without a hint of remorse. He’s prone to fits of uncontrollable rage; his in-game special ability is a “rage mode” that allows players to rip through enemies with brutal efficiency.
Sure, he has a soft side. He falls in love with a mobster’s mother and while he would never admit that he needs friends, he does have a twisted sense of loyalty. However, violence, rage and madness remain Trevor’s default modes of operation. In that way, he’s as much a player avatar as anything else. Los Santos is just as much our playground of destruction as it is his.