[Warning, Undertale plot spoilers ahead]
Usually when I play video games touted as “be the villain” experiences, I come off feeling like I still played as the hero of a narrative. I might have had an evil laugh, demonic horns and been dressed in red and black exclusively, but I still felt like I was playing a character who knew what they were doing was right, stayed away from truly heinous acts and ultimately ended up more anti-hero than actual villain.
That is, until I started killing people in Undertale.
The first time I played Undertale, I did a pacifist run, followed by the extended True Pacifist ending. I didn’t kill a soul, I got everyone a happy ending and I loved the game I had played.
At the end, Flowey told me I could play more Undertale, but that I would have to pull this happy ending away from those I had worked so hard for. At first I convinced myself that I could happily leave half of my favourite game of the year unplayed.
Over time, the temptation grew. It remained in the back of my mind, like an itch you just can’t reach.
Against my better judgement, I reset the game and started a Genocide playthrough. I was not just going to kill everything that got in my way, I was going to actively hunt down every last random encounter in every single area and kill them.
I wanted to go as deep down the rabbit hole as was possible.
Toriel, who had previously told me she wanted to protect me from the world, used her dying breath to tell me she was wrong. She was trying to protect the world from me. My goat mother saw me as a heartless monster, incapable of redemption.
Sans, who had previously encouraged me to make friends with his brother, actively warned me that if I kept following this route, I was going to have a bad time.
Papyrus, my skeleton boyfriend, died at my feet still believing I could be saved. He thought he could be the one to save me from the monster I was becoming.
Undyne resisted death, increasing in power and refusing to die. Her on screen dialogue described her as the heroine. She died buying time for the remaining monsters to flee my advance. I, not the heroine, soldiered on.
Flowey, previously my greatest enemy, cowered in fear and ran from my advance.
Sans stood up to me in a manner that finally forced me to face what I had done.
Sans hit me with an onslaught of attacks unmatched by anyone.
Sans defended his friends so powerfully my determination began to waver.
Sans defended his friends so staunchly that, when offered a chance to turn back and repent, I accepted it.
Sans murdered me for dropping my guard. He had not forgiven me for murdering his brother.
Sans fought me off so ferociously, for such a long time, that I started to truly regret what I had done.
I didn’t want to win.
I knew I was the villain.
I knew I was doing something I could not take back.
I knew I was still too curious.
I knew I still needed to know.
I was still determined.
Undertale really succeeds at allowing you to play as a villain, by making it’s villainous path one only achieved through actions, and only maintained by continued action in the face of opposition. You’re never told to feel guilt, but you’ll feel it because of the things you have to do in order to keep yourself on the path of darkness.
Undertale actively puts people in your way, labeling them as the heroes of this story and allowing you to infer your own villainous status within the world.
So yeah, Undertale is pretty masterful at allowing you to play a villain.
I still feel my sins crawling on my back.