I run a pretty “mature” game. By that I mean, we talk about beheadings, there is always a fear when a princess gets kidnapped that she could be “violated”, and there is an assumption that not only do married people have sex, but some of them are having sex with folks who aren’t their spouses. But when it comes to some of the more realistic depictions of true evil, even I tend to shy away.
What am I talking about? Well, serial killers for one, the guys who legitimately kill other people because they like killing people. Any quick Google search or just about every night on ID or Ion, you can learn about some truly depraved people. Other truly evil folks include folks like the famous mass murdering tyrants: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, you know these guys. Or even on a small scale - some of the cult leaders that have arisen over the last century and left mass suicides behind them. (No, the Branch Davidians may have been kooky, but they did not commit mass suicide; they were slaughtered by Janet Reno. So does that put her on the list with Hitler?)
My question - both to myself and to all of you GMs out there - is this: Are our evil guys evil enough? In fantasy games, some of these bad guys are truly evil - guys who have sold their souls to demons; some of your games even assign the classification of “evil” to characters. Are we portraying them as evil enough? Should we? Is a game played as a hobby the place for encountering true evil? I wouldn’t have thought that cable TV was the place for encountering it on a nightly basis, but apparently I was wrong.
The question runs deep, and not in the most obvious ways. Do you include horrifying cultural things in your game world? What about foot binding? What about sacrificing hearts to the sun god? Feeding virgins to dragons? Successful genocide? Female circumcision? OK, not all of these are “true evil” but the ick factor is way up there. Seriously, does your campaign world include the truly depraved? You know, mine doesn’t. Truth be told, I don’t think I could role-play truly evil NPCs. I expect most people to think in some logical fashion - which limits my NPCs far more than they should be limited. The idea of killing someone because the voices in your head told you to do so doesn’t make any sense to me. That’s a good thing by the way.
The answer, as with almost everything in gaming, is “it depends”. Here, it depends on you and your players. Some players might find it atmospheric. Some (and I think I include myself in this) would feel weird and uncomfortable delving too deeply into a realistic depiction of the darkest parts of life. You’ll have to decide for yourself. I think I’ll continue to suggest what these truly evil folks are doing without actually getting too clear in my depiction.