The Skull Plate

I am a terrible person.

Over an extended period of time, I have done things that would make dictators blush and lawyers frown. In younger days, I would take a giddy pleasure in finding out just how far away from the realm of human decency and compassion I could travel. I am an awful person.

Albion was hit hard when I visited. Not only did I become guilty of selling innocent people into slavery within moments of my arrival; I also tortured and deprived prisoners under my care of necessary sustenance, and robbed a young woman of her youth, so that I could maintain my own. A few years later, I returned to Albion, where my thirst for power led me a morally corrupt hat trick: In one fell swoop, I became guilty of fratricide, regicide and a coup. Once I had secured my powerbase, I was free to dismiss all the promises I had made to the people who helped me assume power, cackling like a deranged madman as they one by one stormed out of my throne room after being told exactly where to stick it.

The capital wasteland didn't fare much better, and the good people there soon became victims of my cruelty. Nuclear terrorism, poisoned water supplies, slavery, (again) murder, theft and general rudeness followed in the wake of my arrival, and I hadn't gotten any gentler by the time I'd made my way across the country to the Mojave wasteland either. Enemy leaders were assassinated; companions were killed and looted for their stuff. I stole everything that wasn't nailed down, and with the help of my crowbar, a few things that were. I sabotaged a rocket meant to take a group of friendly mutants to their promised land, ensuring that the trip became much shorter and more explosive than planned, and in the end, I sided with the deranged madman out to turn the wasteland into a dictatorship modeled on Roman ideals.

In Ferelden, my sadistic side was given more or less free reign. I purged a tower full of mages, just 'cause. In the dwarven tunnels, I salvaged a magical forge that could take the souls of unwilling individuals, and use them to power an army of rock golems and I let a boy possessed by a demon die, rather than bothering to make the effort to save him (which I could have done). And finally, I ensured an ally and a friend was sentenced to death, to make sure he couldn't usurp the new queen. Not that I cared, I just didn't bother standing up for him.

I've been to space and kicked people out of windows, been responsible for several murders and outright genocides. (plural) I've left human test subjects at the mercy of their captors, just incase their brutal experiments yielded results beneficial to me. I've shot admirers in the legs, I've punched reporters on more than one occasion and I've let alien politicians die to give humanity, and I use that term in the loosest possible sense, a chance at seizing power.

I have uplifted entire civilizations from barbarians with loin cloths and clubs to the very summit of cultural and technological development, only to spend my entire wealth on a disturbingly large stockpile of nuclear weapons. There's only one way to find out if it's possible to irradiate every square mile of land outside my borders, right?

My list of crimes includes, but is in no way limited to, all these atrocities. And for years, I took a sick pleasure in being the biggest digital douchebag I could be. Until one incident, tiny and innocent in comparison to the disgusting war crimes I had perpetrated in the past, changed everything. The place was Tattooine, birthplace of my role model, Darth Vader. I was a mysterious young Jedi, who despite being sheparded by companions Bastila, galaxy-class nag, and Carth, do-gooder extraordinaire, had a problem suppressing my vicious streak. We'd just arrived on the planet, looking for a map to the legendary Star Forge, an ancient weapon, which in the wrong hands (he, he, he, he...) could ensure the complete subjugation of the galaxy. In a dingy little workshop, we'd come across a curious robot with a delightful penchant for murder and chaos. Realizing that I'd found a kindred spirit, I knew I had to buy it. Money was short however, and no matter how much I threatened the owner with a gruesome death if he didn't hand it over, I couldn't haggle the price down low enough to afford it.

So I had to get the money, somehow. In the local cantina, I was told about the hunter office, a market where treasure hunters and prospectors could sell their wares. All I needed was a license to enter, and I'd be set. I threatened the clerk to give the license for free, and walked into the street, ready to head into the desert to find my fortune. Before I got five steps, however, I was stopped in the street by a young woman, who had been waiting outside the office. She told me that she saw that I had a license, and wondered if I could do her a favour.

I sighed, audibly and deliberately, but agreed to listen to her tedious story. She was newly widowed, she told me. Her husband had been a hunter, and the sole provider for her and her two children. He had been killed during his last hunt, and now she was standing there, with no means of feeding her children, and nothing to her name, save for the skull plate of a Wraid, a large and notoriously hard to kill predator stalking the dunes around the town. Apparently, it was very valuable, and if sold, could support her and her children for a long time. She wondered if I could be so kind as to buy it off her, since her husband's hunting license became void upon his death, and she had no access to the hunter's market. I looked at her in silence, the way I imagine a snake looks at a mouse that thinks it is negotiation, rather than postponing the inevitable. I waited for her to finish her impassioned plea. Then I put my hand supportingly on her shoulder.

"I can't afford it myself," I lied, trying in vain to sound sympathetic. "But I can take it to the hunter's market for you. I promise I'll get you a good price."

She looked at me with eyes that told me that she had paid dearly for trusting strangers in the past. I could tell she wanted to believe me, but something in the back of her mind screamed at her to get away from this man. He will bring nothing but misery.

"I'd rather not," she said eventually. "I'll probably find someone else willing to pay me for it."

Unfortunately for her, I had already made up my mind. I wanted that skull plate.

"Come on," I said, and took a step forward, invading her personal space, making her uncomfortable, making her shift her weight backwards. "You can trust me. I'm a good haggler. I'll get you a much better deal than you can get from some bum you stop on the street."

"I'm sorry," she said, somehow finding the courage to oppose me. "I'm sure you're an honourable man, but I can't afford to risk my children's future. This is all I have left."

I'd had enough. Any semblance of the phony sympathy I'd mustered drained from my face in an instance, and a total, hopeless darkness took its place. I leaned in menacingly, and with a voice so icy even the twin suns of Tattooine would struggle to thaw it, I said: "Listen lady. Give me the damn skull plate, or I'll kill you."

I could see her struggle for breath as it sunk in what I'd just told her. She made no effort at hiding the shock and the despair which was paralyzing her body. She slowly reached into her bag, and handed me the skull plate, because she saw in my dead eyes that I was mercilessly serious. She had lost the ability to protest, even as she saw her children's future trickle out between her fingers. This woman had been treated to a look behind the curtain, and she had seen cruelty so deep and complete that it had left her utterly speechless. Despite repeated and angry protests from my companions, I turned on my heels, and headed back into the hunter office, to claim my ill-gotten reward. I had to smack the clerk around a bit to get a deal I was satisfied with, but as I once again walked out the doors, I pocketed a cool 200 credits more than the sticker price, which nicely put me over the top. I could now afford the sociopathic robot. I even started whistling a little tune as I headed down towards the workshop to get my new friend. I didn't get far before I was halted again, however. A light tug at my Jedi robes made he stop in my tracks and turn around, where I once again found myself face to face with the young widow, whose future I had just demolished.

"Did you get a good price for it?" she asked. To my utter surprise, there was no accusation in her voice. There was hope. After what I'd just told her she still held out hope that there was a shred of decency left in me. Enough to give her the money that was rightfully hers, and that she needed infinitely more than I did.

I didn't end up giving her any money. I don't know what became of her, but for the first time since I began my ruthless rampage through space and time, I felt guilty. And over time it developed into a creeping, bottomless guilt that ran a cold finger across my spine every time another chance at malice presented itself.

The change wasn't instantaneous, and before my conscience eventually overpowered me, I had the time to force Zalbaar, my friendly wookie companion to kill his closest friend for my amusement, and turn Bastila, my friend and mentor to the dark side.

As I've gotten older, I've stopped taking this deranged pleasure in creating virtual misery. I've become a paragon player, and doing something incredibly, and often stupidly nice now yields the same satisfaction my dickishness used to. And I think it all began with this young woman and her children, whose life I ruined just because I could. I'd quite simply had enough.

What about you? What is the most horrific thing you've ever done in a video game?