Betrayal is the breaking of a bond of trust for the gain of one of the parties involved. An individual that commits betrayal is known as a traitor. The act of betrayal can take many forms and exists on many levels. For example, an individual that has betrayed his nation by providing state secrets to a rival nation is said to have committed treason, while a married person that has betrayed his or her spouse by sleeping with another individual is said to have committed adultery.
In video games, betrayal can take on numerous forms. In the narrative sense, characters within the context of a game's story may betray their comrades or subordinates. This is regardless of whether said characters are on the player characters side, or opposing the player. However, a much rarer example of betrayal in the medium is exhibited by games that act to betray the player. The most common version in video games is where the player is betrayed by his supposed allies, but many modern games play strongly on the concept of choice, and can consequently give the players ample opportunity to betray non-player characters themselves .
The two most common usages of betrayal in video games are:
- On the smaller, or less surprising scale, to instil a sense of "it's you against the world", or that you really can't trust anybody and are properly justified in gunning down all of the henchmen and minions, otherwise you would be dead as soon as you turned your head. This is usually established early in the game.
- The larger betrayals, that usually occur later in the game, are intended to genuinely surprise you, give you that shock that would twist the plot properly before the next act, or even the finale.
Many players are tired of and angry at developers forcing in obvious or incredulous betrayals as a way to shoehorn in a plot twist, and it is indeed difficult to integrate a betrayal in a believable as well as a meaningful way.
When the player character is betrayed in video games, it is usually according to one of these models:
- Armies are Evil - So, you've just enlisted in the army, eager to defend your country and fight for your freedom, culture and mom's apple pie? Too bad. Power corrupts, especially when it's superior fire-power, and it's just a matter of time before either the supreme commander gets drunk with power, or the elite veteran decides that he ought to be in charge, and overturns the military. Both scenarios usually results in the player being ordered to perform some heinous task that you couldn't possibly approve of, the refusal of which will cause every single member of the military to try to kill you. Other times you are merely considered a threat or not evil enough, whereupon you are marked for death.
- Misplaced Fandom - You know that wonderful and patriotic hero that you have admired all your life, the noble figure that inspired you to join the military? He's actually an omnicidal maniac, ready to snap in the next cutscene. That lovingly quirky professor that mentored you and helped you pass all those exams? He's really a mad scientist, ready to destroy all of existence. Your regularly absent but nonetheless admired dad? Probably a raging psychopath. This is often encountered early on in a narrative, giving the player a chance to help the traitors redeem themselves, or to increase the emotional impact when the player have to defeat them.
- The Heartless Corporation - It is not easy to appreciate the value of human lives when you're constantly struggling to acquire more profits and power. In the world of video games, as soon as any major corporation gains enough influence, they usually end up buying a private army or start those world-ending research projects. If you thought you could trust them just because of their humanitarian fronts or the fact that you're an employee of theirs, remember that to the people at the top, you're just a statistic.
- Cruel Kingdoms and Evil Empires - Any country or nation that has the opportunity to conquer their neighbours or oppress its subjects probably will. A general rule of thumb is that the farther away from the ruler the player character starts off the more oppressed and mistreated the common people will be from the start, and the closer you are to the throne, the greater the likelihood that a good and kind ruler will be replaced by a corrupt or just mad candidate, probably through assassination, but the rest of the kingdom will probably be loyal to the new "rightful" ruler regardless of any proof you can offer.
- Humans are Bastards - Humankind is capable of so much cruelty on its own, be it against our own planet or against the misunderstood aliens. This is a rarer example, and is mostly used as a moral lesson after some shocking revelation on the impact of your actions during the course of the game.
- Blocking the Spotlight - When you are the paragon of goodness and soon to be the saviour of all, it pays to take a moment and observe your heroic competition. It is a short jump from Second-Best Hero to Number One Villain.
- The Formerly Bullied Bully - Bad guys have good memories, and the playground bully that you beat up so he would stop beating up the little guys, he can probably carry a grudge. He might insist that he has been reformed, he might even have joined you as a way of atoning for his bad deeds, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself he will turn on you and try to wreak his revenge.
- Hostage Takeover - Just because someone is shackled in the bad guys dungeon, appears to an innocent in peril or has a gun pointed at them by the evil henchmen doesn't mean they can be trusted. These might be the main villain in disguise, but more often they are possessed by some evil entity, or they have been brainwashed, and planting them in your midst was just too easy.