Thursday, 7 February 2013

Great Fictional Villains: Sister Miriam Godwinson

Rargh Rargh Rargh

I’m aware that the good Sister isn’t supposed to be an out and out villain, but play Alpha Centauri (the cult favourite successor to Sid Meier’s world-conquering Civilization games) enough times and you’ll inevitably come across Miriam and her faction, The Lord’s Believers, playing that role. Miriam’s here to represent every mindlessly hostile, pig-headedly stubborn AI opponent in Sid Meier’s sprawling oeuvre; from the despot who refuses to surrender and insists on bleeding your armies even when past all hope of survival, to the superpower that mechanically spits on endless treaties and steamrollers your peaceful civilization with marauding elites.

While related games have their share of unwavering aggression (the Multiplayer Gold edition of Civilization 2 somehow turbo-charged AI hostility and made diplomacy a near-pointless endeavour in a world of endless bloodshed and backstabbing) and Miriam’s peers among the Great and Good of Alpha Centauri are all capable of tormenting the player in their own way, there’s something about Sister Godwinson’s particular brand of raving zealotry that really gets on the nerves.

Of course, being the self-appointed preserver of humanity’s yearning for religion on their adopted planet doesn’t automatically put Miriam in the wrong, though she can come across as self-righteous in some of the flavour text. Nor is her personal nemesis, ultimate nerd Prokhor Zakharov (the cold-blooded lovechild of Nikola Tesla and Richard Dawkins) immune to lapsing into his own brand of villainy, depending on how your game unfolds. Miriam’s fervent, even noble belief in the importance of maintaining spiritual traditions, even light-years from Earth and centuries into the future, is more than understandable in a world of murderous fauna, frighteningly advanced technology and ruthless utilitarianism. However, the Believer’s inbuilt intolerance for neighbouring civilizations, combined with their distrust of scientific progress, means that games in which they play a significant role often lapse into a grim cycle of holy wars, as Miriam lashes out at any unbelievers within range with endless legions of poorly-equipped and hopelessly indoctrinated plasma-fodder. Her penchant for impulsive offensives means that she is the faction leader most likely to spur Planet’s descent into a repeat of the bloody tragedies that have blighted Earth’s history, and for that, war-savvy players can take great pleasure in routing this ranting would-be prophet off a continent or two.    

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