In Justice League Unlimited, there’s an episode where due to shenanigans, The Flash and Lex Luthor’s minds get switched. Lex, at this time, is in the depths of a secret society of supervillains (who aren’t hugely fond of him right now) and Flash is on edge.
Flash doesn’t realize he’s Lex until he walks into a bathroom and sees his own reflection. He stumbles into a stall to try and think things through and try to call the Watchtower, which he fails to do. On exiting the stall, one of the supervillains demands that he get on with an evil scheme he’d been plotting so he, Flash!Lex, goes to leave the bathroom. The following exchange occurs:
Ah, Flash. You’re adorable. If The Question wasn’t my favorite, you might have a chance.
Who knew? I hate conspiracy theorists but…somehow his charisma and hilarity got past that. “Orange socks?” haha.
No, Flash honey, that’s not how evil works. And I’m glad I know that you didn’t have a reason to wash your hands because otherwise I would have been a little freaked out.
That said, I’ve uttered, “Because I’m evil,” before, too, when I did some teasing impolite thing to my husband. “Why would you do that?” “Because I’m evil!” It kind of goes with the whole scene in the first Pirates movie where Turner says “You cheated!” and Sparrow says, “Pirate.” The real problem with “becasue I’m evil” is how easily it lends to getting mixed up with motivations. Evil is not a motivation. What I really mean is, “you’re operating under the assumptions that I’m going to act in accordance with basic morals and societal niceties all decent people hold to, when I don’t, because I’m not a decent person, aka evil.” A more solid example could be, “Why did you steal that?” “Because I’m evil” meaning, “A normal person might see something they covet, but they won’t take it, because they are hindered by the wrong moral nature of stealing. I am not so hindered.” In which case the actual motivation was, “I wanted it,” but the answer of, “I’m evil,” was answering the real question, which wasn’t just, “What was your motivation?” but also, “what allowed you to do something that isn’t allowed?” in which case the, “I wanted it,” is implied in the, “because I’m evil.”
Parsing out this whole train of thought might seem pendantic, but I find it necessary, since you get Flashes otherwise. If you don’t separate motivation from morality, then you get a blob of gelatinous evil goo that will just do whatever can even remotely be constituted as “bad” even if it’s not evil so much as rude or unsanitary or just a bad decision and that’s not a real person. I don’t consider someone who doesn’t wash their hands to be more evil than me. They’re just more gross. I also don’t consider someone who eats a healthier diet and exercises to be morally superior. They’re just in better shape. Uncouth is not evil, else all small children are evil as they haven’t learned societal niceties yet.
When I encounter nice people who have a hard time with villains, it’s usually this core Flash problem. It’s the inability to tell the difference between evil switching up a worldview to different moral inhibitions (or not), and no inhibitions on anything, even if that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, you can’t rule the world if you get sick and die since you didn’t wash your hands, right?
Also important to note is that a willingness to do something (like steal) is not the same as a motivation to do it. Just because a character does not feel guilt over stealing doesn’t necessarily mean that they always want to steal. They still will have to be motivated to do it. I could joke here that the exception is me playing a video game, but that’s still not totally true.As I try out the Octopath Traveler demo and, of course, pick Therion the thief, and strip every NPC of everything they own, it’s in part becasue I can, but also because then I don’t have to buy supplies, and might find something cool (there were some interesting key items held by NPCS), and I can save my money for something cool that I have to buy.
Stoked for this game, guys.
It’s the same in Skyrim; houses aren’t cheap, and leveling skills often isn’t, either. Working honestly takes so long to earn enough. I can say that I ride on the giddyness of just taking ALL THE THINGS but there is actually a motivation in there beyond “I am doing it because I can.” And sometimes “because I can” is a motivation, but it’s still probably different than just a willingness to; Therion has a bit of that attitude but he’s also enjoying his reputation as Best Thief, so there’s more to it than that. (As an important sidenote, especially in Skyrim, there are things I don’t steal – if it’s worth little and isn’t even heavy, I am not as motivated to steal it and I probably don’t.)
So especially if you struggle, get pendantic with yourself about what your villain is willing to do, and what they’re actually motivated to do, and always remember that you can’t lump in all poor behavior into one great “evil” because that makes no sense.