One only needs to take a cursory glance at world events to realize that it’s never been a better time to recognize the appeal that aggressive, authoritarian strongmen can exercise over the masses. Video games, with their tendency to feature conflict of different kinds, have had their fair share of vainglorious despots.
While these digital dictators are often set up as antagonists, there are plenty who are playable characters, or at least shown to have a sympathetic side. Here’s my run-down of the gaming generalissimos that could make this bleeding heart harden to iron.
1. Ulfric Stormcloak (Skyrim)
Skyrim’s controversial Jarl of Windhelm, Thalmor war veteran, and leader of the Stormcloak rebellion, Ulfric Stormcloak has some pretty good credentials to back up his claim as High King of an independent Skyrim. The man makes quite an inspiring speech and at least has a plan for direct action against the Thalmor that are the at the root of Skyrim’s problems.
But there’s a big ego behind his pretty speeches, and controversy over his shouting of the former High King to death. Dragonborn drawn to Ulfric’s message may find his appeals to racism (those ‘Skyrim belongs to the Nords’ types) and scapegoating of minorities off-putting.
2. Arcturus Mengsk (StarCraft)
Although the son of a Confederate senator, Mengsk came on to the scene as an outsider to the corrupt and broken Confederate system, leading the insurgent terrorist group The Sons of Korhal. It wasn’t just the Confederacy atrocities in Korhal that inspired his supporters. The working-class Terrans of backwater worlds such as Mar Sara and Antiga Prime, who were tired of distant Tarsonis elites abandoning their planets to the Zerg. With respected veteran General Duke as his VP, and a populist anti-alien platform, Mengsk swept into power at the head of an army, even if some of his methods were a little underhand.
Of course, through the events of the games, now we all know that as Emperor of the Terran Dominion, Mengsk centered power around his own person and ushered in a new level of tyranny that rivaled the Confederacy at its worst. But still, at the time of his inauguration, his charisma was at full force! Just listen to that speech! Doesn’t it make your heart swell with Terran pride?
3. Kane (Command and Conquer)
Kane is the charismatic leader of the Brotherhood of Nod, a global militant organization that combines elements of a vast religious movement, a multinational mega-corporation and a decentralized nation-state. Through Nod, Kane offers an alternate society based on unity, faith, brotherhood and quasi-worship of the powerful alien substance known as Tiberium. Like many messianic figures, Kane excels at propaganda, wrapping his totalitarian agenda in an appealing message and empowering aesthetics.
4. M. Bison (Street Fighter)
Renewable energy is an oft-neglected but important concern in every election cycle, so the environmentally minded of you might be tempted to cast your ballot for M. Bison and on his platform of a ‘psycho power’ based energy initiative. Bison certainly cuts an imposing and dramatic figure for those attracted to a muscular, authoritarian government. And he’s got political experience, ruling the fictional Far East country of Mriganka with an iron fist (in all fairness, he exists in a universe where most life goals are achieved via fist-based means).
Before you give him the green vote, be warned that he has some dodgy connections, being rumored to be connected to the global criminal organization known as Shadoloo.
5. Shao Kahn (Mortal Kombat)
Shao Kahn is a qualified leader, having unified the diverse races of Outworld under his banner. His poll numbers are excellent with regard to ninjas, lizard people, four-armed giants, and half-demons who can sprout swords from their arms. However, he is criticized by feminists for mandating skimpy outfits to his female soldiers, and also for his famous sense of humor. Shao Kahn loves a good laugh, but security-concerned pundits worry that his hearty guffaws may leave him vulnerable to uppercuts from Outworld’s enemies.
6. Sarevok (Baldur’s Gate)
Sarevok, a political leader from the Shao Kahn school of Awesome Helmets, was at one point poised to become a Grand Duke of Baldur’s Gate, to popular acclaim. Nobles and commoners alike praised the wise, intelligent, and charismatic fighter for his proposed solutions to the Sword Coast Region’s iron crisis, and tough stance against Amnish aggression. He also has an inspiring background, being an adopted orphan.
However, Sarevok’s promising career ended in scandal as a wandering adventurer exposed his corrupt ties to bandit gangs, big business, shape-shifting monsters, and the dormant cult of a ancient god of murder.
7. Ronald Rump (Mr President)
Ronald Rump appears in silly physics game Mr. President, where the player needs to save him from multiple assassination attempts. Rump is a divisive demagogue, a wealthy businessman known for his contempt for women, support of torture, exploitation of cheap Chinese labor. In Mr. President, Rump courts the religious vote and is successfully elected to the office of the presidency.
In the following years, with an America in a state of post-apocalyptic nuclear fallout, he transcends humanity with a new robot body, inspiring his bodyguard to travel back in time to stop the monster he helped create. But of course, video game stories are pretty unrealistic like that.
This article originally appeared on video games magazine site NowLoading.co. The site is no longer online, but I’ve uploaded a few articles from my time as a staff writer there (2016-2017) here as portfolio samples.