What do you get when you cross the ecstatic adrenaline of a boss rush with the analytic rigor of literary analysis? Find out tomorrow only at With a Terrible Fate’s PAX East 2024 lecture: “Bosses or Villains? Studies in Enemy Design,” Friday, March 22nd, at 3:30pm ET in Bobcat Theatre!

We’re honored to offer a new contribution to PAX that promises to run the gamut of genres and game types in pursuit of a better understanding and appreciation of one of video games’ most memorable foundational elements: bosses. Whether you eagerly race to them or live in constant dread of them, bosses govern and color the way we view games both as gameplay challenges and as unique, memorable narratives—and with any luck, our studies of them will offer a new perspective through which to make sense of how gameplay and storytelling relate to each other more broadly.

This panel will not be streamed live, but we will be recording it and publishing it on our official YouTube channel later on! Read on for the official panel description, a preview of what to expect, and related game analysis with which to pregame the lecture!

Bosses or Villains? Studies in Enemy Design

When: Friday, March 22, 3:30-4:30 ET

Where: Bobcat Theatre

What: What makes the perfect video game antagonist? The enemies of video games sit at a complicated crossroads. On the one hand, they’re epic bosses: the final gameplay challenge at the end of intricate levels, testing a player’s abilities. On the other hand, they’re nuanced characters: villains that motivate the plot that shapes the stories of our favorite games. How do these two functions interact, and what does a player’s favorite kind of video game antagonist say about who they are? Join the game analysts of With a Terrible Fate as we dissect the gameplay and story contributions of infamous enemies from a wide range of games to try to get at the heart of what makes it special: from The Legend of Zelda, to Dark Souls, to Luigi’s Mansion, to Silent Hill, to Smash Bros., to Hollow Knight, to SOMA, to Pokémon, to the Tales series, EVERY kind of boss and villain is fair game!

Who: Aaron Suduiko, Founder & Chief Video Game Analyst; Dr. Matt McGill, Video Game Analyst

Our goals in this new lecture are twofold. First, through a wide range of case studies—some conventional, some unconventional, all offering pointed theses on what it means to fight a boss—we want to stretch and expand our collective intuitions about what boss fights look like and feel like, and leave us with as players. Second, we want to synthesize a new way of talking about the mechanics and characteristics of bosses as a tool to help gamers of all kinds more productively share their personal experiences of bosses with others. It’s all too easy to fall silent when we feel like we couldn’t possibly express the meaning of our specific playthrough of a game to someone else who felt differently about it; we hope to show you that gameplay, story, your experience, and your friend’s experience are all many faces of the same boss, and we’re going to give you some practical tools for using those many faces to drive to unlock a more holistic sense of the boss’s inner nature.

Looking to pregame the panel? You’re in luck: we’ve published in the past on many of the games we’ll be discussing! Follow the links below to supplement your experience before or after the panel.

Tales of the Abyss:

Hollow Knight:

Silent Hill 2:

Smash Bros.:

Dark Souls:



We can’t wait to see you soon, PAX East, and we hope you’ll stick around to keep the conversation going after the lecture! Those discussions are a key reason that we do what we do, at PAX and everywhere else, year in and year out. Lock in your loadout, and get ready to take on some unforgettable bosses!

Aaron Suduiko

Aaron Suduiko - Founder and Chief Video Game Analyst

Aaron Suduiko is the founder of With a Terrible Fate and a philosopher of video-game storytelling. He specializes in the impact of player-avatar relations on game stories.  Learn more here.

Matt McGill

Matt McGill - Video Game Analyst

Matt McGill is a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Harvard University, and a competitive Melee player. He likes to explore how brain science influences the ways we play video games.  Learn more here.

With a Terrible Fate is dedicated to developing the best video game analysis anywhere, without any ads or sponsored content. If you liked what you just read, please consider supporting us by leaving a one-time tip or becoming a contributor on Patreon.

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