Rival vs Villain The villain is a force that our hero must overcome, but the rival is an opponent they must outpace. When used effectively, a rival is not a bwahaha evildoer; instead they share the same goal as the protagonist. However, instead of joining forces (well sometimes they team-up in the end), the hero and rival are trying to accomplish the same task but are on different paths with different methods or motivations. This could because resources are limited, it’s a race to be first or they don’t want to share the glory. Pokémon (Gen I) offers a great example of the difference between a rival and villain. Red, the player, wants to become a Pokémon master but so does Blue. They race through eight gym leaders, The Elite 4, and a dangerous land to become the very best, like no one was before. Team Rocket is the villain within the game as they turn Pokémon into slaves and attempt to rule the world. Red must defeat Team Rocket to save humanity. Red doesn’t need to beat Blue. Blue doesn’t have alternative motives or aspirations; he wants the same thing as Red. If Blue beats Red, nothing is materially different…just who is considered the best trainer. While it is imperative for our way of life that a villain is defeated, the battle between rivals is personal. A rival is the hero of their own story. All things being equal, if situations were reversed, they would be the protagonist who the audience rooted for (and sometimes they still are). Rivals create a scenario where the hero needs to bring their “A-game” and push themselves to be the best version possible. The conflict between rivals can be the necessary edge a hero needs to defeat the true villain. Let’s ignore the stories where Magneto tried to kill all of humanity for a second… Philosophical differences create a unique situation where close friends can become rivals. Xavier and Magneto seek to create a perfect society for mutants to exist; they just want to accomplish this through different tasks. Xavier wants peaceful cohabitation between humans and mutants. Magneto wishes for mutants to be left alone to create an environment where they can thrive without interference from humans. There are only a select few mutants available for both men to share their vision with and each dream cannot exist at the same time. This causes the once-friends to clash over the ideologies they so passionately believe and strive for. They’ll team up when a true villain like Apocalypse, William Striker, Sinister or the Sentinels arise, but they spend most times at odds with one another. A well-constructed rival will challenge the hero while sharing their ambitions. A poorly created rival will just be villain-lite or simply a ruthless version of the protagonist. Not all stories require a rival, but they can create an interesting dynamic or alternative conflict the hero must overcome. Which do you prefer, a rival or a villain? What examples of rivals who are more compelling antagonists than villain do you remember? Level Up, Friends!