I am going to crossover my gaming and my writing. Let me begin by defining these two acronymns for any non-gamers.
PVE is “Player vs. Environment” – almost all single-player games can be put in this category (I know if I say “all” someone will point out an exception – though I can’t think of one!). No matter how you slice it, the player is up “against” the environment the programmers have laid out. No matter what the story is, the computer-controlled characters have a very limited AI available to them to deal with the player. They have limited dialogue and boundaries in motion and thought.
PVP is “Player vs. Player” – multiplayer games. Fighting games, all the of
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games like DOTA, Fortnite, and Smite. (All those games getting turned into esports). Players add a level of complexity game designers haven’t been able to duplicate – a creativity in the way the characters, tools, and world can be used and seen.
Ok, so how does this work in literature? Well, in Harry Potter, THE villain is Voldemort. Yes, there are lesser evil characters, but really the only one you are truly afraid of it the Big-V-Man. This is “player vs. player.” In a real way, Voldemort is as much a player as Harry and without him, you would have no real struggle or story.
On the other hand, in 1894, there really isn’t just a person who is evil. The whole system is evil. Yes, there are specific faces the character meets which illustrate that evil, but you don’t think that person destroying the protagonist is pure-and-only-evil. They are a product of the environment.
George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series (Game of Thrones) uses a bit of both. There are people who are “evil” because of their upbringing, values, and society. There is a great mixture where you see the juxtaposition between Ned Stark who chose to try to build something while Tywin Lannister (the father-dude) fallowed into cruel and “evil” behaviors. They both fought the Mad King, but afterwards made different choices both by character (no pun intended) and environment.
I don’t think either approach is wrong and both have their appeal. I think there is a depth that environment can reach which I haven’t seen in “player” in books. I can’t think of a singular big bad evil person who holds the same kind of tension that the environment behind books like The Hunger Games, The Giver, The Witches, or the “thread” in the Pern series. Because every character has the chance to become a big-baddy instead of just The One Evil One. And you know kicking over the head in an environment of evil will just pop forth another. Look at Star Wars. Somehow killing the emperor – supposedly the Big-Bad…. it didn’t magically fix the universe. His underlings were part of a system of evil and oppression and continued the tradition.
A fun cross-over way of thinking about my own writing. Is my “player” (protagonist) facing an Environment or are they facing another Player…