That said, I want to examine six kinds of conflicts and how they might employ villains and antagonists. Take note: when I say “antagonist,” I mean the conflict involves a conflict of interest (COI), but the person’s character may not be corrupt in that context. When I say “villain,” I mean someone who is wicked and immoral, at least from somebody’s perspective.
Person vs. SelfCOI—a person is at odds with their own self, maybe because of a moral or personal issue
Villain—a person is at odds with their own self, maybe because they are an enemy to themselves, they are evil, or there is some lack of self control involved
Jean Valjean (Les Misérables) faces a COI when his desire for freedom and the freedom of an innocent man require that he submit to justice or face the consequences for his sin. Henry Jekyll (Jekyll and Hyde) finds himself to be a villain when he gives identity to his dark side and neither persona will surrender to the other.
Person vs. PersonCOI—two people disagree, argue, or oppose one another, but one side isn’t “evil” or worse than the other
Villain—two (or more, I guess) entities grapple for something of value and at the very least, they themselves have some idea about who is righteous and justified and who is not
Sam-I-Am (Green Eggs and Ham) has a friend who doesn’t want to try green eggs and ham in a COI, but his resistance doesn’t make him evil—he tries the food and likes it, but it would be perfectly valid for him to reject the food without moral consequences. Victor and Eli (Vicious) face off in a battle of good and evil, but there’s a twist: Victor, the traditional “villain” is the protagonist. (I say this so you know there is room for innovation.)
Person vs. NatureCOI—usually a person ends up stranded in the wilderness and learns that nature is overpowering, and they must learn to survive
Villain—nature itself is evil (industrialist propaganda?) or perhaps is personified to represent some sort of negative-ish force
Katsa (Graceling) must fight to keep Princess Bitterblue and herself alive in the biting cold with scarce resources (COI). Usually Mother Nature isn’t evil, but in this episode of Hercules, Gaia is personified as kind of a righteous jerk (not exactly a villain, but I bet you could!) because Adonis did cause offense, but she could have been nicer.
Person vs. Society/GovernmentCOI—there are legitimate social disputes that don’t revolve around what is evil, but what is best for that society, which is always tense, even in real life
Villain—then again, sometimes society itself is evil and promotes immorality and injustice, etcetera
Alexander Hamilton’s first cabinet meeting (Hamilton) demonstrates a COI in that the southern states resist his suggested economic policy as it does not benefit them. Not exactly evil, but still tense. And fine, a series like The Hunger Games does portray a corrupt government that enforces poverty and kills children to rule through fear. It is indeed villainous.
|via Funny or Die|
Person vs. TechnologyCOI—the existence/evolution of technology threatens “the way things are,” and may put things like industry, values, and people in jeopardy
Villain—technology itself is evil, sometimes sentient, and commits immoral deeds usually threatening humanity
Matty and her friends (Cranford) face a COI with the railway coming to their small town. They don’t want the noise, danger, negative values, and disruption it would bring to their perfectly happy lives—they must come to terms with change and its value to their society. But in Overlord Protocol by Mark Walden technology itself is evil in that an Artificial Intelligence turns out to have engineered the protagonist and plans to murder every human on the planet.
|via Animato Joe|
Person vs. FateCOI—destiny does its thing, someone tries to avoid its negative consequences, and they happen anyway
Villain—destiny itself enforces something evil and it must be resisted or changed for the benefit of the team we’re rooting for
Fate is hard, usually because it isn’t personified (minus Greek mythology). Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex describes a sorta-COI, wherein Oedipus met his fate and now fate is punishing him for it until he atones for his sin—fate insists upon balance that makes him suffer. A situation where fate is a villain might be when Nyx (Cruel Beauty) finds that the Kindly Ones try to enforce an existence that cannot stand. When she calls them out on it, their power fades.
Well, that was long. It could have been longer if I decided to do Person vs. Supernatural but that one confuses me and my research on the point of it was inconclusive.
Regardless: you can have awesome stories with conflicts produced by awesome villains. And you can have awesome stories with conflicts produced by awesome antagonists. What's more, you can even have awesome stories with multiple conflicts with both awesome villains and awesome antagonists.
Go make them awesomely.