Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Archetypes in Video Games and the Hero's Journey


The brief over the holidays was to develop a lean, thin, skinny character and create a back story that would help to visualise the physical attributes, mood, and style of the design. Having previously developed a skinny character, ‘Kung-Fu Drood’ based on the concept art and sequential imaging brief, I was given free reign to develop a character of my choice.

Having a good background story helps inform the overall design of any character, whether it’s Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or realistic. We’d already studied story structure, so i wanted to focus my research on character development  and traits, in the hopes it would help me design better characters as a result.

Story telling is a huge part of our culture, before the written word, stories were told through the use of cave paintings, as a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. It’s much easier for our brains to form new connections with our memory if we interpret information in an auditory or visual way which makes stories a great way to convey social, and cultural values. As cultures developed so did the medium used to convey stories. Early story telling focused heavily on the mysticism, myths, and moral lessons of a society. Even though the symbolism and media used may differ from culture to culture the basic themes and structure of a story remained universal.




The psychologist C. J. Jung (July 1875 – June 1961) noted that our behaviour/characteristics can be broken down into primordial models known as ‘Archetypes’. He also applied this idea to our tradition of myths, legends and storytelling. By breaking down the characters of a story into archetypes they appear to reflect the emotional states and conflicts within our own psyche, and a good story can help us learn something about ourselves as a result. To give a story substance it’s important to know the different archetypes and the roles they fulfil. However basing a story solely around the archetypes can lead to stereotypical/contrived characters, people aren’t just based around one archetype rather than the archetypes are reflections of emotional states within all of us. We all have our own internal monologue/storyline on a day to day basis, in which we are the ‘hero’, meeting an aggressive person may mean they become the villain in our own mind, however we’ve just seen one emotional state of that person at that particular moment, people are much more complex than that. Negative thoughts may be considered the ‘Threshold Guardian’ archetype within us (the ‘Hero’) preventing us from achieving our goals.
 Good stories come from an area known as the ‘collective unconscious’  where our archetypes reside, whist knowing the various archetypes is important basing characters solely on these tropes can lead to stereotypical character design and a one dimensional story.



Skeletor from He-Man or Dick Dastardly could be considered the stereotypical villain/shadow   archetype. They are extremely one dimensional, although this appeals to children with their strong sense of justice in black and white terms.

Archetypes in Games
There are many different archetypes and shades of grey in-between but I’m going to concentrate on the seven main ones that feature in the most common story structures. Breaking down the archetypes gives an idea of how each fit into their role and should help avoid creating stereotypes rather than archetypes.
Hero
Christopher Vogler, author of ‘The Writer’s Journey’, based upon the Joseph Campbell’s theory of ‘The Mythological Hero’ in ‘Hero with a thousand faces’, defined a hero as, “the protagonist or central character, whose primary purpose is to separate from the ordinary world and sacrifice himself for the service of the journey at hand – to answer the challenge, complete the quest and restore the Ordinary World’s balance. We experience the journey through the eyes of the Hero.”
A hero is someone we can relate to so we engage in the story, they’re generally full of contradictions – strong and determined yet weak and uncertain. They find meaning in life and bring that meaning to the lives of people in their world.
Generally you are the hero in games! You are set upon a journey/task, and to complete that task you have to overcome the obstacles along the path, with the help/hindrance of the other archetypes. Link from Zelda, is a perfect example of a game hero. He starts his quest in a peaceful, sleepy village, as a young boy. The peace is shattered (generally by the return of Ganon) and Link must restore order to the land of Hyrule.

Some games visually communicate the ‘Hero’ status of a character by using the proportions of the gods from Greek myths. The exaggerated size of the chest, and shoulders, and small head size in comparison make the character look strong and dominant. This technique can be used when creating action games to visually inform the player of a characters traits, without extended character development.

One of the best examples of game character development of recent times can be found in Far Cry 3 released across multiple platforms in 2012. The main ‘Hero’ character Jason Brody is kidnapped by pirates along with his friends. They could be described, at the beginning, as unlikeable ‘Jersey Shore’ douche bags but as the game progresses Jason is forced to delve deeper into his own psyche, through the horrors he endures. The Writer Jeffery Yohalem designed the game to be a parody of the cliche’s of modern first person shooters, turning the tables on the player and making them question their own psyche and motivations while mowing down the enemies.

Mentor
The mentor is often portrayed as the wise and learned character, they teach and prepare the hero for their journey often giving the hero a gift that will help them on their quest.

In Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi is the stereotypical mentor archetype. The old, wise, sage helps our hero (Luke) on his quest by training him in the ways of the force and giving him his first Lightsaber.


Wynne, in the game Dragon Age, is the typical example of a mentor character in games. She verges on the parent/child relationship with the player character.

Threshold Guardian
This archetype is generally the first obstacle in the hero’s journey, they test the resolve of the hero and show that the journey will not be easy. They ‘guard’ the gateway to the growth/development of the character, getting past the obstacles they put in place shows that the hero can take on the challenge ahead. Often this archetype is a henchman or employee of the antagonist. As with the Mentor archetype they are often old , wizened characters, sacrificing a normal life for their singular task.

Used for comic effect in Monty Python’s, The Holy Grail, the Bridge Keeper bars the way of the stories protagonists. They must answer a series of fiendish questions such as, “What is your favourite colour?” and, “What... is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

Faralda in Skyrim bars the way to the Mage College you must prove you have mastered basic magic to enter.
Herald
The Herald often brings to light the challenge that begins the hero’s journey. The news that they bare upsets the balance of the Hero’s world, calling upon them to embark upon their quest. In terms of character they are generally friendly, loyal, but sometimes outspoken. They are often the Hero’s lover or partner in a story and can help motivate the hero on their path.
The Herald doesn’t nesacarily have to be a person in the story. It can be an event such as the start of a war, a catastrophic event, or even a newsflash.


Buzz-Buzz, a bee from the future that crash lands in a meteor at the start of the SNES game Earthbound, warns Ness our Hero of the coming of Giygas. Unfortunately killed when you return home as the Mother character mistakes him for a dung beetle (yeah Earthbound was weird, but really awesome!).


Shapeshifter
The Shapeshifter is the most ambiguous archetype, their characters are changeable and untrustworthy, often the ‘femme fatale’ in a narrative. They are in place to test the hero and create confusion whilst hiding their own intentions and loyalties.
Citra from Far Cry 3 is a typical ‘Femme Fatale’ character in games. You never know her true intentions until the end and even then her actions change based on that of the players. Her movements dress and overall look could be described as reptilian/snake-like, taking cues from the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

Shadow
The shadow is often the antagonist or villain trying to stop the Hero from reaching their goal. They represent the dark side, the unknown, and repressed feelings. They can also represent the internal struggle within the Hero, the battle between dark desires and the desire to do good.

Villains in games are extremely common, Pyramid Head from the game Silent Hill is a horrific force of nature. The angular, pyramidal structure of the characters design gives it that otherworldly, horrific feel. Ganon from Zelda comes in different forms but is often represented as a shadow, the literal translation of the ‘Shadow’ archetype, so can be easily interpreted as ‘evil’ by younger gamers.


Trickster
This character is the mischievous troublemaker often used to remind the hero of the lighter side as they delve deeper into the darkness. They’re the comic relief and point out the absurdities and hypocrisy on the hero’s journey. They can also be the cause of the chaos, often shunned by the society they inhabit because of their antics; they can inadvertently bring about the events that bring the darkness/shadow into the narrative.

Skull Kid in Zelda is a Trickster character in video games, the archetype often hides behind a mask to hide their true nature and can be found through-out myths and legends (Loki from Norse mythology). When unmasked they are often weak and lonely characters, their antics a tactic to get them noticed.
The Journey
We already studied the three act story structure in the sequential imaging module where a story can be broken down into parts, beginning, middle, and end. Each part has its own pacing and mood and each act can be broken down further into its own beginning, middle, and end.  The hero also has their own character arc that’s been standard in all narrative structures. This is known as the Hero’s Journey Model, identified by American scholar Joseph Campbell. It consists of twelve stages that form a cycle bringing the character full circle over the course of the story.


Games give players the ability to live out the Hero role in their narrative. However modern role playing games allow the gamer the freedom of choice with which path to take. Skyrim, for example allows the player to create the Archetype they want to be through armour, dialogue, and class choice. The player can be the assassin (Shadow/Trickster), warrior (Hero, Guardian), mage (Hero,Mentor), or combination of class based on their decisions’ throughout. Skyrim may seem to allow freedom of choice but it is still based around the classic narrative structure of the Hero’s journey from myth and legend, in Skyrim’s case it very much follows the themes of Beowulf.


 


Armour choices visualise the distinct character traits of a character in games, heavy armour is a skill often confined to the Warrior class, whereas light armour distinguishes the rogue.

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