Modern Myths, Interactive Adventures
Posted on Thursday, April 22 2010 @ 14:37:28 Eastern
Throughout my years in school, even to this day, I have always been fascinated by the stories of mythology and legend. The fantastic stories of Greeks like Perseus and Odysseus to Athurian Legend have been great facets of shaping my psyche on storytelling and narrative, as well as my current interest in the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy to this day.
Now, a lot of people have at length discussed how Mythology has played a part in a ton of mediums, such as Movies like Star Wars, to even comic books like Superman and Batman. Some had allusions to mythical tropes and storylines (Star Wars is the best example, since it follows the typical “Heroes Journey” archetype proposed by Joseph Campbell, which he called the monomyth.) to even making outright references to the stories of old. (Comic Book characters like Wonder Woman and Thor being prime examples of the use of myths such as Norse gods and the Amazonian warriors.) Many have claimed that these mediums have become the “Modern Myths” of today; stories that follow the patterns of the heroes and villains of old and project the trials, tragedies and conquests of subsequent characters. Even fantasy and sci-fi fiction has followed in this footstep.
But to take it one further, video games have been doing pretty much the same thing, creating their own mythologies with the ever growing cast of recognizable company mascots that crop up every year. In the past twenty years, every character in a game has transitioned from a nameless nobody to at the very least a named, recognizable sprite. And this has gone on since the NES debuted with Mario, (renamed after being called Jumpman, for example.) Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong being prime examples.
But what make these characters transcend is their own mythologies. Perhaps the most well known is from “The Legend of Zelda” series, that since the first games created has, until a few months ago when Nintendo finally admitted that it didn’t exist, has had debates by legions of fans over the chronology of the entire games catalogue. While bringing up a dead issue like this, as Nintendo has officially said that there is no timeline in the games, it also brings up a major point about how Zelda has become another monomyth; the fact that fans still debate the timeline even after this move was made shows this higher thinking of the overall storyline.
The character of Link also follows the typical tropes; from a young boy to an adult, he undergoes a series of trials to uncover keys and tools to rescue the world from a terrible evil, and in using his tools he overcomes physical and mental obstacles. This is basically the Hercules of Hyrule, but instead of using brute strength, poison tipped arrows and a tunic made of Lion hide, Link’s arsenal includes bombs, the Hookshot and the Fairy Bow.
Link’s adventures are just one example of the individual stories we can see. RPG’s have typically been forerunners of this entire concept, JRPGS and Western RPG’s alike, from “Persona 4” to “Dragon Age Origins” also follow the monomyth theory with similar results. This is also why the art of story-telling has become the integral part of an RPG game, because the method of telling it is the same, it is what is added that makes it a worthwhile journey; the interaction between the companions in your group, the decisions you make in game to achieve your goals, and the eventual confrontation between either an ultimate evil, or a personal one.
This is especially seen in games with a degree of choice in them. One of the best examples I can think of is “Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Calibur.” (As a sidebar if you own a Wii or a Nintendo 64, do yourself a favor and get this complex and awesome strategy game.) The game has you follow a young adult who, through dialogue choices and conditions in battle, can make him go on various different paths in a complex story arc which involves tactical battles and strategic fighting. One of the subplots in the game is the relationship with your characters father, a shamed knight who killed another noble because he was protecting your childhood friend, and the future king, from an assault. Because of this your relationship with both your friend and father is destroyed, and during the game, you can either seek vengeance, or choose to kill your father mercilessly, penance, to reconcile with your father, or despair, by killing your father in self defense. None of these decisions are easy to make, and the paths to them can change the fabric of the story immensely, making your character chivalrous, tragic, or an even more personal villain.
It is moments like this that truly show us how mythology tropes can translate into the moments of a video game. These moments shape the story for the final confrontation in many ways, and change the outcome of the game for those willing to sit through a long play time. But what makes this possible is how many games have developed this mythology behind them. First Person Shooters and Platformers are other examples. A game like “Halo” portrays the Spartan Master Chief rather well, showing his plight in what seems like a losing war against a superior foe. But the efforts of staunch yet unlikely allies, former enemies reconciled for a similar cause, and even an eventual self sacrifice, resonates a chord with people. Any problems telling a story and characterization aside, the structure of a deep mythology is already present in a game series that has already expanded to the realm of RTS’s and expansion series involving other characters other than Spartan 117.
Platformer Brawlers like “God of War” “American McGee’s Alice” and “Metal Gear Solid”showcase other examples of twisting stories in their own way. Each is based off a myth, fairytale or an espionage caper, and each presents characters, items and references from their source materials. This hybrid of reverence to the source materials and the addition to the stories presented creates a new mythology line to follow. The exploits of Snake, Alice and Kratos shows how mythology not only influences the designs and names of video games, but also the types of stories that can be told with an emphasis to the “one vs. many” aspect of them. Each has its own clever spin on what has come before them, and keeps the old myths, as well as creates new myths, for younger generations.
Now some series it is harder to translate into this monomyth theory, but that can also be said for other mediums as well. Mythology follows characters on personal journeys, finding solace, vengeance or just living, or entire worlds in epic clashes and constant turmoil against some opposing force of “evil.” Racing games while usually paper thin and about the racing in the end, do not typically fall into this category. Neither to sport games nor simulation games for that matter, they are typically about the mimicry of real life. In many ways, mythology is more of a gateway to a fantasized world than an experience of a present day phenomenon. A good myth transports you to a world that does not exist, an experience that can never happen, but is parallel to our own, be it technology seen, characters explored, or journeys travelled.
But those interactive adventures are important none the less, as they remind us that mythology is still present today. I truly believe that video games, more so than comic books and movies, can be a gateway to truly exploring the potentials of storytelling tropes found in established mythologies from around the world. Many of the games above, “Zelda”, “Halo”, “Persona 4”, “God of War”, and so forth already have established worlds that share devotion by millions who have experienced them. The story may be the same, but how it is told and presented is how mythology, and storytelling as a whole, survives for an eternity. You don't just read the myths here, you experience them, shape them, and enjoy them in a way that was never imagined before.
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