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  • Writer's pictureMike

MA Game Design: Narrative, Heroes and Villains

Hello everyone!

No fun gifs this time, its been a long and draining week for me 🥱 lots of stuff has been going on, but we got to look into another interesting topic this week - narrative!

Character Attachment & Identity

Narrative is something which was covered earlier this year when I was working on the story-driven console game (Arthur: Ddraig's Legacy), so much of this material was content that I had already been exposed to. We went through The Hero's Journey again and the various plot beats that take place within this structure before going in-depth into characters and how & why people get attached to these fictional beings.

One generalised view of why we get attached to fictional characters is the journey that they typically undertake during the story. For a hero or heroine, their journeys are a long process to becoming a whole individual, something which everyone can identify with. They meet new friends and encounter new foes, growing and learning from each experience and adopting various traits into themselves to become a complete entity. Seeing them grow is reflective for how human beings also grow as they age, so there is always something within the character that a real person can relate to. Inner conflicts help drive this growth further, like when we see them presented with a moral dilemma, or when we see their head and heart disagree on a matter. These clashes will drive the stories forward and make us more engrossed and invested in them; we want to see what they will do to overcome these challenges or hardships.

Characters can be placed into four categories depending on how developed they are:

  • Zero-dimensional: they only display discrete emotional states

  • One-dimensional: they posses a single variable to characterize a changing attitude

  • Two-dimensional: they have multiple variables which express their impluses, but these impulses do not conflict

  • Three-dimensional: they are shown to have multiple emotional states which produce conflicts

The best characters - typically the main hero / heroine - will fall under the final category because we see them facing their innermost conflicts, their struggles with external events, and their change and transformation. It is with these characters that people become most attached to and we see ourselves being emotionally changed as we watch their stories unfold. A study by Ganesh et al. in 2011 investigated brain activities and found that there was intense emotional involvement with avatars (i.e., fictional characters) on a level comparable to when interacting with a significant other!

Carl Jung was a name which surfaced once again. We had some insights into who he was and his psychology of the unconscious at the start of 2021, this time we went a bit more into the subject. Jung also cropped up during my A-level Psychology classes back in 2011/2012, although I can't remember much of what we learned back then! In short, Jung identified and coined several identities which a person or character has:

  • Persona

  • Shadow

  • Collective unconscious

  • Archetypes / archetypal images

  • Complex

  • Extraversion & Introversion

  • Ego

  • Self & Individuation

  • Synchronicity

These are all attributes which everyone expresses in some form. For example, a person might have a 'work' persona where they are much more stern and formal when dealing with colleagues in the workplace, but drop this persona when they are around friends or family. Complex can refer to things such as an Oedipus complex, the shadow refers to an individual's unknown dark side in their personality, and so on.

The Hero / Heroine

From here, we began our character workshops where we were tasked to think of an original or existing fictional character that is a hero and answer questions 'in-character'. I originally planned to do Vegeta from the Dragonball franchise, but since he starts off as a villain before becoming a hero, I decided to go for the main hero in the series - Goku!

Most questions could be answered pretty easily; questions like what are their strongest traits, who do they rely on when things get tough, who do they look up to are straightforward. Questions like what are their childhood fears, not so much, since this is never brought up during the show (to my knowledge at least!). The takeaway from this exercise is that you can create better defined characters by thinking about these kinds of questions, even if some questions are harder to answer.

The Villain

Afterwards, some more information was shown regarding the plot and a common way of structuring it before moving onto the villains. Usually, a certain selection of villains come to mind when asked to think of iconic villains in fiction, along with one that almost everyone would mention: the Joker.

Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is arguably one of the most iconic acts in the history of cinema and is one that has stuck in people's minds ever since. The character itself is also iconic and one that many people know or recognise as the counterpart to Batman. By developing the villain to be as equally well-thought out as the hero, they will become more grounded and believable whilst simultaneously elevating the hero to greater heights. The hero will be forced to find ways of overcoming the villain, so in a sense we could say that the more evil we make the villain, the better the hero becomes.

This leads into the final activity for the day, which was to come up with a hero and a villain in pairs from scratch. In about 50 minutes. And my brain was drawing a complete blank that day. Ay caramba.

So, after my pair and I spent 15 minutes discussing characters in the show Squid Game, we found some inspiration from an old movie we had both seen growing up: The Prince of Egypt. We took the story of the two siblings (Moses and Ramses) and tried to adapt it into a modern day setting - so instead of it being the pharoah, it was the head of an unethical business. The hero was still a child being adopted into this powerful family, and was brought up alongside his 'brother' the villain with the intention that both sons would succeed their father as the head of this successful family business. There's a few parts of this idea which needed some more thought since we ran out of time and struggled to come up with complete backstories for them both, but I'm not that surprised since I was not prepared for this exercise!

Closing Thoughts

Other pairs came up with some interesting ideas and characters for their hero and villain which was cool to see. The sibling theme came up a couple of times, so most of the class seemed to be thinking along similar lines for how their hero and villain started out. The character questions was an interesting exercise; its a different line of thinking for trying to develop three-dimensional characters that feel complete.

I'll take note of this whenever I next need to come up with characters, which will likely be in the assignment for this class. I had some more ideas when I was out walking my dog this week which I have made note of, but right now my energy has been directed into a group assignment where we need an idea sorted out by Tuesday.

Anywho, until next time, thanks for reading! Buh bye :)

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