Monomyth for Gamers

Story Department intern Rusty asked: “all over the blog, I keep reading about the Hero’s Journey. At the risk of sounding dumb, is this a book I have not yet read, or simply terminology I have yet to come across?” If he is asking, there’s probably more of you.

It’s nice how one intern is really helping the other, as Louise Tan found this great piece on The Hero’s Journey (or Monomyth) for game developers.


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2 thoughts on “Monomyth for Gamers”

  1. The Hero’s Journey is not new. It is as old as the oral tradition from which it springs. From the time of Aristotle and the Golden Age of Greece there have been formulas to create a good story.

    The language of these formulas change from time to time, and some writers expand upon them and others contract them to a few lines. Following in the steps of the early nineteenth century illuminati such as Matthew Arnold who gave academic credibility to the area of folk stories, structuralist (and modernist) academics such as Vladimir Propp in the early 20th century broke the folk stories down into a series of stages (Wikipedia has a great breakdown which is useful for a step treatment if you can get past the language he uses.) These stages were later refined by writers such as Barthes and again later (on the Sydney scene) by academics such as Prof. Gay McAuley (Sydney University Centre for Performance Studies) who independently of Dr Martin (Sydney University English Dept) worked through complementary models based on the folkloric analysis and variations of Propp’s spheres of action in the early 1990’s.

    A word about ‘heroes’ – don’t be confused by what a hero is – t is usually what it isn’t. It is only after Jane Austin that the Hero actually becomes interesting- before that they were two dimensional and lacked any sensibility for other characters, with the world revolving around them. They only became interesting in the Tragedy where they offended the gods with their fatal flaw and were punished then had to make recompense. Oedipus put out his eyes and went into exile; Ulysses was blown off course after the victory at Troy and spent ten years struggling to get home; St Brendon’s epic voyage; etc. Shakespeare’s central characters were not heroes – they were anti-heroes – characters who did not conform to the classic hero stoicism and rigidness. Shakespeare had a tendency to bump off the traditional hero early in the play and focus on those who refused to conform to the social norms of his day. His best characters were villains and in their journey through the play he explored the nature of the human condition and updated the notion of catharsis. We are all pretty glad we are not Macbeth by the end of the play. Modern notions of heroes use the flawed hero model and many use the anti-hero as the central character.

    Whilst the almost clichéd expression ‘the Hero’s journey’ (thank you NSW Board of Studies) is important – there are many ways of approaching it and many terms coined or co-opted for that purpose – it is but one aspect of writing.

    A character’s function within the play is integral to the hero’s journey (again see Professor McAuley or Ubersfield). Again there are variations of the names used to describe these functions.
    Don’t be afraid to borrow from other traditions whether stage, oral traditions or literature for creating characters and creating the underlying story. Although writing for stage the work of Patrice Parvis on the Mise- en- scene has informed our understanding of scene work, analysis and directing. It has filtered (along with the term) into film studies. It should also inform our writing for both media.

    Writing often reminds me of Voice Work – there are a lot of wrongs and more than one right way of doing it. Just because one writer uses and promotes one set of terminology to explain the way a narrative ‘travels’ through time and space it doesn’t mean it is the only way. It means that it works for them. If it works for you it works. If you need to use the term foil use it as long as you know what it means because ALL these ideas and formulas exist only as a means to an end – a way of creating a story which flows.

    But whilst you are working out your hero/ antihero’s journey spare a thought for your audience’s journey – after all we are writing to affect them.

    Now don’t get me started on Ibsen and Chekhov’s late 19th century innovation – the three act play as being the only way to write a film or play script.

  2. “But whilst you are working out your hero/ antihero’s journey spare a thought for your audience’s journey – after all we are writing to affect them.”

    Isn’t this exactly what the Hero’s Journey takes care of?? Because of the universal nature of the mythic structure, it WILL affect them.


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