Last week I started a series of three articles that describe how the process of playing games can mirror one of the most ancient storytelling structures of all time, The Hero’s Journey. Last week’s article was centered around the first stage of the journey, known as Departure (if you missed it you can find it here). This week we pick up with the second part of the adventure – Initiation.
When the initiation stage begins the hero has already chosen to follow the call to action and broken ties with his former life. Now the hero will go through a series of trials that will transform him from an ordinary farm boy / hobbit / muggle to a great hero who can achieve the goal of the adventure that they originally set out for. This stage can be further broken down into 6 sub-stages, which will be described in more detail below.
Stage 6 – The Road of Trials
Now that the hero has crossed the threshold there is no going back, and the belly of the whale was only the beginning of her troubles. In this stage the hero will be faced with a series of dangerous and difficult tests and tasks to overcome. While the hero may fail some of these tasks at first, the process will help them grow and they will eventually overcome all of the obstacles in their way. They will also be aided by their mentor and other allies, along with the advice and items that they were given earlier on.
In Star Wars, this stage is represented by Luke, Han, Chewy and Obi-Wan flying the Millenium Falcon on board the Death Star, and the trials that they face as they attempt to rescue Princess Leia. This includes getting shot at by storm-troopers, getting stuck in a
trash compactor, and losing Obi-Wan to Darth Vader.
In games, this stage represents a major portion of the gameplay. Now that the player has made it past the introductory stages, much of the game could be described as a series of trials that the player must overcome. The player will not always succeed right away – they may have to try some challenges over and over, learning and training along the way, but eventually they will overcome the obstacles in their path.
Stage 7 – The Meeting with the Goddess
In the portion of the story the hero meets with a character, usually of the opposite sex, with whom they feel a strong, often romantic connection. Often this character will have complementary qualities that the hero is lacking, and can represent their “other half”. This could mean representing the feminine qualities that are lacking in a masculine hero, or the opposite. By bonding with these opposite qualities the hero can grow and become whole.
In Star Wars the character of the Goddess is represented by Princess Leia, the powerful princess that Luke and the gang rescued from the Death Star. Luke feels a strong connection with Leia right away, which he initially believes to be romantic attraction. Later Luke learns that Leia was his sister, and that the bond he felt towards her was actually a strong sibling connection.
This is one stage that is difficult to connect to the experience of playing a game, as it is usually represented by a single character, and is not universal to the experience. In addition, true romantic subplots are relatively rare in video games – often the player is given a choice of romantic partners, or if their is a singular romantic partner often the goal is to rescue them. One example of this plot point in a video game would be the first Kingdom Hearts game, when Sora rescues Kairi and returns her safely to Traverse Town. However, this stage is much less common in games than other media.
Stage 8 – The Woman as Temptress
Despite the name, this stage does not necessarily have to be represented specifically by a woman or other sexual temptation. Instead, this stage refers to anything that would try to tempt the hero away from their quest with easy satisfaction. They could be tempted with love, money, safety or anything else that could cause them to lose sight of their goals. In the end, this temptation simply represents another obstacle that the hero must overcome to fulfill their duty.
In the first Star Wars, Luke does not really have to deal with overcoming a temptation (although later on he does have to overcome his temptation to the dark side). Instead, it is actually Han Solo who must overcome this stage. After rescuing the princess Han is told that he can receive his monetary reward and leave. However, he later overcomes the temptation of a reward and returns to help Luke.
Towards the middle of a game there are numerous temptations that the player must overcome to complete their quest. Perhaps the game becomes a slog in the middle and you are tempted to quit, but persevere and make it to the end. Or maybe a newer game comes out that tempts you to play it instead of finishing the one you are on. Or it could simply be the temptation of real life, and not spending too much time in one game. In many cases these temptations are entirely valid, and it is up to the player to decide whether it’s worth it for them to keep going, or quit and move on.
Stage 9 – Atonement with the Father
In this stage the hero is confronted with a powerful figure, often their father, who wields a certain level of control over their lives. The hero must defeat, reconcile with, or gain the approval of this figure in some way. Often this figure represents authority, and the hero must overcome the power of this authority and show that they are in control of their own lives.
In Star Wars the obvious example of this is Luke having to reconcile with his literal father, Darth Vader. However, that doesn’t happen until the end of Return of the Jedi. In the original movie, however, he does face off with Vader in an space battle in the trenches of the Death Star, which could be seen as an early example of him overcoming his father.
This is another tricky one to fit into the pattern with video games, as the father figure is
once again represented by a singular character with some connection to the protagonist. Although if you are a younger player this could certainly be connected with your actual parents, who might be telling you to stop spending so much time playing video games. If that is the case, the way to reconcile would be to listen to your parents! Games are an important part of millions of people’s lives, but things like homework and spending time with family are just as important, and you should make sure you are making time for them.
Step 10 – Apotheosis
After meeting the goddess, overcoming temptation and reconciling with the father, the hero has grown as a person. In this stage the hero reaches a new level of understanding, overcomes their tragic flaws, and learns a new lesson about themselves. With this greater knowledge they are finally ready to complete their quest and overcome the final obstacles in their way.
In Star Wars this stage is represented by Luke finally learning to rely on the force instead of on his own abilities. All through the movie he has been doubting himself and the force, and this moment represents a turning point in his journey to become a true Jedi. He turns off his targeting computers, closes his eyes, and prepares himself for his final task.
When playing a game, this represents the moment that it finally “clicks”. After hours and hours of playing and practice you have finally reached a level of expertise within the game. You finally understand all of the mechanics and can execute them flawlessly, you know how all of the enemies move and attack, and you can travel through the various maps blindfolded. This stage is the stage of thoroughly understanding and mastering the game.
Stage 11 – The Ultimate Boon
This is the stage in which the hero finally achieves the goal that they set out for originally. Although they may have begun as inexperienced and unprepared beginners, they have now grown into true heroes, and are ultimately able to overcome the true challenge that was the goal of their quest from the beginning. This can take many forms, from defeating a villain to reaching a destination to obtaining a powerful artifact, or a combination of these.
In Star Wars this stage is very simple – the destruction of the Death Star. Luke and Obi-Wan initially set out to help the rebels, and by destroying the Death Star they were able to deal a major blow to the empire. This moment also represents the fulfillment of all of
the lessons and relationships that Luke has gained throughout the film, from being rescued by Han to finally learning to trust the force.
This stage is also simple in the video game analogy – it is completing the game. Or, more specifically, it is represented by completing the main quest of the game. Similar to in other media, this often involves defeating the antagonist in the form of a final boss, and the player is often rewarded for doing so with a powerful weapon or other boon.
Until Next Time!
That is all I have for this week. If you enjoyed this article, check out the rest of the blog and subscribe on Facebook, Twitter, or here on WordPress so you will always know when I post a new article. If you didn’t, let me know what I can do better in the comments down below. And join me next week, for the final stage of the hero’s journey – Return.
3 replies on “How Games take the Player through The Hero’s Journey: Part 2 – Initiation”
“Somehow, I’ve always known” Yeah, that wouldn’t be easy to retcon Leia kissing her brother ^_^ Have you read the Star Wars Shakespeare play? After Luke finds out Leia’s his twin he gives a little speech about an alien who accidentally married his mother, then admits in relief he’s got no such romantic feelings for his sister. A nice way of clearing the air and then sweeping the problem aside.
“Atonement with the Father” is an interesting chapter because the father figure can be seen as cruel (like Vader) or kindly (like Obi-Wan) but it does depend on the Hero’s relationship with them. “A certain point of view,” so to speak. Vader saved his son’s life, turning himself back into Anakin Skywalker with the last act of his life, making him the benevolent protective father again. Dumbledore was Harry’s mentor but Harry got angry at Dumbledore for hiding certain facts from him–even for his own protection.