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Psychology and Videogames: Archetypes and RPGs

 

ARCHETYPES

  • 1. A statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.
  • 2. The Platonic philosophical idea, referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing.
  • 3. In Jungian psychology, archetypes refer to a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
  • 4. Archetypes can refer to a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting or mythology. This usage of the term draws from both comparative anthropology and Jungian archetypal theory.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung used the concept of archetypes to describe how universal, mythic characters or models - archetypes - exist in the collective unconscious of all people.  These models represent fundamental human features, recognized as distinctive figures or dominant ideas, present in our collective human experiences as we evolved.  This blog is written in two parts with the purpose of explaining, in simplistic form in part one, how universal archetypes are represented through character representations in Role Playing Games (RPGs) and how it affects our perceptions, interactions with said videogames and their characters.  Part two of this blog will attempt to use the evidence presented here as lending credence to the argument that videogames are a form of cultural art, definitions listed above.

Archetypes, as previously noted, represent those human features or ideas derived from collective experiences and recognized as distinctive figures or dominant ideas.  Familiar examples are:

  • The father: Authority figure; stern; powerful.
  • The mother: Nurturing; comforting.
  • The child: Longing for innocence; rebirth; salvation.
  • The wise old man: Guidance; knowledge; wisdom.
  • The hero: Champion; defender; rescuer.
  • The maiden: Innocence; desire; purity.
  • The trickster: Deceiver; liar; trouble-maker.

Through the use of those examples (there are others - the self, the animus/anima, the shadow, the persona) you can already formulate your own opinions or examples of characters in RPGs that were created to fill these archetypal roles.  I offer a few examples below:

The Wise Old Man - Jolee Bindo, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - "What's there to say? Jolee Bindo is the crazy old man who lives in the dangerous woods. I am content with the impression I give."

 

He appeared as a cantankerous old man who readily dismissed the galaxy and its troubles with an impatient wave of his hand. Bindo directed his scorn at both the young and old alike, but his care and wisdom still shone through.  He insisted that all he wanted was peace, and yet he was drawn back to war when Revan arrived in the Shadowlands for a second time. Also, I love any opportunity to reference Firefly.

The Trickster - Cait Sith, Final Fantasy VII - "There's plenty of stuffed toys like my body around, but there's only one me!"

 

Cloud Strife and his party meet Cait Sith at the Gold Saucer during their world-wide search for Sephiroth. He tries to tell Cloud his fortune and after several failed attempts, predicts that "What you pursue will be yours. But you will lose something dear". Spooked by the prediction, Cait Sith forces Cloud to take him along, as he wishes to see what the fortune means. In reality, Cait Sith spies on Cloud and his allies and reports back to Shinra until he begins to sympathize with AVALANCHE and changes sides.

The Hero - Yuri Lowell, Tales of Vesperia - Flynn: "Murder is a crime.  And knowing that, you intend to dirty your hands?"  Yuri: "Intend to? I already have."

 

He is not afraid to take difficult matters into his own hands, and throughout his travels comes to decide  that doing so is the only way to ensure that the villains of the world are punished. However, as shown by his conversation with his ex-partner in the Imperial Knights, Flynn, he is fully aware, and to some extent even worried, that in doing so he risks becoming a person that, in a sense, is just as bad as those whom he despises.

The character representations presented above, and so many other examples, are all illustrative of these generalized archetypes, seen through their behaviors exhibited during game play - fighting styles, (i.e. knocking enemies out vice killing them, fighting honorably, fighting underhandedly, etc.) interactions with other characters in their stories (brutish, noble, calming, mentoring, deceiving), character modeling (e.g. This is obvious - Bindo is old, Yuri is an athletic, well trained defender of the lower class, while Cait Sith is a spy for Shinra, physically modeled to not be taken seriously - it's a cat riding a moogle with a megaphone and a crown on its head, folks.), and self dialogue.  The sum total of these purposefully-built perceptions, I argue (and believe Dr. Jung would agree with me), directly affects how you interact with/perceive the game and its characters.

Let me explain.

 

Insert quintessential badass here

Auron of Final Fantasy VII fame can be viewed in the archetype construct as the Father and/or the Wise Old Man archetypes.  He is protective of Tidus and the rest of the gang, stern in his counsel, and powerfully built for combat situations. He and Kimahri are the only two characters that readily have the "Pierce" ability attached to their weapons - designed to take down heavily armored foes with ease - and also, he is world-wise, has insight into situations the rest of the party does not, and mentors the group when needed.  Perfect, generalized examples of what we would expect this character to be, based on our preconceived notions of what he Should act like.  Also, we the players interact with this character based on that construct - in our heads, we expect Auron to be strong, we want him to fit that model.  When the chance comes along to advance Auron along his sphere grid, we're not surprised that his skills and abilities focus on strength and armor-shattering specials and we happily level him up along those same expectation lines.  I argue that if Square did not allow us to advance/interact with Auron in this way, say he kept the same dialogue and interactions with the rest of the party but leveled along the lines of Yuna, the players would completely dislike Auron's character because he did not fit their expected archetype.

This is just one example, but I'm sure you can correlate others from it on your own and using your perception. 

 

An argument can be presented that not all characters fit these typical roles - I argue that even the clear cut anti-heroes fit mixtures of those roles.  Think about it. 

RPGs build their characters using these archetypal models because it fits the players' preconceived notions of what they should be like, allows for a solid basis of varied interactions with the characters presented, and does not jarringly distance the player from connecting with the material presented due to inconsistencies with their expectations.  I personally say that every videogame does this, not just RPGs, but I'm keeping the scope intentionally narrow so as to play to the strengths of my experiences; I am primarily a RPG player. 

Now, where am I going with all of this?  Final point before Part Two of my ongoing (hopefully - pending reader feedback), new series, The Psychology of Videogames, is this - if videogame artists, players, project directors, storyboard writers, and reviewers build, design, interact with, perceive, and rate videogames and the stories associated according to archetypal character models that have been depicted in countless works of art - literature, paintings, plays, scultpture, etc. - and we recognize those things as culturally accepted and influential categories of art, why not videogames as well?  Because the stigma associated with videogames and their impact is still too negative, too new to be associated differently.

Thanks for stopping by to check out my blog.  Be sure to tune in next time for the (hopefully not so) dramatic conclusion in Part Two of The Psychology of Videogames: Archetypes and RPGs.

Cheers.

(Constructive criticism/feedback is ALWAYS appreciated.  Thanks in advance!)

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