August 12, 2008

Week 3 reading: Protagonist (The hero)

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 12:11 pm

Week 3 reading: Protagonist (or hero character) by Glassner in “Interactive Storytelling. Techniques for 21st Century Fiction” (2004, pp. 76-83).

In this reading, Glassner (2004, p. 76) gives an outline of the development of the hero character and refers to Abraham Maslow’s characterization of human motivation (1943) which is then broken down into eight levels constructed within three groups – each of the levels in each of the groups needing to be accomplished before the hero character can progress to the next stage of development:

1. Physiology – the needs of the body

2. Safety and security – shelter and rest

3. Belonging and loving – social acceptance and intimacy

4. Esteem – social approval and self worth

Once these four needs have been addressed/realised, which “Aristotle characterized as man-versus-nature” (Glassner, 2004, p. 76) then the individual can move to the next stage:

5. Cognition – understanding of one’s self and the world

6. Aesthetics – understanding beauty

At this stage, once one has satisfied the physiological and social needs, then one can begin to recognise the self and then look outside of the self and appreciate the world and the beauty that may become objects of desire. Lacan would identify this as the mirror theory “that a child, upon seeing its own reflection in a mirror for the first time, becomes aware of its own, separate, identity” (Sarup, 1992, p. 64) [italics added]. According to Glassner: “Many of the stories Aristotle characterized as man-versus-man take place when these cognitive and aesthetic needs are thwarted” (2004, p. 77).

The final two levels (Glassner, 2004, p. 78), that one might achieve after the previous 6 levels have been obtained, consist of:

7. Self-actualization – internal peace and connection to the world

8. Transcendence – the need to help others find their own self actualization

In Jungian terms “Self-actualization” might be described as finding and identifying with one’s own anima (or animus) and then recognising the collective unconscious. Once this has been achieved, one may then transcend through syzygy to become a divine couple or at one with one’s self.

Glassner continues to explore the growth of the hero character, noting that generally the hero grows to become a better person on completion of each quest (2003, p. 78). However, life is often full of contradictions, and the opposite of acceptance is ‘rejection’ – this is explored further as the cause for the development of feelings or traits the hero might display in the narrative and hurdles that he perhaps will need to overcome in his journey to self realisation (Glassner, pp. 78-80).

We are then offered 5 degrees or depths of immersion – the ability for the spectator (or player in a game scenario) to relate to the hero character. Glassner (2003, pp. 81-82) lists these as:

  • Curiosity – the “most distant form of connection” with the character
  • Sympathy – when “we start to see the world through the character’s eyes”
  • Identification – “first of the strong forms of connection” – we see aspects of ourselves in the character
  • Empathy – we begin to develop a strong emotional bond with the character
  • Transportation – we lose the distinction between the character and ourselves and “we feel that we actually are the character”

It would seem that if one was to follow these personal development traits as outlined by Glassner (2004); takes note of the classic, archetypical stories of Aristotle; and the work of Jung in understanding the psychical and the journey and obstacles one might encounter in the realisation of the self, then these could well serve as a basic script for the narrative of the hero character’s quest or journey. A very interesting read that enables the game designer to create depth to the character’s back story and game objectives.


Reference list:

Glassner, A. (2004). Protagonist The Hero’s Growth. Interactive Storytelling. Techniques for 21st Century Fiction. (pp. 76-83). Natick, Massachusetts: A. K. Peters.

Sarup, M. (1992). Jacques Lacan. New York London Toronto Sydney Tokyo Singapore: Harvester Wheatsheaf Modern Cultural Theorists.

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