Myth in games

The Shadow

Better Villainy Through Palette-Swapping

While “Shadow” denotes any big jerk who lurks near the end of a quest, here’s another example of games’ literality: the Shadow in many games is a mirror image of the hero. For the character, this represents confronting their own darkness; for developers, it’s a quick way to make the player feel useless without having to design a new baddie!


- Flaming hair, dark clothing, glowing eyes: whatever will “evil up” the main character model in the space of a Friday afternoon.
- Knows all your moves, but faster. Has all your gear, but better. Remember in Twins, how Danny DeVito was like Arnie without the good bits? You’re Danny DeVito.
- If anyone in the game is to be made of liquid metal, it MUST be this character.

Above: World Heroes’ final boss, Geegus: a liquid-metal version of every character in the game. What a gyp!

Some Examples:

Shadow Mario (Super Mario Sunshine), Star Wolf (Lylat Wars), anyone whose name begins with the adjective “Dark.”

Above: The least scary thing you’ve ever seen

Where’s This Come From, Then?

This idea refers to the German myth of the Doppelganger: an identical being to oneself that may be helpful or deadly. Carl Jung advanced the notion that the “Shadow Self” represented the deepest truths of one’s own mind, which, if confronted, could open the door to profound self-revelations. Or at least a new area.

How Do Games Do It?

In the Mega Man games, the evil robots serve as partial Shadows, guarding new abilities until the hero can prove himself worthy. Miyamoto characters often have a memorable Shadow, the best example being sneering, greedy Wario: Sonic had a similar relationship with Knuckles, until the two paired to launch a thousand icky fanfics.


The Warrior

Truth, Justice, All That Good Stuff

Videogames have always loved a good, honest brawler. There’s something more to the Warrior though: while defined by their prowess in combat, they manage a Zen-like awareness of their part in the drama. The Warrior is the one who’s been in it long enough to know the rules and learned to play their role: that of a scowling, well-armed badass.

Above: Some Warriors take it too far


- Talks like if Tom Waits had just drunk a bottle of turpentine.
- Dresses like ‘80s action movies never went away; strangely, has never been told that tank-tops and stubble look a bit butch.

Above: A whole mess of testosterone

- Much like Dr Dre, was strapped with gats when you were cuddling a Cabbage Patch.

Some Examples:

Regal (Tales of Symphonia), Marcus Fenix, Sheik (Ocarina of Time), innumerable muscular headband-wearers throughout gaming history.

Above: Possibly even this one

Where’s This Come From, Then?

King Arthur, St. George and Siegfried blur the line between fighter and holy man: always ready for a scrap in the name of good. With the Crusades, the notion of the Warrior was used to enlist soldiers to fight for what was believed to be the soul of civilisation; in our time, figures like Churchill and Washington have been similarly canonised.

How Do Games Do It?

Just like anyone who grew up with ‘80s characters like Rambo, Robocop and Oliver North, videogames have always admired a tough, plain-spoken ass-kicker of a hero. Such a figure is Solid Snake, whose entire story arc is one big exploration of what it means to be a soldier; or Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts’ Sir Arthur, whose entire storyline is one big exploration of what it means to be a soldier with natty boxer shorts.


The Boon

God’s Freakin’ Gift to Humanity

This is what the entire quest has been moving toward. It may be a sacred weapon, or the elixir of life, or freedom from tyranny; whatever form the Boon takes, a good story will leave audiences with the feeling that it was all worth it for this. Until the sequel, anyway.


- You’re okay making a cuppa while this cutscene plays. It’ll be still be going when you get back.
- If a game’s going to surprise you with a dodgy “theme song,” here’s where it’ll do it.
- Thank you, but the Boon may be in another castle.

Some Examples:

Defeating the Chimera (Resistance: Fall of Man), escape from Hell (Doom), Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God” (50 Cent: Blood on the Sand).

Above: Whatever gets you out of bed in the morning, homes

Where’s This Come From, Then?

As the Mentor shows the hero who to be and the Shadow dramatises what elements must be overcome, the Boon shows what the quest is about. Whether it’s Hercules’ victory over the powers of death, or Hamlet’s unmasking of his father’s murderer, the Boon is what shapes a quest and tells audiences what to hope for.

Above: Hope, but don’t dream the impossible

How Do Games Do It?

Stories from Donkey Kong to Resident Evil 4 have the player striving to rescue a princess, but games have – due to their target audience as much as anything else – worn this one into the ground. Just as old-school games had players fight for nothing more than a new high score, many modern games’ final offering to the hero is less important than that offered to the player: Achievements and unlockables take it back to the days of high-score contests, when the Boon wasn’t a plot point so much as a feat of gaming prowess.

Sep 17, 2009

The Top 7... trendy game-design crutches
What do developers love? Falling back on these new-school cliches

The Top 7... Lazy Character Cliches
Copy, paste, unoriginality! The most overused archetypes of all time

Game levels that look like anuses
VIDEO: Gape in awe at these monstrous turd-cutters!


  • Hinro - October 25, 2009 2:37 a.m.

    Hey there's nothing wrong with being a geek elilupe. Good catch on the fact that Cronus never ate Poseidon I actually didn't know that. I knew that the only reason Zeus wasn't eaten was because his mom wrapped a stone in a clothe and Cronus thought it was Zeus and ate that instead. And I knew that Zeus was sent to live in isolation on Crete until the day that he was strong enought to face Cronus but I didn't know that Poseidon was never eaten. I must do some reaserch to check how he managed to escape being eaten. P.S: and to IAmInFactTomG I am glad that I could make your day. I did know that the saying was from a game I just saw it as an opening to explain who Atlas was. You don't get too many opportunities to explain that in life.
  • IAmInFactTomG - September 22, 2009 11:34 p.m.

    @elilupe: Thanks, consider me schooled.
  • solsunforge - September 21, 2009 5:24 a.m.

    Cyberninja your annoying. I will follow you to the ends of every single damn article and tell you so. Your the epitomy of a spoiled only child who happens to be slightly retarded and uneducated.
  • noobeater - September 20, 2009 8:30 p.m.

    Knows all your moves, but faster. Has all your gear, but better. Remember in Twins, how Danny DeVito was like Arnie without the good bits? You’re Danny DeVito. hahahahahhahahahahhahaha LEGENDARY WORDS
  • Conman93 - September 18, 2009 3:43 p.m.

    Lol Dark Pikachu. That should totally be a costume for pikachu in the next smash bros
  • squishysquishy - September 18, 2009 6 a.m.

    Come on GR, the entry for "Shadow" was practically begging for a Persona 4 mention, and ye prevailed not. Ah well. Fantastic article anyway. I've always been a fan of pan-cultural archetypes, and its refreshing to see I'm not the only one who can spot them the grand gaming lexicon. Cheers!
  • Samael - September 18, 2009 4:10 a.m.

    "Above: Let’s see you tell Qui-Gon Jin/Aslan/Taken to piss off" I think you mean Qui-Gon Jinn/Aslan/Taken/RA'S AL GHUL! But the message is the same. Don't fuck with Liam Nesson. Also, kcuf ajninrebyC.
  • AMayer - September 18, 2009 2:28 a.m.

    Increadibly interesting article. And speaking of Dr. Dre... Captcha - Tex detox (detox is the name of Dre's new album.)
  • NelosAngelos - September 18, 2009 1:12 a.m.

    I love mythology and finding the hidden meanings in everything. A very good read, bravo gents.
  • Hinro - September 18, 2009 1:07 a.m.

    Atlas was one of the many Titans that came along before the Greek gods. When the Gods came there was an epic battle which the Gods won. For punishment all the Titans where sent to do something for eternity. Atlas's punishment was to hold up the Earth. He has only left that position once and that was when Hercules(Herakles) needed something from him. Atlas was planning on leaving Hercules there but, amazingly, Hercules outsmarted Atlas (I said amazingly because Hercules wasn't that smart and was seen yelling at the sun for being too hot and killing his music teacher because he couldn't play the lyre and, finally killing his family for no apparent reason) and made him rehold the earth. Atlas has been trapped there ever since. That is my Classical History lesson for the day. If ever anyone has a question about Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Norse Mythology feel free to ask
  • Koouunn - September 18, 2009 12:26 a.m.

    lol who is atlas? spoiler - we have no idea
  • Doomwaffle - September 18, 2009 12:25 a.m.

    See this google search: This is basically what this is.
  • Hobojedi - September 17, 2009 11:36 p.m.

    Great article. it's like English (history) class, but fun.
  • GamesRadarTylerNagata - September 17, 2009 10 p.m.

    Guys, let's all play nice in the comments. :)
  • norid - September 17, 2009 9:59 p.m.

    that pikachu was awesome
  • Terro - September 17, 2009 8:49 p.m.

    The boon... It exists in every RPG every made...
  • FalconMbuster - September 17, 2009 8:49 p.m.

    Aight, finished. I enjoyed it. Sounded a bit like TV Tropes, though. I didn't feel all that enlightened from the article, but I guess that is because I frequent said site.
  • FalconMbuster - September 17, 2009 8:42 p.m.

    Oy, shut it. Your distracting me from reading the article! Just got to page 4 :O
  • lovinmyps3 - September 19, 2009 11:22 p.m.

    I love when you guys do articles like this!!! I get to read about games and be able to say I learned something!!
  • oz997 - September 19, 2009 4:08 p.m.

    nice Lost reference

Showing 1-20 of 42 comments

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