Okay, part deux. Let’s see if I can wrap this thing up. If you remember our discussion last week then you can probably skip down a few lines but I am going to do a quick rehash so that we are all on the same page. Also, keep in mind that this essay is more of an intro than a solid work. I got about halfway through before realizing that I was mixing terms and massively oversimplifying in an attempt for brevity. So with each of the archetypes mentioned below simply assume that I plan on writing an essay dedicated wholly to each archetype group. No, I am not doing this to pad content. I am doing this because each of these points deserves it’s own 10 pages. So just assume that each paragraph head is an essay seed.
Last week I spent my entire 10 pages talking about why we need better characters in video games and ranting about characters that I really love. However, that was not the intention of the essay. As you know, I don’t like to merely prattle on about stuff that I like or dislike. I prefer to deconstruct my subject. We all see the magic at work but I want to see what really makes the spells work.
This week I will discuss different archetypes in character design. I will begin by quickly defining archetype, then listing off some popular ones and showing where they do or don’t work. So, without further ado, lets get to it.
If you go to Dictionary.com and look up the word archetype the site will come back with “a very typical example of a certain person or thing”. I suppose that’s a great general definition but I don’t like generalizations so lets kick it up a notch. When discussing characters in a narrative, archetypes function very much like genres. Archetypes are used to help clarify a character’s role in the universe. The difference is that archetypes are actually helpful in describing a character, while genres are, to quote Carson, “about as useful as a penis on your elbow”, but I digress.
Archetypes are central to character design, on top of clarifying a character’s role in the universe they are also helpful in just defining themselves. Now, in the real world there are no archetypes (and bad things tend to happen when we try to assign archetypes to real world people, ref. slavery and World War 2) but when you are trying to throw together a concept for a character, having archetypes goes a long ass way to simplifying your terms (and I would like to mention, it’s not cursing if you are referring to a donkey with an elongated spine). Now, I am not going to go into every single archetype out there simply because this essay would make it’s way into page 1082 before we reached the halfway point. What I will do, however, is throw out some of my favourite archetypes, follow them up with examples, then repeat the process with least favourite archetypes. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here’s some of my favourites.
Due to time constraints I will be listing 3 examples from the 9 basic alignments. Every one of these archetypes fit somewhere into the alignment grid that combines 1 philosophical alignment (Order, neutral, Chaos) with 1 moral alignment (Good, Neutral, Evil). The format will first cover each of the 3 philosophical permutations before moving on to the next moral alignment.
Now, this wouldn’t be Something Wicked Games if we didn’t start with our Jesse-mandated mascot, Illidan Stormrage. Illidan fits into a number of archetypes (which makes him great because it’s important to know that the best characters simply don’t fit into easily defined boxes) but for the sake of simplicity we are going to use Illidan as an example of the Virtuous Hunter.
The virtuous hunter is my personal favourite general archetype because of it’s association with chaos and good. The virtuous hunter is a rough and tumble individual who pursues good above all else. Let us cast our gaze to Samus Aran. Samus’s profession is Bounty Hunter. There are just as many civilizations that consider her an extinction level treat as there are civilizations that consider her the bearer of life. Seriously, there are civilizations out there (like the Ing and Space Pirate races) that call their god of slaughter “Aran”.
The virtuous hunter pursues good above all else. She doesn’t pause to consider social norms or national treaties when acquiring her next target. If you maintain concentration camps you’re getting shot. If you tempt souls you’re getting shot. If you participate in genocide you’re getting shot. She doesn’t care who you work for or what party you represent. If you do evil the virtuous hunter is coming for you.
In addition (or maybe as a detriment) to pursuing what I call “peacekeeping without borders” the virtuous hunter refuses to consider the source when it comes to her means of combating her foes. Take for example the firm’s mascot, Illidan Stormrage. Though I know the official Blizzard stance states that Illidan is a “bad guy” I feel that such a statement is unfairly reductive. I am not here to discuss the extended history of the Night Elves but let us look at the general scope of his actions. Simply put, Illidan recognized that the powers typically associated with good (like light and nature) would not be sufficient in stamping out the Burning Legion (Warcraft terminology for the forces of Hell). In response to this he decided that it would be beneficial to his people if he profaned his body and rent his soul for the ability to dominate a portion of the Legion. While he was ultimately driven mad by the powers he sought to control, he still managed to resist falling to the Legion and, even in death, continues to be a huge thorn in Kil’jaeden’s side.
Lets move on, I know that I minced words horribly there and that Illidan is actually a tragic hero but I have to hurry along lest this become a 3-parter. Let’s move on to what I like to call the Quixotic Hero. This category includes archetypes like The Good Cop, The Paladin, and any character that can be defined with the words “lawful good”. I call the Quixotic Hero by such a name because, as a matter of taste, I find the Quixotic Hero to be a bit silly, not unlike Don Quixote (the lord of La Mancha, destroyer of evil am I! Sorry, I love that song). The Quixotic hero always has the best intents in mind and never succumbs to temptation. I personally don’t like the Quixotic Hero due to his/her lack of realism but that is beside the point.
In many literary traditions the quixotic hero is used as a paragon of good. This guy exists to show us how we should behave. The quixotic hero is brave, smart and just in all things. Now, at first I was going to use Link as my example but I realize that I do this way too often. Instead, let us shift our gaze to Tidus from Final Fantasy 10.
Tidus comes from Zanarkand(dream), a city trapped in time due to it’s location in the dream of Yevon. After a brief scene inside of the dream of Zanarkand, Tidus’s godfather, Auron, awakens Original Sin and leads it to Zanarkand(dream) in an attempt to eject Tidus from the dream for reasons I still don’t quite understand (dispite the fact that I’ve played through FFX like 3 times). Tidus spends a few scenes in what must have been the greatest acid trip in Spira’s history and wakes up on the beach of Besaid. This is where he meets Dolcinea (I mean, Summoner Yuna) whom he falls immediately and irrevocably in love with. Fast forward about 15 hours and it is revealed that Summoners exist to fight Sin but even when a summoner wins the battle she/he and her chief guardian simply becomes the new skin of Sin and the process repeats after a few years of peace. This is where Tidus clicks into his role as quixotic hero. Tidus believes in his heart that no sentient being should exist simply to become a sacrifice. This leads him to strike down Yunalesca (the immortal who’s chief job it is to instruct mortals on how to contain Sin via human sacrifice) and go on a crusade to reform the Church of Yevon.
This is the essence of the quixotic hero. The quixotic hero exists to show us how we should act. My problem with this kind of hero is that it exists in an impossible world. Everyone knows that sacrificing another being for your own betterment is wrong. Everyone knows that theft is wrong and everyone knows that abusing others is wrong. I suppose the quixotic hero is helpful in identifying what elements of ourselves should be preserved; but the premise of the quixotic hero requires a world with a 1 dimensional (good/evil) or 2 dimensional (good/evil and order/chaos) moral structure. In the real world there is no gunship that can open a hole into Sin’s heart where you can cast a purification ritual on it’s soul. Often times in the real world, Yunalesca’s way (that is to say, sacrificing a handful of people in order to grant everyone else another few moments in the sun) is the only way to proceed.
To carry on with my rule of 3 (sorry, I love that number) let us now discuss The Healer. So, who is the healer? Well, if the Virtuous Hunter is chaotic good and the Quixotic Hero is lawful good then The Healer is neutral good. Now, the troubling part of this archetype group is that it is dominated almost exclusively by women while the other two are populated almost entirely by men. The reason for this is the fact that our society still expects women to be demure without a strong lean to either of the philosophical ends.
Let us cast our glance towards… oh dear. Come on. I don’t want to use a woman as an example of The Healer. We have enough sexists on the internet who think women are only good for support roles. Come on. Uhh… Oh! I’ve got one! Prince Anduin Wrynn. Anduin has one concern. He isn’t concerned with the war between the Alliance and Horde, he doesn’t care about destroying the Legion. Anduin has only one concern above all else, peace. A quick aside: I have played literally hundreds of video games beginning to end (not including ones that I haven’t finished for one reason or another) and I can only think of one male example of neutral good and less than 10 examples of non-neutral good females, seriously, cut it out guys.
I like the Healer because it is the most realistic of the general archetypes on the good side of the moral spectrum. Call me high-minded or optimistic, but the war against evil will not be won with soldiers and weapons. Sure, the best way to stop a tyrant is by shooting him in the head but that’s just surface stuff. Evil is a disease. Diseases can’t be cured by lancing boils and stitching cuts alone. Considering a gun to be the surest way to stamp out evil is like assuming anti-itch cream is the best cure for herpes. The only way to take down true evil is through the restoration of good and that is what the neutral good Healer does better than anyone else. The Healer concerns itself not with stamping out dictators. The Healer is all about healing the sick and curing the underlying causes of evil. Are people stealing from the bazaar? The healer provides food. Are people killing each other over land? The healer teaches the public how to optimize land use and champions cooperation amongst diverse populations. Without the healer someone else will always come to replace the Tyrant or the Warlord.
Okay, moving on quickly to the neutral archetype groups. Keep in mind, each of these archetype groups can (and will) be an essay unto themselves. This is merely an intro to archetypes. Let us start with Lawful neutral or the “Good Cop”. This guy considers the law of the land to be the ultimate authority. Many who try to craft lawful neutral characters often wind up with sycophants, and while the sycophant is a sub genre of lawful neutral, I feel the need to remind you that I am painting with very broad strokes this week.
As I said before, lawful neutral respects order above all else. Keep in mind, I use the word “order” and not authority. I direct your attention to Solid Snake. Snake concerns himself primarily with maintaining order. He often refers to himself as a tool of his government and, on the surface, appears to be concerned primarily with taking orders and staying in line. If you do any further digging, however, you learn that Solid Snake has a very strong philosophical compass. He follows orders, yes, but when confronted by Raidan in the Arsenal Gear he deliberately removes the wool from Raidan’s eyes so that Raidan can make an informed decision as to whether he should carry out his objective. Solid Snake’s moral system values informed action above mere sycophancy. While many would say this is proof of his lean towards chaos, I feel it merely proves that Solid Snake is possessed by a strong sense of Bushido (in the Bushido as personal law sense, not the literal code of conduct).
Now onto true neutral, or as I would call it “The Balancer”. True neutral typically isn’t used for major characters as The Balancer is typically seen as a flip-flopper. Many take the behaviors of The Balancer to mean he/she has no strong convictions in either direction. They appear mercurial and almost fickle in attitude, apparently switching allegiances at a moment’s notice.
Let us look at Lee Everett from The Walking Dead. When first encountered he is in the back seat of a cop car. We are to assume he is under arrest for some reason, though it is never really clarified. The cop car soon runs headlong into a Walker (TWD lingo for zombies) and is overturned during the driver’s attempt to evade. A few quick scenes later and he is rescued by Clementine, a young girl who’s parents were eaten. She rescues Lee and they soon fall into a parent/offspring relationship.
I won’t go into details (as I have only completed 3 quarters of The Walking Dead and don’t want to spoil the experience for others who plan on getting it eventually) but through Clementine, Lee’s true colors become abundantly clear. He doesn’t always trouble himself with community, he is more concerned with raising Clementine right in a broken world. Sometimes this means tending the fields for his comrades, sometimes this means allowing an innocent to die. He is, above all, concerned with teaching Clementine to walk the line between good and evil.
On to Chaotic Neutral or, as I will call it, the “Rabble Rouser”. The Rabble Rouser is concerned with looking out for #1. he/she concerns his/herself not with allegiance or loyalty and simply does what is necessary when it is necessary. Chaotic neutral is typically used when a writer wants to portray a world where hard men need to do what hard men need to do. Ive also seen the Rabble Rouser used to describe characters mired in moral conflict and tortured by the nature of their quests. He/she is often considered to be selfish or cruel, in fact, most people I know who play D&D wind up playing chaotic neutral characters as if they’re chaotic evil characters who occasionally pet puppies.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve been having a rough time dredging up video game characters for the neutral alignments. This is because (as I mentioned in my previous essay) video game writers often use a dichromatic color pallet when crafting characters. Typically video game characters are either very good or very evil with little if any representation in the middle.
It is for this reason I direct you to Jackie Estacado from The Darkness. Estacado is a New York mobster who bears a family curse known only as The Darkness. Now, I haven’t read the comics, but in the video game Jackie often showed a desire to escape the life he was born into. It is soon made abundantly clear that this wish is impossible when Estacado hits 21 years old and manifests The Darkness for the first time. You see, The Darkness is a team of demons from the space between this world and Hell. While they grant their host extraordinary powers they also require grim sacrifices. In order for Jackie to go on living as an independent human being he has to feed souls to The Darkness several times every night.
Jackie hates The Darkness and The Darkness hates him back. Jackie wants nothing more than a normal life outside of the mob but The Darkness makes it so that he literally can’t maintain his independence without regularly slaughtering entire buildings full of people. Jackie is eventually forced to embrace The Darkness. He gives up on the hope of a regular life and instead tries to repent for the atrocities committed using his body by attempting to guide The Darkness to devour only the souls of fellow and rival gang members.
Finally, we are done with the neutral alignments. I remind you that I am painting with very broad strokes and plan on delving into the dozens of archetypes present in each section of the alignment grid.
Let us move onto Lawful Evil or, as I call it, “The Tyrant”. The Tyrant is exactly what he sounds like. He/she uses the power of law as a hammer to stamp out distention and controversy.
Take for example The Queen of Blades from Starcraft. I intentionally use the name Queen of Blades instead of Sarah Kerrigan because I do feel there is a distinct difference between the girl who was used for personal gain by her family, friends, and government and the self-proclaimed “Queen Bitch of the Universe”.
The Queen of Blades has one concern and one concern only. She wishes to unite all of the universe under a single benevolent rule. I know, this doesn’t sound evil in itself, she seeks to end all war forever and usher in an age of universal civilization under a single banner. For Dibella’s sake, the saner half of our population wants the same exact thing and even I see a day in the future where all of our race’s violence and cruelty gets offloaded into virtual reality. The problem is how she intends on doing so. The Queen of Blades intends to unite the universe by absorbing all life into the Zerg Swarm. The Zerg are a biologically indistinct (that is to say, no Zerg fits wholly into a specific biological category, their simplest mature subspecies is at the same time, a mammal, a lizard, a fungus and an insect).
The problem with this is that the Zerg Swarm functions like a series of interconnected anthills. Each hive is dominated by an aggregate consciousness consisting of every individual (out of many, one) which is intern is dominated by a cerebate who’s consciousness is an aggregate of every hive it controls which is in turn dominated by the Queen of Blades who is at the same time the only individual amongst the lot and yet swayed largely by the collective consciousnesses that she rules over. In short, the Queen of Blades seeks to unite the universe by stamping out all intelligent life besides her own.
On to Neutral Evil or, as I call it, “The User”. This archetype stands in direct opposition to The Healer. Where the healer gives, the user takes. Where The Healer attempts to spread good will, The User manipulates the system for maximum profit.
Take for example Laethys from Rift. Laethys is greed incarnate. She gets her jollies by manipulating the legal systems around her, obediently respecting the laws that further her intentions and flagrantly disregarding the ones that aren’t guaranteed to turn her a significant profit over a very short time. I personally consider The User to be the greatest of evil because he/she can’t be destroyed by conventional means. You can’t end slavery by killing all of the slaveholders, there will always be someone to take the mantle. You can’t conquer The User in battle because The User has no interest in owning large tracts of land. Think of the drug wars of Juarez, Mexico. The war, as it is waged now, has no possible endgame. The drug lords have no interest in ruling the country and refuse to even aknowledge any central authority. While any particular gang may be lead by a variant of The Tyrant, there are also hundreds of other gangs. Even if they managed to centralize (which is completely counter to their intention) they have no interest in setting up a centralized government or setting up any regulatory services. They are completely happy with the government being there to clean up their mess.
Let us quickly move on to the last section of the alignment grid. The Chaotic Evil Destroyer. The Destroyer is a terror and antithesis of all organization. He/she rules by sheer power instead of the rule of law. This one is also particularly hard to stamp out because The Destroyer tends to congregate in focused clusters ruled by the most powerful specimen with all communication and cooperation breaking down at the first sign of weakness. Take for example the Prime Evils from Diablo. Diablo, Mephisto and Baal are an uneasy trifecta of villains. While Diablo usually winds up the leader (mostly because of the fact that he’s the most clever of the Prime Evils and the fact that he has dominion over terror) the 3 are in constant competition over who will lead the invasion of Sanctuary. While The Prime Evils may be killable and are definitely containable, no attempt (successful or not) to do so has had a great impact on the war against the Burning Hells. This happens because while the organization of the Burning Hells breaks down into complete anarchy whenever the Primes disappear, there’s always someone who soon picks up the slack and continues their own version of the plan to return the universe to darkness (in fact, the plot of Diablo 3 revolved around a lesser known demon picking up Diablo’s plan to absorb the other Primes).
Whew, did it. Managed to cram all of that information into 10 pages. Next week, in commemoration of April Fool’s day I will be posting an essay on trolling. The week after that I will be doing a special request from Jesse in commemoration of her birthday, and the week after that I will start again at the top and try to break down all of the archetypes that file under Lawful Good. I remind you that this machine runs on fans and while we would like to keep this thing free of charge that isnt possible without help from you. I ask only that you tell your friends about us, follow on twitter and, if you have some extra change to throw it in one of our many donation jars (all of which are described in Need Additional Pylons). Thanks for reading, see you next week.
1. what is your favourite characterization model? I’m well versed in the D20 alignment system but I also know of Meyers-Briggs.
2. Would you use either of the models above? would you prefer a synthesis thereof? Why?
3. What alignment is your favourite character?
4. What characters do you know of that refuse to sit comfortably in the D20 alignment model? Everyone can think of a few, I want to hear yours.
5. If you’re a designer, how do you make characters?