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The Birth of Collecting: The Osiris Archetype In Games
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The Birth of Collecting: The Osiris Archetype In Games


October 14, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

Despite nurturing a myriad of iconic symbols, Egyptian mythology has enjoyed little celebration in the gaming world. Mario stomped on a Sphinx's head or two in the Game Boy's bizarre rendition of the Mario universe, and Lara Croft has excavated Egyptian ruins a few times over. Capcom's overhead shooter Legendary Wings allowed players to transform into a flaming Phoenix, and mummies are an old stand-in in horror-themed game camp. Still, the impact of Egyptian lore on video games seems miniscule whenc ompared to the widespread influences of its Norse and Greek counterparts. But is it?

The dismemberment of Osiris, though not an event from Assassin's Creed's compelling plot line, is nonetheless essential to it. This is due to the influence of an Egyptian myth on the video game medium. This myth has become a gaming archetype, and its implementation can be traced across all genres and generations of interactive entertainment.

The importance of acknowledging this archetype is that it often benefits the design and storytelling of the games it is implemented in. These benefits include a more directed player experience, a better cohesion of gameplay and narrative, and a heightened possibility of establishing a game's own mythology, i.e., a world the player identifies with and cares about.

The Benefits of Myth Writing

Video games and collecting things go hand in hand, and the Isis and Osiris archetype is an archetype about collecting. In the myth, Osiris, the supreme, benevolent Egyptian god and also the king of Egypt, is murdered by his brother Set -- who also just happens to the Egyptian god of supreme evil -- and Set usurps the throne.

Dismayed by Osiris's necrophilic ability to produce an heir after his death, Set cuts Osiris's corpse into many pieces and scatters them across Egypt. Isis, Osiris's loving wife (and also a fertility goddess) then begins her quest to retrieve these pieces. Upon her quest's completion, Osiris is resurrected, as he is also a god of resurrection and the afterlife. Osiris returns to aid in vanquishing Set and evil from the kingdom. Echoes of this myth can be heard not just in today's religions, but also in video games, where it could be argued that their influence resounds even more strongly.

The idea of gathering scattered pieces in order to rectify or avert some malevolence has permeated video game lore. A rudimentary example can be found in the "Rivet" board of Nintendo's arcade classic Donkey Kong. Here, we find Jumpman (or Mario, if you like) playing the archetypal role of Isis as he traverses the board, collecting the eight rivets which connect the girders.


Donkey Kong's "Rivet" board demonstrates a precocious knowledge of the Isis and Osiris archetype.

These rivets are the metaphorical pieces of Osiris's body, and upon their removal, the girders collapse, toppling Donkey Kong, who has taken on the role of Set in the scenario, and restoring tranquility to the construction site. This is comparable to Set's downfall, and the return of the rightful heir to Egypt after the pieces of Osiris's body had been reunited.

The benefits of the incorporated archetype are manifold. One, a more directed player experience is offered. On previous boards, players can choose less risky routes, but the necessity of collecting rivets directs the player through difficult paths while still allowing for freedom in how the player chooses to navigate the board. In this instance, the archetype assists in fundamental game design, enabling a balance to be struck between what a game requires of a player and how a player chooses to accomplish the requirement.

Two, there is a strong sense of cohesion between narrative and gameplay in Donkey Kong. The story is a direct consequence ofthe player's actions. Simply, the player collects the pieces, and Jumpman removes the rivets to defeat Donkey Kong. In broader words, as the player fulfills elements of the archetype, the archetype naturally imparts the narrative of the myth. An archetype can function as the intersection point of story and gameplay, a common ground which both sides are built upon. This concept can be expressed simply in a hypothetical syllogism:

Gameplay = Archetype.

Narrative = Archetype.

Therefore, Gameplay = Narrative.

The benefit of having unified gameplay and narrative is that the player becomes an active participant in the game's world rather than a passive observer of it, which leads to a more satisfactory experience.

Three, there is a heightened possibility of establishing a game's own mythology and creating a world that the player cares about. Archetypes have an underlying connection to the architecture of consciousness, and tend to strike a chord with people on a fundamental level. They convey unspoken and sometimes ineffable ideas. Requiring a player to complete an archetype can help the game connect with the player at the same fundamental level.

This connection gives players satisfaction beyond that of narrative simply overlaying gameplay. Donkey Kong's success ultimately lies not only in its fun gameplay nor in its pioneering narrative, but in how it melds these components into a game that is more than the sum of its parts.


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