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Article - 'The Pillars of Symbolism' by Mateui

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 8, 2003


Learn the methods of using symbolism in your RPG game to achieve the greatest results. Including many examples, Mateui teaches all, the way of the symbol.


Pillars of Symbolism
By: Mateui

“He was like a rock.”

Have you ever wondered how symbolism applies itself in novels and RPGs? Have you realized that the use of symbols is a fundamental aspect that improves the overall quality of story? No? Then what kind of person are you?! Definitely not a cool person by my standards. But then again, you do not want to know my standards are. Ok, I guess that I don’t like you and that you don’t like me. Even? Good. (Although I still like you all. No. Not in that way... *shudders*)

Back on topic. So what is symbolism anyway? I’ll explain for all you less quality-minded people. ;)

The Definition:
The definition of symbolism, or more accurately, symbolic, is this, according to Comptons Encyclopaedia, 1997 edition.

Symbolic: (sim balik)
1) Of or expressed in a symbol or symbols
2) That which serves as a symbol (of something)
3) Characterized by symbolism

Ok, know I know what you’re thinking... What is a symbol? Knowing that you don’t want too many details, and that another definition is uncalled for, I will try to keep it very simple. Here it goes, my definition of symbol:

“A representation of qualities, characteristics, emblems, and signs, by the use of animate, but mostly, inanimate objects.”

Ok. Good. Everyone understands. At least I hope so. If not, then I can’t help you. Maybe the dictionary can. Oh, I love the dictionary...

Where was I? Oh. I remember now! I was going to tell you how symbolism can be used in RPGs.

Use in RPGs:
I know that symbolism is mostly used in books, but I decided to include it in RPGs. Besides, RPGs are almost like books, and therefore would have the same elements included inside them.

It’s pretty hard to use symbolism in videogames as using the literary format would seem too obvious and annoying. Using the visual format is the better way to go. Crap! I forgot to explain those two terms. Silly, me.

Literary Format: Symbolism in the form of words.
Visual Format: Symbolism in the form of pictures and icons.

There we go! Everything is just right now. The reason why the visual format is better, is that it can compliment the foreshadowing used in your game. For example, say that you were foreshadowing that your main character was going to die because of his father. Now, you’re thinking, the player can figure this out quite easily. That’s right, but if you added some symbolism, then you’re definitely going to hide your tracks.

How? I’ll continue. The hero will be killed by his father at the end of the game. When the hero was little, his father used to beat him with an iron sword. Later, when the hero grows up, he leaves his village and goes on his quest. All is go in his life until, when in the weapons store, he sees an iron sword.

What will happen? Do you see the symbolic part yet? If not, I’ll continue.

Now, this hero sees the sword and he gets very weak. He remembers his father’s past actions through the use of the sword. The hero has dreams every night that he is being killed by the sword.

PAUSE! There is foreshadowing and symbolism in that last sentence. See it? No? I’ll explain it thoroughly now.

You see, the sword reminds the hero of his bad father, and soon every time he sees the sword, memories of his father resurface. Eventually, in the hero’s mind, his father is actually the sword. This is a symbol by use of characteristics, by the way.

The foreshadowing aspect, like I mentioned before, is that the hero will be killed by his father. See the connection?

Death = Sword
Sword = Father

What I’m saying is that if you think about it, death by the sword, is in fact, the same as death by the hero’s father. Would you be all to figure this out all by yourself in the midst of an action packed game? Most likely not. Foreshadowing, with symbolism is the best story combination you can have.
They work perfectly with each other.

Examples of Usage:
Symbolism, by far, is the hardest thing to write something that makes sense about it. See. Even that didn’t sound right. Instead of talking forever on every type of symbolic usage, I will give you some examples with commentary to help you get started making your own symbols.

1) “He was like a rock.”
So what does that mean? Ok. Look at the qualities of a rock. Hard, durable, strong, everlasting. If you mention that someone is like a rock, you are in fact, mentioning that they are durable, strong, etc. It is just easier to say that instead of mentioning all the specific qualities. Nevertheless, literary symbolism will sound awkward most of the times when used in RPGs.

2) “Like ice, she dissolved under the heat.”
What are the proprieties of ice? Hard, brittle, melting under high temperature, etc. Well, what does the sentence mean? People use heat sometimes as a synonym for pressure. For instance, she dissolved (lost her faithfulness) under pressure (peer pressure) just like ice dissolves under the heat. Smart eh?

3) “After she had died, a butterfly flew towards me.”
You may remember this from the movie: “Patch Adams.” A butterfly generally symbolizes one at heart, calmness, peace, and joy. A butterfly in this instance would show that the person who had died was now at peace, with joy.

Well, that was all I could think of at the moment. It’s really hard to create symbols right on the spot. It may take many minutes, even hours to just coming up with one good usage of symbolism. Having said that, I believe that it is finally time to say goodbye.

I finally got off my butt to write this article. (Wait! Wouldn’t it be that I got on my butt, to sit down on my chair, to write this article?) Whatever. As long as it got finished in time. I have to keep a schedule. Hopefully you have learned something from this article, or else this would have been written in vain.

One last quiz: Why is the article entitled “The Pillars of Symbolism”?

Just think. No! I’m not going to give you an answer. This is for your own good. It will help you in the future. Ok, I give up.

The Answer: Pillars symbolize rules, long standing, and are a support system. In this way my article has hopefully helped support your game. Wow, I always manage to pull something off like this every time.

So long!