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Article - 'Symbolism in YOUR Game' by Guest

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004


TDZ takes a gander at good old symbolism, and how to apply it to YOUR game (hence the capitals for YOUR!)


Symbolism in YOUR Game

Hey hey, the Drunken Zombie again. I don’t know what number article this is, so, I won’t tell you what number it is.

Firstly, I would like to thank Loki for the idea for this article. He inspired me to write it, so thanks Loki.

As you may have noticed, this article is about creating effective symbolism in your game. I have seen many RPGs take stabs at this concept, but none particularly effective. So, I’m here to lecture you about what it is and why you should employ it.

Symbolism, as defined by is:

“The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships.”

There are actually four other definitions for symbolism, but this most accurately describes what I will be talking about.

I’d first like to refer you to the movie the Matrix. In the beginning of the movie, the hero Thomas Anderson (or Neo, however you like) receives a message on his computer. It instructs him to ‘follow the white rabbit’. The white rabbit is a character from the tale ‘Alice in Wonderland’, in which Alice follows the rabbit into its’ hole.

Now, you may consider this just random rubbish. However, if you delve deeper into the meaning, you’ll realize that the white rabbit represents a small life preserver, if you will, while the hole is the tunnel into the unknown. Alice doesn’t know what’s in the hole, but she ventures in anyway.

Both the white rabbit and the hole are symbols to a deeper meaning.

Now, back to our Matrix example. When Morpheus meets Neo, Morpheus offers him a choice between two pills, the red and blue pills. Red to continue knowing the truth about the Matrix, or the blue pill to continue living in blissful ignorance.

There is actually reason behind the two pill colors. The red pill, the one to continue fighting the machines, is red because red is often viewed as a symbol of harsh wrath, being the color of blood and whatnot. Blue, the blissful ignorance pill, is commonly viewed as a calm color, such as a placid lake on a nice summer day.

The pills are also symbolism.

Now that you know what symbolism is and some of the applications of it, I can continue our lesson. And you can continue listening. Lucky you.
Symbolism can make any RPG that much more interesting. For interesting plot ideas, try thinking up a symbol. For now, uh, we’ll use this: <>. A diamond shape, for those of you that analyze too much.

Say, one day, the hero wakes up with a diamond symbol tattooed to his left breast. (The side with the heart, I think it’s the left.) He recalls not how he got it, but nonetheless, it’s there. So, sometime later, when the hero has all but forgotten about the tattoo, a huge diamond appears in the sky made out of stars. It’s identical to what the hero has tattooed.

Okay, so that’s probably not the best way to utilize symbolism. But what I’m trying to portray is that using symbolism can often make your game deeper. I cannot remember where I heard this, but I recall from the game FF7, Sephiroth is searching for the Promised Land, yes? Well, I seem to recall that I read somewhere there was an old legend of a man named Sepirot (or something) that was on a desperate quest to find heaven.

That’s not exactly symbolism either, but it demonstrates my point of making games deeper than they appear. Remember, if your game can be played on another level by people with much more analytical minds, your game is likely to be that much more interesting and fun to play.

Symbolism can also be an excellent way to steer the player in the right direction without bluntly stating that the player ‘Go to the evil castle and kill what’s-his-face’. If you, say, used the example from the above, (the diamond <> thingie) you could have an identical diamond above the door to said castle. Then, the player would assume he has to fight his way up and do whatever is at the top.

And now it’s time for my (you guessed it) Final Thought


Symbolism is a fun and excellent way to add deeper meaning to your game. Symbolism can also be a good way to send the player in the right direction. More intelligent players may be able to decipher ‘secret’ meanings from your game, such as the red and blue pills from the Matrix. This may give your game another tone, even if it’s only on the player’s subconscious level.

Hopefully you got some use out of this article, so this is the Drunken Zombie saying
“If your parents never had children, chances are you won't, either.”