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Article - 'Literary Devices in RPGs' by Mateui

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 10, 2004

Blurb

The article briefly outlines such things as: Parody, Allusion, Epic, and Theme/Symbol.

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LITERARY DEVICES IN RPG

Literary devices are things we use in our writing to solidify our plot, or make our stories more relevant and enjoyable. In this article I will be covering four literary devices that are important to developing an RPG. The devices that I cover in this article are Parody, Allusion, Epic, and Theme/Symbol. Enjoy!

PARODY
A parody is a humorous allusion to a work of any media. The American Heritage dictionary describes parody as “A satirical imitation as of a literary work.” So, basically, if a movie, song, book, game, or whatever makes a humorous (or critical) imitation of another movie, song, etc… then a parody has been made.
Parody is a device used mostly for humor. If you are making a serious, epic adventure style RPG, then you should probably reconsider using parody in your game. You should strive for an environment in which your player feels immersed in the game; as if he or she is actually a part of it and not just a spectator to the event. When you use parody, it creates a connection to the real world outside your game and that feeling of immersion is lost.
If, however, you are making a comedy style RPG, then parody can be utilized to make some very funny scenes. Although there are times in comedy games where parody is appropriate, it is still important to stop and think about what kind of game you’re making. For example, if your game is set in feudal Europe, and most of the jokes so far have been related to the time period, it would be all right to do a parody of something like the Arthurian Legends, but a parody of Huxley’s Brave New World would be out of place. If you take the same setting, and create a consistent pace of jokes about modern times, then it would be all right to make Parodies of modern Media. Consistency is paramount in any game situation.
If you are going to use parody in your game, then it is absolutely vital that your parody is borrowing from a source that many people are familiar with. If you want to make a parody of The Limits of Power by Kolko, that’s fine, but has anyone besides you read that? You might want to choose something that everyone is familiar with, like the movie Titanic. Everyone has seen Titanic and if they haven’t seen the movie, then they at least know the story. Before adding a parody into the script of your game, ask yourself some questions; will the players of my game be familiar with this book? No? Are there any similar books that more people will know? Your parody will have the greatest effect if your audience is familiar with the origin of the parody.

ALLUSION
Allusion, commonly known as “Literary Allusion,” Is similar to parody, in that it makes a reference to a known work of any media. Allusion, unlike parody, doesn’t directly copy the work; it simply makes a reference to it. For example, if a character in your game says the following:
Girl: “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at home [Tara]. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
It would be a parody, as the quote is taken directly from the text and changed to fit the context of the game. However, if the character says:
Girl: “Like Scarlet O’Hara, I will live another day.”
It would be a direct allusion to Gone With the Wind.

Allusion is best used to make difficult or elusive concepts, motives, or actions clearer to the reader. (Or, in this case, gamer) Basically, allusions are put in to describe something that plain words can’t. Allusions can be made from outside books, movies, or songs, or even from events that occurred earlier in the game. In order for an allusion to serve its purpose, it must be made from a source that is familiar to the audience. Just like in parody, if an allusion is made to an obscure source, then the player will be left in the dark. Like with parody, allusions need to be used in ways that make sense in the game. Don’t make a reference to the Green Bay Packers in a game about an evil warlock who has captured a princess. (This isn’t an article about cliché, so shush you.) A reference like this will draw the player out of your game and back into the real world.


EPIC
Epic is a device that is often partly used in RPG’s, but that is rarely recognized for what it is. Many RPG’s use some parts of the epic device, but rarely follow all of them. The characteristics of an epic are as follows.
1.The main character, hero, protagonist, or whatever in an epic is heroically larger than life. He is often the subject of legend or a national hero.
This is where many RPG’s branch out from true epic form. The protagonist in amateur RPG’s is often an ordinary character to begin with, and then becomes an epic hero. In a true epic, the hero already has a glorified past.
2.The deeds of the hero are presented without favoritism, showing his weaknesses and failings along with his success and strengths.
3.The action of the story, (often occurring in battle) display’s the hero’s superhuman strength.
4. The setting of an epic covers several nations, the whole world, or even the universe. A common theme in epics is a journey to the underworld made by the hero.
5. Although the stories may be fictional, they provide some explanation for the circumstances of a modern nation or people. This characteristic of epic is rarely used in RPG’s because many of them take place in worlds that are very different from the modern earth. Most RPG’s take place over several continents that bear no parallel to the continents we know today.
6.The gods of the world have direct influence over the outcome of the events. This characteristic is used in some RPG’s and not in others. Whether or not this is used usually depends on plot necessity and storyline.
7. All of the various adventures form one whole. In other words, all of the things that happen in the story are related to one central plot.

Naturally, there are very few RPG’s out there that follow all of these conventions. (I would actually like to see a game that included all of these characteristics…)
Anyway, There are a few more qualities that epics share that are a bit more specific.
1. Most Hellenic epics, along with Roman ones, begin with an invocation to the Muse. This is basically asking the deity of inspiration for help in telling such a long story. This makes sense, considering that, during that time period, stories such as
The Aeneid and The Odyssey were passed along by oral tradition. (Can you imagine having to sit through the ENTIRE Odyssey? SHEESH!)
2. Many epics make histories out of EVERYTHING. Such as who made a sword and shield, and who owned it before it was passed to the brother of the son of the king blah, blah, and blah.
3. Catalogs were made of how many men went into battle, who was on the ship, how many sheep were sacrificed, who was on the opposing side, etc…
4. Long and formal speeches are often made by important characters (Speech, Bilbo! Speech!)
5. The frequent use of Patronymics, or the calling of a son by the father’s name.

Epic is a great device to use in RPG’s if it is used properly. The epic RPG can
Take the player to many parts of the world and give the game’s developer the opportunity to create many unique events and personalities for his/her game. Many epics describe great and wonderful settings and wildly varied characters. If you are going to use epic, then your game should have those too. (And what epic is complete without an enormous battle ;D)

THEME/SYMBOL
I included theme and symbol together because they play off of one another and make each other more prominent. The theme of the game is its driving force, or its overall message. If your game hasn’t got a theme, then you seriously need to re-think your plot and storyline. A theme is what holds the story together and keeps the plot moving in one direction. Examples of common themes are Good Versus Evil, (again, the anti-cliché articles beckon…) Love, Personal Struggle, Government Conspiracies, and the list goes on. Symbols are what demonstrate your theme and make it more concrete in your game. For example, if the theme of your game is good versus evil, then the symbols of your game might be the hero’s sword and the villain’s dagger. Both are similar, yet they represent opposite parts of your theme. The sword could represent justice, which would make it the embodiment of the hero, whereas the dagger could represent evil, which would give it a connection to the villain.
When choosing the objects or people to be your symbols, think about what sub-conscious connotations are made about that item. Like in the example with the sword and the dagger. The sword can easily be recognized as a slayer of evil, whereas we have been engendered to believe that the dagger is a weapon of betrayal. (He stabbed me in the back!) When choosing an object for a symbol, think about what you know about that object. Is a dove a good symbol to use to represent a fierce warrior? What kinds of things are associated with warriors, and do those match the things that are associated with doves? Maybe another type of bird would be more suitable for a warrior… A falcon perhaps? By asking these questions, picking out symbols can be pretty easy. If you’re going to use symbols in your game, be absolutely sure that it creates a concrete connection with the theme.

I hope these literary devices help you in making a better RPG. If you use them properly, you should at least produce something that has a quality script. I need to go now, my little sister wants to play the “Little Mermaid Computer Adventure” and I’m being a “big meanie-head for hogging the computer” so I’m out.

P.S. Look for more Literary Devices Articles to come in the near future… Unless, of course, this article doesn’t even get posted, in which case I’ll be hopelessly downtrodden and go on to writing pulp fiction or something…

I hope this helps,
Me

This is the end of my first article! Hooray!