Tag Archives: The Hero’s Journey

The Mythics of Mega Man

I cut my teeth on the Mega Man series of video games. Legendary for their difficulty, mastery of the games comes from getting a handle on their mechanics and memorizing stage layouts and the patterns of boss fights. They’re tough, and oh I love them so. Getting through each stage is such a magnificent moment of catharsis; and the good entries in the series are so well designed that victory isn’t because of a lucky break but from actually skill.

They’re also fantastic examples of some elements of the Hero’s Journey.

All stories follow specific beats; there will be a moment when the hero is chosen, the hero will be tested, the hero will face a (maybe metaphorical) death. They’re vague moments, but appear in everything from adventure stories to a romcom. Call it structure, call it motifs, these elements are a part of stories.

And, like I said, video games. The structure of Mega Man, at its most basic, is the same throughout all entries in the Classic series. The hero, Mega Man, shows up in a place, fights eight Robot Masters, then lays siege to Wiley’s Castle which inevitably includes a rematch with all those prior Robot Masters before fighting Wiley himself. The X series is essentially the same, just swap Mega Man out with X or Zero, Robot Masters with Mavericks, and Dr. Wiley with Sigma. The actual ‘stories’ depend on the game, from the very barebones of Mega Man 2 to the much more grandiose Mega Man X5, but that structure remains essentially the same.

Two of the games’ trademarks are being able to tackle the stages/bosses in any order and getting a bosses’ ability upon defeating them, which in turn is the weakness of another boss. The weapon you get from defeating Magma Dragoon in Mega Man X4 does a chunk of damage to Frost Walrus. It’s like rock-paper-scissors, but with spiffy robot weapons.

A vital part of the Hero’s Journey, as emphasized by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, is the Threshold Guardian. The idea is that every time a hero moves forward into a new space, there is someone guarding the way. To meet Old Ben, Luke Skywalker must first confront the Tusken Raiders. Lara Jean has to talk to Lucas about the letter she wrote him. In many situations, the hero will assimilate attributes of the encounter into themselves. The run in with the Tusken Raiders brings Luke closer to Ben. Talking with Lucas gives Lara Jean a new ally in her quest to restore some normalcy to the chaos that her life has become.

In Mega Man? The hero gets an ability from the boss which is then useful against another boss. In other words, Mega Man’s fight against a Robot Master makes him stronger and more able to take on the next challenge. It’s a learning curve too for you, the player; just because you’ve a boss’ weakness doesn’t mean the fight will be a walk in the park. But by the time the big rematch happens in Wiley/Sigma’s castle, going through all eight fights again will be a comparative breeze because not only is Mega Man stronger, but you’ve overcome a series of challenges to get to this point, enough challenges that fighting these guys again isn’t all that hard anymore. You’ve figured out their weaknesses and have mastered the techniques needed to dodge their attacks. And now you’re ready for the Final Boss, who you will inevitably lose to several times before finally, finally, emerging victorious.

The narrative of the game would hardly work near as well without those bosses. Going straight to the final castle and all the dangers that lurk within would not just be ridiculously difficult, but would also be too much too soon. As a player, you relish that feeling of accomplishment that comes from getting better and being able to take on harder challenge. Story-wise, even if the story is as barebones as some of the Mega Man games, there’s that need for a rising action (as Freytag paced is out. Beginning slow makes the final climax all the more exciting.

The Mega Man games are, in my opinion, definitely worthy of being among the canon of video games. They’re exemplary platformers, but also present a particularly fun twist to their gameplay via a probably-subconscious application of mythic structure. If you care for that, anyway; I won’t judge you for just really enjoying the games.

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The (Lego) Hero’s Journey, Part Two

It’s been a few weeks since The LEGO Movie came out and proved that everything was indeed awesome. As I said I would before it came out, I’m going to break down The LEGO Movie with The Hero’s Journey.

But wait.

Two things you gotta do before you read on. First; read that blog post. I’m not gonna bother explaining The Hero’s Journey again. Second: watch the movie. Seriously. It’s a great movie in the first place and, equally importantly, I’m going to ruin the film’s big, magical twist. And I don’t use that word lightly.

And in case you missed it:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. GO WATCH THE MOVIE THEN COME BACK AND READ THIS.

 

That clear? Alright. Here we go.

(I’ll be more or less using TV Tropes’ outline here; with splashes of others. Do note, some of the pieces can be juggled around, as they are in this film.)

The LEGO Movie opens with Lord Business defeating Vitruvius and getting the Kragle, at which point Vitruvius makes a prophecy about The Special stating that the Special will, be, well special. That’s step one.

Then we see Emmet, our protagonist, living out his normal, dull, life. His life is boring and routine. This is Thomas Anderson going to work in The Matrix, this is Luke on the farm.

Emmet’s normal world comes crumbling down when, after work, he falls down a hole and finds the Piece of Resistance. Like Thomas Anderson/Neo before him, Emmet then finds himself a captive of the bad guys only to be shortly freed by someone else. This is his Call to Adventure, something he resists at first.

Then Emmet must cross the first threshold, in this case being when he and Wyldstyle break out of Bricksburg into the Wild West pursued by Bad Cop. In Star Wars this is when the Falcon leaves Tatooine pursued by storm troopers. Alternately, look at when Neo leaves the Matrix for the first time. Emmet’s life has changed for good. The following chunk (and next few beats) are part of the Road of Trials, where Emmet is tested and really yanked out of the world. Think Neo’s training with Morpheus, where he finds that he knows Kung Fu.

Emmet meets the mentor, Vitruvius, here; a vital part in any hero’s journey. Like Obi Wan to Luke and Morpheus to Neo, and Dumbledore to Harry; this character aids the hero on his journey and urges him on. As Vitruvius does.

Next up is the Land of Adventure, which TV Tropes describes as “a strange, dreamlike realm, where logic is topsy-turvy and the “rules” are markedly different from the ordinary world.” In other words: Cloud Cuckoo Land. Here Emmet is developed and the set up laid for his Night Sea Voyage.

Which, courtesy of the attack on Cloud Cuckoo Land and a hastily built sub, actually takes place at sea. Now, this Night Sea Voyage marks the end of the Road of Trials and when the Hero mounts an attack on the enemy stronghold. In The Matrix this is Neo and Trinity rescuing Morpheus; in Star Wars this is saving Leia. For The LEGO Movie this means stealing a hyperdrive and getting to the Kragle.

Alright folks. I’m getting into the real spoiler bit. If you haven’t seen the film yet, bail now!

 

An optional part of the monomyth (Joseph Campbell would argue it was essential) is the hero’s Death and Resurrection. This messianic tropes is on full display in The Matrix with Neo, and in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. To my surprise and immense pleasure, The LEGO Movie throws it in. Emmet sacrifices himself to save the Master Builders. Basically, he dies. The proceedings in the ‘real’ world with Finn and his Dad (about which I could write a whole ‘nother rant essay on the way it doesn’t feel jarring because of how it masterfully works in the themes, but I digress) leads to Emmet’s resurrection. Like Neo, Emmet can overcome death and return to his world.

And returns he does in what’s dubbed the Apotheosis. Ever trusty TV Tropes defines this thusly: “The Hero comes to view the world in a new and radically different way, either because of a critical breakthrough he’s made or some crucial information he’s uncovered.” Where Neo can fly and defeat Agent Smith, Emmet can harness the full powers of a Master Builder (his Ultimate Boon), creating a construction mech and charging through Micro Managers and back to Lord Business’ command brick, in order to have his Fight Against the Big Bad.

With Lord Business redeemed, Emmet makes his Return to Bricksburg, changed and, well, special.

 

So there you have it, a fairly in-depth (but not as much as it could be) look at The LEGO Movie through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth as defined by TV Tropes (and myself). It’s a beautiful structure which, honestly, I haven’t seen pulled off this magnificently since The Matrix.

Seriously folks, this movie is awesome.

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The (Lego) Hero’s Journey, Part One

I had the pleasure of attending an advance screening of The LEGO Movie on Thursday at my university. Now, you have to realize, I’ve been into Legos as long as I can remember, have a couple models on my desk, and have been making Lego movies in one form or another since I was ten.

In a nutshell: The LEGO Movie is fantastic. It’s beautifully animated, superbly cast, downright hilarious, and has a great plot. Now, the plot’s not anything groundbreaking, in fact it follows John Campbell’s monomyth to a tee.

Wait. The LEGO Movie makes use of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

Yes.

First, it serves to outline what exactly The Hero’s Journey is. Joseph Campbell postulated that myths and legends from around the world followed a similar structure. One where “a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (Campbell). Translated, it’s a mythic arc that stems from a lot of ancient myths. It’s also been used in more modern media; George Lucas consciously set out to create a myth when he created Star Wars. The Wachowskis used it in The Matrix and thatgamecompany followed in closely enough in Journey that much of the soundtrack’s titles match individual steps of the monomyth.

With that, it bears mentioning that Campbell’s monomyth is hardly the only structure out there and a quick google search brings up several different takes on it. My favorite is the one on, go figure, TV Tropes, mostly because theirs allows for some leeway in the steps and rearrangements.

Now, this is hardly new. I’ve mentioned before how Aristotle talked about this in his Poetics and also how formulas exist for a reason. It’s also not bad. To do something like this doesn’t so necessarily mean a laziness of storytelling so much as, when executed well, displaying a mastery of it.

So how does this work with The LEGO Movie? The film adopts the monomyth and puts it to use for its story. All the key players are there: we have the very normal Emmet who wants very little to do with adventure until along comes Wyldstyle, who drags him out of normalcy and gives him the Call to Adventure. There’s the evil President Business with his right hand minifig Bad Cop. Vitruvius is the Obi Wan to Emmet’s Luke, with Batman (yes, the Batman), Uni-Kitty, and Benny the 1980-something Space Guy filling out the rest of the team.

But then, those are the characters, what about the plot?

Emmet is an ordinary minifig, one who receives his Call To Action to leave his town and help save the world. After his initial Refusal of the Call he must Cross the First Threshold, meet The Mentor, enter the Land of Adventure, and, well I’d love to say more but the movie’s not out ‘till this coming Friday and I really don’t want to spoil the movie. There’s a second rant essay coming a couple weeks after it’s released where I’ll break down the plot proper.

Is this post then just a big introduction? Sort of. But I will tell you this: The LEGO Movie is a magnificent piece of storytelling that you should really go see. There’s an earnestness to it seldom seen these days that makes it pure joy to watch. Plus, it really puts The Hero’s Journey to work, lending it an instantly classical feel that adds to it’s very, well, Lego-y feeling.

Go watch it when it comes out, then come back here in a few weeks for my monomythical breakdown.

Get it, because it’s Lego? And I’m breaking it down?

…I’ll see myself out.

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