The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling game based on Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, combined with a visual card system based on the Tarot. Players are introduced to the theories and metaphors within both systems and it is the objective of the game for the players to retain this knowledge through a fun and enjoyable experience.
What started off as an interest in fantasy and stories evolved into a fascination with the human psyche, psychoanalysis and the role of Myths in spiritual guidance. Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, was the starting point to the conception of the game. Campbell explains in his book that all myths, stories from both folklore and religion, are based on the same ideas and objectives of aiding the human mind in understanding the life and the cosmos. They are stemmed from the human imagination trying to explain the unknown and invisible plane supporting us and to supply clues to the spiritual possibilities of life. Essentially, people undergo the same spiritual phases in life, and through identifying oneself with the Hero within, myths can act as guides through difficult times. Thus, he argues that the similarities in the human psyche is the main reason why most myths follow a pattern, known in the Monomyth as the 17 phases.
The concept of The Hero’s Journey is based on this pattern. with individual creativity and storytelling as the core mechanic to work with. While telling a shared story with others, players will find that they can empathize with their Hero. The guidance from the phases enables the story to be steered in a direction that everyone can understand and identify with. This shared state of mind is what makes myths so fascinating, enabling people to see themselves in a fantasy world as the Hero themselves. It is thus possible for players to create a fully fleshed-out story with the potential to be used in the various creative fields.
Yet, creating a story simply based on words was a challenge, impossible for the untrained. It was necessary to include a secondary system with a visual system that also worked as a spiritual guide. The Tarot was thus chosen with its cards’ vast amount of visual metaphors and potential for multiple meanings, which I felt was needed in storytelling. The Major Arcana, considered a journey through life itself, was to be matched and replaced by the 17 phases of the Monomyth, while the Minor Arcana was to remain as plot devices for the myths.
With a concept based on myths and extending to religion, it became apparent that the necessity to link the visual language to an intangible idea was going to be a challenge. In addition, due to the universal nature of the Monomyth, it was impossible to simply concentrate on individual cultures. The initial focus on South East Asian myths was thus discarded, and a broader net was cast.
The solution came in the form of geometric shapes and primary colors, heavily influenced by Malevich’s Suprematist ideas on spiritual art. The square and circle are both shapes deemed man-made, impossible to find in nature, and thus represent the human mind. Furthermore, several cultures and religions have regarded the combination of a circle enclosed by a square as the Mandala, a spiritual and ritual symbol representing the Universe. This fit nicely into the theme of a universal myth dealing with the human psyche and its interaction with the cosmos. A geometric grid system was first established with the Mandala as a center, and was to be used in all deliverable products. The cards, board, packaging, manual and glossary all feature the grid in one way or another, as featured below.
The use of colors was deeply considered prior to the completion of the cards. Black was the primordial color, and hence was most appropriate for the project. However, the primary colors (and green) became necessary to compliment the four suits of the Tarot. Hence, color was put into use with player interaction in mind. The packaging and board back was to be black, while everything else within was to be brightly colored, creating contrast. This also reflects the creation process, from the nothingness of the primordial state of black into a world of color and joy, represented by the board and cards.
These considerations, however, felt incomplete due to the massive nature of the theme. In order to further express the universality of the Monomyth, I considered the inclusion of multiple cultures representative of the World as a whole. The visual information on the cards were therefore split into Eastern in the Major Arcana, Western in the Minor Court Arcana, and everyday life for the Minor Numbered Arcana. The colors from the traditional South East Asian art of batik was used within the cards and the board. Red to represent Wands, which is of the Fire nature. Blue to represent Cups, which is of the Water nature. Yellow to represent Swords, which is of the Air nature. Green to represent Earth, which is of the Earth nature. This differentiation within the suits allow quick recognition of the suits the cards represent.
Finally, the use of the Mandala was a tribute to the Indian culture. Further explored was the concept of worship in Indian temples, where the layout follows the Mandala. Worship takes place in a clockwise manner aroudn the temple, with stories being through sculptures and carvings on the walls. Hence, the board is a reflection of this process, where player counters circle around the 17 phases depicted within the circle sections. The packaging further features the four doors of the mandala facing the four cardinal directions.
It is possible to further this project by creating a digital version of the game, so that gameplay can take place online, across countries and cultures. It would be exciting to see different cultures create a story together, just to find out that everyone has roughly the same ideas on how myths ought to be. The different cultures will still come into play for the details, making the story so much more interesting. One major drawback of the analog version of the game would be the long amount of time required to finish the game, and can be easily solved in the digital version where game play can be saved and continued in another time. Even more exciting is the ability to “turn back time” and return to a previous phase to retell the story, creating another version of the same story. This ability could easily allow writers to create multiple scenarios to obtain the perfect plot for their creation process.
On hindsight, the concept of the Monomyth was a great source of inspiration, not just for this project, but also for my own journey in understanding the human mind. Myths have and will always play a big part in human life, and I felt that this project was a great opportunity to spread interest in myths through a structured system, instead of the often mind-boggling mess of narratives offered in traditional myths. A greater understanding of the self can be taught through the Monomyth and the ideas of Joseph Campbell, and this game offers this information at a easier and more comfortable level.