9.2. The Hero’s Journey

Hero's Journey

A mythology expert named Joseph Campbell spent a lot of his time studying myths, legends, and hero stories, and finding the similarities and differences between them. He found that most myths follow a common structure, which he called the Monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. It is a specific kind of story and therefore more specific than McKee’s story description. Not every video game tells the story of a heroic journey, but it is such a common theme that it is important to understand.

The Monomyth consists of three main stages and 17 common events. In the initial stage of the myth, the hero is living as a commoner in the regular world who encounters the supernatural and is called to go on an adventure. In the second stage, the hero goes through challenges to win some reward. In the final stage, the hero is returned to the ordinary world bringing back some supernatural power of gift.

Those who are in the business of telling new stories have found that his work helps explain what makes for a satisfying heroic tale. George Lucas cited the work as a specific inspiration for Star Wars. A screen writer named Cristopher Vogler updated and streamlined the events in the Hero’s Journey and came up with this list:

  1. The Ordinary World- the hero is seen in his/her everyday life
  2. The Call to Adventure- the initiating incident of the story
  3. Refusal of the Call- the hero experiences some hesitation to answer the call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor- the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence needed to commence the adventure
  5. Crossing the First Threshold- the hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure
  6. Tests, Allies and Enemies- the hero explores the special world, faces trial, and makes friends and enemies
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave- the hero nears the center of the story and the special world
  8. The Ordeal- the hero faces the greatest challenge yet and experiences death and rebirth
  9. Reward- the hero experiences the consequences of surviving death
  10. The Road Back- the hero returns to the ordinary world or continues to an ultimate destination
  11. The Resurrection- the hero experiences a final moment of death and rebirth so they are pure when they reenter the ordinary world
  12. Return with the Elixir- the hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world

Below, you can watch him explain The Matrix in terms of this structure:

Materials on this page adapted from:
Game Design Concepts by Ian Schreiber (CC BY-NC 3.0)