The Seven Basic Plots – Overcoming the Monster


Today we’ll return to the topic of basic plot structures in games, begun last week in this post. On the table this week is the “overcoming the monster” archetype. In these stories, the protagonist or hero (the player’s character) learns of a great, soon to be all-powerful and all-evil monster/being/organization, and sets out to destroy it before it is too late. There are countless examples of this strewn throughout gaming across many different genres, but it is an absolute staple in the Role-Playing and Adventure genres. One of the oldest-running, most popular, and most successful examples of this is Blizzard’s Diablo series of games. These action/adventure/role-playing/hack-and-slash/dungeon-crawling games take place on the three planes of Earth, Heaven, and Hell, and pit the player against the lord of evil himself – Diablo. Throughout the games’ stories, the player journeys through shattered crypts, barren fields, frightful caves, ghastly swamps, and many more environments, gradually growing in power and taking out Diablo’s legions and their commanders, all culminating in a final, last-second battle against Diablo to determine the fate of all humankind.

With such a simple story structure, you may think gamers would hunger for change – but it seems the opposite is true. The original Diablo opened the series with sales numbers over $100 million back in 1996, and sales basically doubled for each of the next installments. While the context behind each is slightly different (Diablo is killed in each game, after all), the basic structure is identical in each. The reason it continues bringing people back, and in even greater numbers than before, is more or less the opposite of last week’s “rags to riches” – sometimes, people just need an escape from reality. We all have our own “monsters,” some “evil” in our life we hunger to defeat, be it an actual evil like an oppressive government or an abusive boss/parent/significant other, or a more personal thing, like overcoming an addiction, or something far more simple like the test you’ve been studying all week for. Diablo, and games like it, not only offer an escape from reality and the stresses of daily life, allowing the player to don the mantle of a legendary hero, they offer an outlet. Even if it may be on a subconscious level, vanquishing Diablo helps to satisfy a desire, stifle a nagging need, relieve the pressure of a relentless shadow – to defeat the “monster” in our lives.

While again, the gameplay aside from the story helped in the success of this series – even spawning many copycats throughout the years – it is never a surprise that games falling into this story archetype find success, many even primarily due to story.


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