Apprentice Wordsmith A Writer's Blog

The Masks of the Dealer -- The Dealer as Mentor

{Spoiler warning for the 2015 video game Hand of Fate}

In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler explains that the Mentor archetype “is expressed in all those characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts.” These are the Gandalfs, Obi-Wan Kenobis, and fairy godmothers of fictional worlds. Yet the Dealer also performs these functions.

The Dealer as Teacher

The clearest one to see is the function of teacher. This is the Dealer’s initial job when the game begins. As new mechanics are added, he’ll explain them when they become relevant. Yet it’d be wrong to say that it is only expressed in such early prompts as “Press X to attack.” He offers advice beyond mere explanation of controls and systems.

Starvation begins to set in. Try to stay calm – fear will only hasten your demise.

Starvation isn’t immediately fatal, but the player character (PC) loses health with each move. The cards willing, the player has time to gain food and remedy the situation. So the reminder to not panic is a welcome one.

Like any teacher, the Dealer wants the player to improve. This sentiment is clearest when he voices disappointment whenever the player fails a run:

Again you lose. I thought you would do better than this.

The Dealer as Protector?

The next function Vogler names is that of protector. Yet who could the Dealer be protecting the player from? Himself? Wouldn’t that contradict his role as opponent? It would. That’s why you can argue that the Dealer doesn’t perform this Mentor function. Yet he says this after the player beats the game’s third boss:

Previously I had been merciful, but now I cannot be.

Restraint can be interpreted as a form of protection. It allowed the player to learn in relative safety. Of course, as the player moves on to the fourth level, the Dealer now believes you’re comfortable and skilled enough to play the game in earnest.

The Dealer as Gift-Giver

This is the Mentor function that the Dealer consistently performs. As the player progresses through the levels and completes certain challenges, he’ll award tokens which are later used to unlock new cards. The biggest prizes, however, come after defeating every third boss.

Now we play for the Cup, the first of my Symbols.

These Symbols are a set of four treasures – the Cup, Scepter, Pentacle, and Dagger – that grant the player significant boons.

Vogler mentions that not all gifts are items that the Mentor just so happened to have in their possession. There are Mentors “whose gifts are [their] devices, designs, or inventions.” The Dealer fits into this category of Mentors because he claims that the cards we both handle are his creations.

Each of these cards is crafted from your memories, and built from your experience. I created them, but only in the abstract. It is the importance you place on them that makes them real.

A point that Vogler stresses is that these gifts should be earned.

The gift or help of the [Mentor] should be earned by learning, sacrifice, or commitment.

As I mentioned earlier, the player does earn the Dealer’s gifts, though not through the methods Vogler lists. The player earns them by besting the Dealer and his underlings. This was the deal that was struck between the PC and the Dealer at the beginning.

I honor our deal. You win, and you gain reward. Even though I now work against myself.

While most Mentors’ gifts are beneficial, the Dealer’s gifts are (more often than not) a double-edged sword. The Symbols give the player significant advantages, but they also strengthen the enemies. The Dealer justifies this by evoking the concept of balance:

You may claim your rewards, yet I will also claim mine. As you improve, so do I. Balance must be retained.

As the game nears its end, the Dealer feels the sting of losing these treasures. For example, he says this about the Dagger as he deals out the cards for the penultimate dungeon:

Can you take it from me? Even if you can, could you turn it against me? I who know its every mystery? I think not.

The Dealer doesn’t want to give it up, nor does he want the player to use it against him. But by this point, it is the only prize he can offer apart from his own life.

The Dealer as a Former Hero

Vogler notes one more feature of many Mentors. They were once heroes themselves.

They have been down the Road of Heroes one or more times, and they have acquired knowledge and skill which can be passed on.

This isn’t necessarily true of all Mentors, yet the Dealer does fit into this category. Our first clue is that the game has existed for a long time. It did not begin with the Dealer.

I am not the first to deal the cards. Nor are you the first to play. I do not expect we will be the last.

The next clue is how he talks about the Symbols. Take this line about the Pentacle:

I won this Pentacle longer ago that you can imagine.

The verb “won” implies that the Pentacle (and perhaps all of the Symbols) became the Dealer’s as the result of a bet, contest, or game. Like how these same Symbols come into the player’s possession. If that is the case, then someone owned these Symbols before the Dealer did. He had to win them from somebody. A bit of (what I can only assume is) cut dialogue, preserved in the game’s subtitles, confirms this is true (or was true at some point in the story’s development). This is what appears after the player wins the Pentacle:

I remember when I won the Pentacle from my foe. Very few indeed have held it since. Certainly none as brutal as yourself.

This line proves that the Dealer doesn’t just remember winning these Symbols. He remembers the person he beat in order to claim them.

Next time, I’ll analyze the Dealer’s role as Shadow and how he fulfills Vogler’s definition of antagonist. In the meantime, let’s talk more about Mentors in the comments. Who are your favorite Mentor characters? Do they perform the same functions as the Dealer? How?

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