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The Masks of the Dealer -- The Dealer as Shadow

The other archetype that the Dealer wears is that of the Shadow, more commonly known as villain or antagonist. While Vogler says many things about the Shadow archetype, the functions I want to focus on are those of opponent and foil to the player character (PC).

The Dealer as Opponent

If any word can define the role of an antagonist, it is opposition.

The function of the Shadow in drama is to challenge the hero and give her a worthy opponent in the struggle.

It’s only fitting that this is the function that the Dealer performs the most with his witty banter and playful trash talk. The mechanic of curses – powerful debuffs that, for example, make the PC weak to certain kinds of enemies and hazards – is what the Dealer primarily uses to psych the player out and make victory difficult. Apparently, it’s a tool he enjoys using:

Little pleases me more than watching you attempt to wriggle away from bad luck.

The rivalry grows serious as the game draws to a close. The gloves come off and the playfulness ends:

You face me now, for the ultimate prize. I offer no mercy.

The Dealer as Foil

Commonly, the Shadow acts as a foil to the protagonist. According to Vogler, “The Shadow may also be unexplored potential… The roads not taken, the possibilities of life that we eliminate by making choices at various stages.” Whatever the protagonist chose to become, the antagonist chose differently.

The same can be said of the Dealer and the PC. The Dealer does occasionally comment on their differences.

I always thought it best to avoid the problems of others. I see you have no such concerns.

Looking deeper, though, shows how stark the contrast between these two characters is. There are a number of vectors that we could look at, but I’ll stick to the fastest evidence.

The Dealer is a mage

The first moments of the game show that the Dealer is a mage, keeping cards afloat with his levitation magic. When he deals the cards before every run, he barely touches them, merely gesturing where they should go. The Dealer is proud of his magical prowess, and he repeatedly insists, “My powers are genuine.” Another (and less annoying) way he shows off his expertise is when he comments on the magical underpinnings of the gear you acquire, touching on how they work.

Increasing the effect of one sort of magic with another. All you need is a channel for power, and it’s simple enough.

Something else that the Dealer takes pride in is the act of creation.

Do you see now what I have built? How elegantly all the pieces fit?

This pride isn’t reserved for his own creations, though. It extends into an appreciation for others’ creations. For example, he says this when you first acquire the item Mage’s Gloves:

Look at the workmanship on these gloves. Truly the work of a master craftsman.

PC is a fighter

The game’s mechanics reinforce the fact that the PC is a fighter. The number and frequency of required combat encounters is proof enough. The most sophisticated gameplay systems are utilized in those encounters. The majority of the gear the player acquires influences combat. Going with a claim I presented in last month’s post – that these encounters are lifted from the PC’s memories – then it’s clear that the PC has led the violent life of a mercenary. The Dealer remarks on this penchant for violence and destruction.

You have destroyed something priceless, my friend. Do you ever wonder if your fell hand and the damage it causes are worthwhile?

Throughout the game, you’ll notice that the Dealer has very few positive things to say about the PC as a person. There’s only one admirable quality that he’ll point out: persistence.

You keep coming back. There is strength in that.

The Dealer Humanized

Vogler emphasizes that antagonists should be more than despicable villains.

Shadows need not be totally evil or wicked. In fact it’s better if they are humanized by a touch of goodness, or by some admirable quality.

Having your antagonist take off the Shadow mask to put on another one goes a long way to rounding them out. But Defiant Development also did something else that Vogler advises writers do for their villains.

Shadows can also be humanized by making them vulnerable.

As the player reaches the final levels and the game approaches its end, the Dealer’s demeanor shifts. This speech best displays what it shifts to:

It has finally come to this. I am tired. It has been too long. Yet life… Life will not let the candle be snuffed. I want to know what lies beyond that door. Yet I will not go easily.

The Dealer knows that the few bosses remaining are his last lines of defense. Though he’s determined to fight to the bitter end, the PC has forced him to come to terms with the fact that he will soon die. Where there was once witty banter, there are now melancholic musings.

We are all merely pieces upon the board. The circle repeats without end. Does the rook understand the oblivion that engulfs it when it is placed back in the box? Does the king understand that he truly rules over nothing?

So why is the Dealer vulnerable? Is the PC just that good? No. This game was deliberately designed to leave the Dealer vulnerable. The design left an opening for any player skilled enough to kill the Dealer and win.

I could have built this trap to be flawless. Yet I included the seeds of my own demise. I must. You must. This is the way the world turns.

The Dealer has other lines where he notes that he is as bound to the game’s rules as the PC and player are – rules which dictate that the game be balanced and beatable. Just like the best stories, the best games are ones where victory is possible but uncertain. And that uncertainty requires an enemy that has weaknesses for the player or protagonist to leverage in their favor.

Next month, I’ll wrap up this series with my conclusions about what the archetype masks of Mentor and Shadow say about the Dealer as a character and how this combination of archetypes forms the game’s narrative appeal. For now, let’s talk more about Shadows and antagonists in the comments. Who are some of your favorite antagonists? Why? How did the creators make them enjoyable for the audience? Have you seen other stories that had a Shadow mask that characters would take on and off?

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