The Masks of the Dealer -- What Does It Mean?13 Sep 2019
In July and August’s posts, I showed how the Dealer from Hand of Fate fit both of the archetypes of Mentor and Shadow that are defined by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey. But what does all of that mean? What kind of character has Defiant Development created by combining these two archetypes? I think that this combination is at the core of the game’s narrative appeal. Why is that? These are questions that I’ll answer in the final post of this series.
Let’s start by looking at what the Mentor and Shadow archetypes represent. Vogler asserts that Mentors “stand for the hero’s highest aspirations. They are what the hero may become if she persists on the Road of Heroes.” They are the embodiment of everything we wish to become.
In contrast, the Shadow is a reflection of our negative potential – a conglomerate of all the aspects of ourselves that we reject or suppress.
Villains can be looked at as the hero’s Shadow in human form. No matter how alien the villain’s values, in some way they are the dark reflection of the hero’s own desires, magnified and distorted, her greatest fears come to life.
So what happens when a character possesses a contradictory combination of meanings? When the character simultaneously represents everything we wish to become and everything we reject? I believe that it creates a thoroughly human character. Characters like the Dealer give us glimpses of both extremes and how these extremes can co-exist within a single individual. The Dealer is complex. Your relationship with him is complex. Playing the game, I felt myself shifting between liking the Dealer and wanting to show him I was superior. This complex relationship and the resulting emotional tension is what makes playing this game interesting. It heightens the illusion that you are truly sitting across the table from this man.
Characterizing the Dealer like this serves the game in two ways. First, it reinforces one of the goals Defiant Development had for Hand of Fate – bringing a tabletop game to life. As the Dealer himself explains,
Every game must contain the element of surprise. Sometimes, that element is the human on the other side of the table. Sometimes, it is the draw of a card or the roll of a die.
While the gameplay relies on the random draw of cards, the Dealer was written to emulate the surprise of human interaction. It’s not perfect, but given that this game was made by a small indie team with a budget to match, I think the end result was largely successful.
Making the game’s principal antagonist a thoroughly human character also re-contextualizes the player and PC’s struggle against him. As Vogler observes,
Suddenly the villain is not just a fly to be swatted but a real human being with weaknesses and emotions. Killing such a figure becomes a true moral choice rather than a thoughtless reflex.
The final boss fight between the Dealer and the PC is not a simple clash of wills, as final boss fights in video games traditionally are. It is two men fighting for survival. What the PC is thinking in this moment is hard to determine, but it’s not a confrontation that the Dealer eagerly enters.
Now we fight. I had hoped it would not come to this, but I knew it must.
Fate and the rules of this mysterious game demand that the PC and the Dealer risk everything in one final fight to the death in order to claim victory.
This series took months to write. I’m proud of how it turned out, and I hope that you enjoyed it and even checked out this video game and Vogler’s book for yourself. Defiant Development released a sequel in 2017 where the Dealer returns. I plan to do a similar character analysis of that game too, though I can’t promise when I’ll publish it. I have to beat the game first. But until then, I’ll leave you with this line from the Dealer as a bit of foreshadowing:
There is no greater pleasure than to destroy those who’ve wronged us. Infinitely more satisfying than turning the other cheek.
What has this series of posts taught you? Have you encountered another character like the Dealer, one that represents the best and worst of what humanity is capable of? What other archetypes would you like me to analyze one day? Let me know down in the comments.