Games and the Imagination Part II
Approaching the Imagination
by Richard Dare



In part one of Games and the Imagination I discussed some of the aspects of gaming that remain unaccounted for by the conventional language of games design. I explored the idea that for many gamers an underlying fantasy is the primary factor in attracting them to a game, and that there is a complex imaginative relationship between a player and a game. Understanding this relationship and why and how games evoke such fantasies and experiences could revolutionise the way we think about games and how we design them. To do this, we need a framework that we can use to interpret these experiences and relate them to games design. Psychology seems like an obvious framework and it was the first to which I turned, but as I discovered there were fundamental problems in using psychology to interpret the kinds of experiences described in part one.

When I began to study this area I had initially hoped to find straightforward psychological theories that I could apply to my thinking in video games. Instead I found an unbridgeable chasm dividing one ideology from another, a division running deep within psychology with imagination and subjective experience at its heart. On one side of this divide lie the schools of cognitive, behaviourist and biological psychology, their theories and research being limited to the aspects of the mind that can be verified objectively using scientific methods. On the other side lie the psychodynamic and humanist psychologies, concerned mainly with personal subjective experience and basing their work on the philosophy of phenomenology, which states that in any investigation we must start with our subjective experience, it being the only viewpoint open to us with any certainty.

The problem is, that while the objective (or "third person") viewpoint has been extremely successful in providing models of behaviour and in describing explicit concepts such as learning and memory, it has had less success in the first-person, phenomenological realms of experience, consciousness and identity. As such, its proponents either limit their work to the non-subjective or take the extreme view that consciousness and subjective experience are secondary phenomena or completely illusory and do not represent an accurate context from which to view reality.

The phenomenological, first person viewpoint has a similar problem. Although it has been successful as a framework for a large number of psychotherapies and as an essential component in literary and cultural analysis, it has had difficulty finding an objective, scientific base in the theories offered by the third person perspective.

As psychologist William Glassman puts it (after D.N Robinson) " seems we are forced to choose between a psychology which is not scientific, and a science which is not psychology!" (Glassman, 2000). In approaching the imagination we are forced to choose the former, at least until we have a theory that successfully unites the first and third person approaches, since the experiences described in part one and indeed the whole idea of game playing lie within the context of first person experience1.

Having decided on which side of the border we are on, we now have the second problem of finding a set of concepts to interpret these experiences. The first person realm is a vast sea of interconnecting and conflicting approaches, from depth psychology to cultural studies and post-structuralism. All of these perspectives are equally valid and no single viewpoint can encompass the entirety of first person experience (Of course, if you accept the postmodern critique of science, then the third person view is in no better position). This means that anything we say about first person experience will be an interpretation, not an explanation, one viewpoint amongst many others.

One of the most interesting and useful viewpoints that we can use to explore video games and the experiences they evoke is that of Jungian depth psychology. Although it is controversial in academic circles2, Jungian psychology has been a great influence on the humanities and on many artists, writers and film-makers. Its concepts seem to fit video games like a glove, offering us a set of ideas that we can use to explore the complex relationship between a player and a game, and indeed between a designer and a game. It could also radically change the way we look at genre, violence and the process of playing amongst other things. Jungian psychology is a complex and multifaceted subject and I can only give the barest introduction to it in such a short article. This brief introduction is only intended to show how it relates to games design, and to give the reader the knowledge necessary for understanding the design concepts that can be derived from it. Readers wanting a deeper understanding of Jungian psychology are directed to the books listed in the bibliography. Lets start off by exploring the psychology of play and fantasy, subjects that underlie every aspect of game playing.

Fantasy, Play and Projection

Play has long been recognised as a fundamental part of human, even animal nature. Psychologists and educationalists see play as being a natural form of learning. Through play, nature trains the biological and psychological functions necessary for life, from hunting and physical survival, to social co-operation and cultural participation. On a cognitive level, play encourages the development of our concepts about the world. By toying with objects and ideas through playful experimentation we develop an understanding of the physical world and our place within it.

But there is more to play than just encouraging adaptation to our surroundings or the development of rational skills. The great theorist of play Johann Huizinger believed that it was the basis of all forms of ritual and represented the foundational impulse behind many forms of art and drama. He also maintained that far from being a wasteful exercise or the antithesis of work, play was essential to the well-being of society (Poole, 2000; Rheingold, 1991).

Although the educational and social aspects of play are widely known and accepted, introverted play, fantasy and pure make-believe are less well regarded. This may be due to the extroverted bias of our culture or to Freud's popular notion that fantasy represents a regressive means of escaping from reality. But according to Jungian psychology, fantasy is just as important as any other kind of thinking and in fact, is essential to healthy psychological growth. Just as extroverted play orientates the individual to the outside world and helps him comprehend it, introverted play or fantasy, according to Jung, orientates the individual to his inner world. In the stories, figures and landscapes of fantasy, an individual plays with different elements of his own personality rendered in symbolic form (Stevens, 1999).

This is not to say that extroverted and introverted play are mutually exclusive. I'm sure many readers will remember playing with toys or other objects and investing them with a meaning quite unrelated to their actual function. By projecting his imagination (often unconsciously) onto an object, an individual gives it a new and personal meaning. This allows him to concretise his inner fantasy play by representing it with symbolic objects. Thus a stick becomes a gun, a teddy bear becomes a comforting friend and a collection of blocky sprites becomes a menacing foe. Projection is used in this way by play therapists, who know that a child, who may not be able to verbalise or consciously understand her feelings, will often enact personal issues through toys, with inner processes, conflicts and goals mirrored symbolically in the stories and themes of play.

The Game as Imagination Space

I think that the concept of projection goes some way in describing how a person becomes immersed in a video game. Through identifying consciously or subconsciously with the different characters, narratives and processes in a game, the player is able to explore personal issues, goals and ideals, as well as participate in those transmitted to her by her culture. This doesn't just mean that a player will identify solely with a game's controllable characters, it means that the game as a whole will act as a kind of "imagination space" with enemies, themes, landscapes, items and processes all reflecting a particular imaginative concern. The interplay of two opposing characters or political groups for example, may symbolise an inner conflict. A satisfying union, such as the moment in an RPG when a particularly enigmatic or dangerous character joins the player's party may symbolise the resolution of an inner conflict represented by the characters differing natures. Of course seeing everything in a game as a projection of the imagination is a best case scenario. Since most games have fixed processes and plotlines, they won't all relate to the concerns of every player. But as games increase in complexity and freedom, they will be able to accommodate many different playing styles and personal goals, mirroring the inner dynamics of the players personality. This idea of a game as an imagination space may sound unusual but it has an interesting historical parallel in the form of ancient Greek theatre.

When a citizen of ancient Greece went to the theatre, he didn't go to be mildly amused or to view the kind of lightweight nonsense that passes for entertainment today. He went there to experience catharsis, a release of deep feeling that to the Greeks was related to the purification of the senses and the soul. The key to catharsis was mimesis, a combination of the suspension of disbelief, the ability to empathise with the characters on-stage and the ability to internalise the drama as it was performed, In other words, to relate to the drama on a personal, imaginative level (Rheingold, 1991). To the Greeks, catharsis was a healthy way of dealing with the great themes of life and death, and it's not for nothing that the term is retained by psychology today, to describe the release of emotion related to the resolution of an internal difficulty. Such catharsis may also occur within our digital imagination space, when an event occurs of particular resonance to the gamer, such as the union of two formerly opposing characters or the surmounting of a difficult obstacle, though often at differing levels of intensity.

Another parallel is found in the work of the great German novelist and Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse. In his novel Steppenwolf, Hesse explores the possibility of literature representing "..the ego as a manifold entity." He also advises the reader, "not to regard the characters of such a creation as separate beings, but as the various facets and aspects of a higher unity" (Hesse, 1927).

But what are the various facets and aspects of the psyche that we project onto a game? Can we say anything general about them that we could use in game design or are they utterly unique in every person? And how do the inner concerns of an individual relate to and identify with the epic and often otherworldly themes found in games and fantasy? To answer these questions we need to turn to Jung's metapsychology, that is, his map of the imagination.

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Many readers will be familiar with the notion of the unconscious or subconscious mind, that aspect of the psyche that contains all that consciousness is unaware of. This includes such things as memories, forgotten experiences, subliminal perceptions and habitual tendencies such as the ability to drive a car without thinking about it. Most popular formulations of the unconscious regard it as a tabula rasa, or a blank slate upon which a person's experiences are written as he or she goes through life. This view leads many to the conclusion that all minds are utterly different, or that the personality is entirely constructed by society and circumstance. As well as failing to take biology into account, with the fact that all brains share the same basic mechanisms, this idea failed to impress Carl Jung, who for nine years had conducted a study of the delusions and hallucinations experienced by sufferers of schizophrenia.

Jung noticed, when studying the dreams, fantasies and delusions of his patients, that many of them contained images and ideas that could not be related to a patient's life history. They could, of course, be explained away as meaningless mental irregularities, but he also noticed that these images and ideas were very similar to ones found in mythical and religious symbolism from all over the world. As psychiatrist Anthony Stevens explains, "Jung gathered a wealth of evidence which persuaded him that this universal symbolism was due less to individual experience or cultural dissemination than to the structure of the human brain and to a fundamental component of the unconscious psyche which was shared by all humankind" (Stevens, 1999). Jung called this fundamental component the collective unconscious.

Within the collective unconscious, Jung posited the existence of archetypes. These are fundamental psychological patterns that relate to the universal symbols described above. As Jung explains,"The concept of the archetype.. is derived from the repeated observation that, for instance, the myths and fairy tales of world literature contain motifs which crop up everywhere. We meet these same motifs in the fantasies, dreams, deliria and delusions of individuals living today..These typical images and associations are what I call archetypal ideas" (Storr, 1998). Although Jung's archetypal hypothesis is controversial2, some thinkers believe that it might represent a first-person view of such third-person concepts as the cognitive schemata of cognitive science and the evolved psychological mechanisms of evolutionary psychology; although it is not yet clear how much of an archetypal pattern is inherited and how much is culturally transmitted (Glassman, 2000; Stevens,1998).

Typical archetypal ideas that often appear in myths, dreams and fantasies include, the hero, the devouring monster, the wise old man or woman, the father, the mother, the "dream woman" the "dream man", helpful animals and the dangerous enemy. There are also archetypal processes such as the heroic quest, the descent into the underworld, the slaying of a dragon, sexual union, the rising and setting of the sun, birth and death. These archetypal ideas symbolise the universal components and processes of the psyche and can often evoke a strong emotional impact.

This is not to say that an archetype is a mythical image or being. Mythical images, along with those found in dreams and fantasies are representations, or symbols of the archetypes. Archetypes themselves are innate psychological patterns with no content of their own, that take on the appearance of real life images that relate to them in some way. For example, one person may have heroic fantasies of being a cyberpunk hacker, bringing down the systems of evil corporations and another may have fantasies of scoring the winning goal in the World Cup. Although the content of these fantasies are different, and the personalities of the wannabe hacker and the football fan may be utterly divergent, the basic form of their fantasies and the emotions associated with them are the same. Both examples depict the heroic triumph of a special individual, a universal theme of great antiquity, and both have similar related emotions; the feelings of mastery, personal strength, self-confidence and victory. In both individuals the hero archetype is at work, but it is expressed in different ways depending on their respective personalities and backgrounds. These are simplistic examples, just to illustrate the nature of the archetypes as "virtual" patterns that take on the image of things that are related to them in a person's life. Much more could be discovered by exploring feelings and attitudes relating to different parts of a fantasy, sometimes revealing things that may be other than heroic.

As well as appearing as the imaginary beings and landscapes of dreams and fantasies, archetypes can be activated by images and people in the outside world. Two powerful examples are the "dream man" or "dream woman", the anima and animus. Have you ever seen a person of the opposite sex, either in real life or an image, and being struck with an overwhelming emotion beyond mere instinct; a feeling that he or she is "the one?" This person has a magical, eternal quality, and when contemplating her face, your soul aches with an almost spiritual longing. He may appear to you as everything you have ever needed; when you are near him you are lost in rapture, when you are apart, you fall into a pit of darkest despair.

If, as a man, you have seen this woman, then you have met what Jungian psychology calls your anima, or soul-image. According to Jung, every man carries within his psyche the image of a woman, the anima. She appears to him in dreams, often as a guide, often as a magical being of almost painful beauty, sometimes as a dangerous seductress. Often she is projected, quite unconsciously, onto a real woman, investing this woman with her magical qualities, commonly obscuring the real woman underneath. Sometimes such projections can lead to lasting love, sometimes, when the real woman breaks through the projection and the man realises that she is not who he thought she was, he may accuse her of having "changed", leave her, and go off in search of his anima princess, another woman who by chance embodies his inner love.

The animus is Jung's term for the corresponding male image within a woman's psyche. In dreams and fantasies he may be seen as a hero, sometimes as a rogue. Another symbol of the animus is as a brutal, animal-like male, as found in the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. Again, women often see their animus in real men, sometimes leading to a stable relationship when the real man underneath is understood, and sometimes causing great difficulties when the animus projection blinds her to reality. These examples show the power of projection, and also the power of the archetypes. They are not to be regarded as mere abstract concepts or ideas, they are the fundamental forces of the psyche.

Here's another example, of great relevance to video games. Imagine a timid young boy, fearful of risk and somewhat overdependant on his parents. One day he sees a cartoon depicting heroic adventures. The boy feels a great emotional resonance when watching the show, watches it every week and starts playing imaginary games based upon it, seeing himself as his television hero or sharing the same adventures. He might imaginatively summon his favourite characters to himself when he encounters difficult situations or before sleep, when he is alone in the darkness of night. Gradually, and with parental support and understanding the boy becomes more confident and independent.

This TV show has activated the boy's hero archetype. This archetype often comes to the fore in dreams and fantasies whenever courage and strong self-identity are needed. The heroic games of children are expressions of this archetypal pattern that will arise quite naturally as part of their development, through conquering the dragons of dependence and fear, a child becomes less emotionally reliant on his parents and begins to build a stronger sense of identity. In this example, although the child may have had vague feelings of unease surrounding his initial situation, and may have had dreams containing heroic imagery, the TV show gave him concrete images that he could relate to and emulate. Through their similarity to the inner archetype, the images of the TV show become emotionally resonant symbols of it and make the unconscious qualities of self identity and courage known to the conscious mind. Through fantasy and play the child will eventually integrate the aspects of the hero archetype represented by the TV show into his conscious personality. The hero and the heroic quest are found almost universally in video games, and contrary to popular belief, are not limited to childhood concerns. I will explore these archetypes and their relevance to video games in more detail later.

The four most important archetypes, essential to any understanding of Jungian psychology are the shadow, anima, animus and self. These primary archetypes generally appear in most dreams and fantasies and in many video games, under various symbolic guises. In many individuals, the shadow is the first one to appear in dream and fantasy life and is a constant factor in the development of personality (Jung, 1964).

The Shadow

The shadow often (but not always) appears in dreams and fantasies as a threatening enemy representing the aspects of the unconscious mind that are unknown or repressed because of the attitude of the conscious mind towards them. In other words, the shadow is our "dark side" and will taint other archetypes depending on our relationship with them. A simplistic example is the straight laced business man who dreams of threatening anarchists or bohemians storming into his office and causing a scene. A Jungian interpretation of this dream would be that the bohemians symbolise an unconscious creative talent, or attitude towards life that could be useful to the dreamer but remains outside the conscious personality because of his attitude towards it. This doesn't mean that the dreamer should drop everything and become a bohemian, it means that he should try and integrate a little more creativity and spontaneity (or whatever he associates with bohemians) into his life, qualities that for whatever reason his conscious personality finds threatening.

The shadow is often projected onto others. Perhaps our business man may be moved to rage whenever he encounters free-spirited creative individuals and will associate them with all kinds of evils. If he understands his dream and acts upon it, he may later dream of less threatening or even friendly bohemians, and will probably develop a more tolerant understanding of their real life counterparts.

A person who sees himself as a free-spirited bohemian however, may dream or fantasise about having conflicts with threatening straight laced business men, reflecting qualities that he consciously finds unpleasant, but may be useful to him, such as the ability to organise and think rationally. Working with the shadow is a real moral responsibility as it forces us to confront what we do not accept in ourselves and often project onto others, sustaining such problems as racism and homophobia. To deal with the shadow is to deal with the ancient problem of good and evil on a personal level.

Jung's shadow is pretty much the same as the notion of the Other, which is found in cultural studies and describes the way one culture represents those different from it. As Ziauddin Sardar describes it, "The most common representation of the Other is as the darker side, the binary opposite of oneself: we are civilised, they are barbaric; the colonialists are hard-working, the natives are lazy.." (Sardar and Van Loon, 1999).

Although the shadow often appears threatening, it may also represent qualities that the dreamer finds positive, but does not attribute to himself. A person might dream of a friend or compelling stranger of the same sex who displays qualities that the dreamer finds admirable, but is afraid of integrating into conscious life.

People might try to integrate the entire shadow or fight it off at every turn, but this is impossible. The basic facts of individual existence, that a person is one thing and not another, that a person says yes to some things and no to others, implies the basic opposition of ego and shadow, me and you, good and evil. The task of the individual is to develop an understanding of their shadow and what it tells them about themselves, to integrate what they can and negotiate with what they cannot.

The shadow appears almost universally in video games, as every enemy and every threatening character or idea. A gamer might choose games that depict the destruction of a certain order of enemy, reflecting his own relationship with his shadow. A designer may also create enemies and processes that reflect his own inner concerns. I`ll return to this important subject when I discuss using archetypal images in games.

The Anima and Animus

As we saw earlier, the anima and animus are the contrasexual archetypes within men and women respectively. Just as there is a biological imperative behind sexual attraction, Jung maintained that there was also a related psychological imperative. Jung said of man and the anima, "..the whole nature of man presupposes woman, both physically and spiritually. His system is tuned to woman from the start" (Stevens, 1999). And woman is tuned to man in much the same way3. But the roles of the anima and animus go beyond blind sexual instinct as it is popularly perceived. The meaning of man to woman, and of woman to man relate closely to every aspect of the psyche and to every stage of its development.

According to Jungian psychology, the anima and animus, when they appear in dreams and fantasies are personifications of the relationship of an individual with his or her unconscious. In other words, a man will experience his unconscious as feminine, and a woman will experience hers as masculine. The anima often appears as a witch or as a magical woman with knowledge of deep and unfathomable realms, i.e. the unconscious mind, or as a guide such as Beatrice in Dante's Paradiso (Jung, 1964). The anima also appears as a lover or companion, reflecting in dreams a successful relationship with the unconscious. She may sometimes appear as a princess to be rescued, as in many fairy tales and games. Guarded by a beast symbolising some attitude of the psyche that prevents a good relationship with the anima or with women, she must be saved by a hero strong enough to stand up to such a creature and not be devoured.

The anima also has a negative or shadow aspect. She may appear as a femme fatale, like the mythical sirens luring men to their doom with their magical songs, or as a dangerous witch, symbolising both a negative attitude towards the anima and the unconscious, and the danger of encountering the unconscious without strength and discrimination. The anima is also tied up with all the qualities and attitudes that a man regards as feminine and by working with the anima, he can integrate and understand such valuable qualities.

The animus, the male image within a woman, often appears as an attractive heroic figure, sometimes as a wise spiritual guide. Just as the anima relates to feminine qualities in a man, the animus relates to perceived masculine qualities within a woman, such as heroic courage and rationality. By working with the animus, a woman can integrate these positive qualities into her personality. The animus also has a negative aspect and can appear as a rogue or criminal. Sometimes he appears as a beast, reflecting a wild, untamed and unintegrated animus, or a negative attitude towards masculinity and her relation to it. A woman dreaming of such a beast may be fearful at first, but as she works with the animus, he will be transformed into more attractive human forms. The story of Beauty and the Beast is a reflection of this process (Jung, 1964).

As I described earlier, the anima and animus can be projected on to real men and women, sometimes causing all kinds of dangerous obsessions and misunderstandings. By subconsciously tying up their anima or animus with a person of the opposite sex, an individual effectively identifies them with his own unconscious and requires their presence and their compliance to engage with it. This is not to say that anima and animus projection is entirely negative, it can be a tool of personal growth when recognised, and when the real man or woman behind the projection is accepted and understood.

The anima often appears in games as a woman to be rescued by the player, sometimes as a companion. There are few games depicting the relationship between a woman and her animus. But some games, such as the Final Fantasy series do a good job by giving the player a large number of male and female characters to control. To a male player a female character can symbolise his anima, such as Rinoa from FFVIII; Squall could symbolise the animus of a female player. Squaresoft make this work by depicting their relationship from both perspectives. Gamers might choose games with themes that reflect their own relationship with their anima or animus, and designers might create characters and stories that reflect theirs.

The Self

Jung referred to the self as the "archetype of archetypes" (Stevens, 1999). It represents the totality of the psyche, both consciousness and unconsciousness and all that they contain. To Jungian psychology, the self is the innermost nucleus of the psyche. It is often symbolised in dreams, fantasies and mythology as a circle, mandala or square; as a quaternity, such as the "four corners of the universe" the four directions or a circle divided into four. It may appear personified as a wise old man to a male dreamer, or as a wise old woman to a female, or perhaps as a great king or queen. Sometimes it appears as a divine or magical child. Generally in myths, the self is symbolised by the "cosmic man" or woman, representing the totality of the individual. In games it is sometimes represented by the most powerful principle in the game's world. In RPG's it may be symbolised by the four elements, a magical jewel in the centre of the world or the tree of life. In other games it may be represented by such things as the space-time continuum, the fundamental genetic code, a nation state or by anything that symbolises the greatest power in a game.

The self is also symbolised by the helpful animals that often turn up in fairy tales to advise and assist the hero. Many of these animals appear in games, such as Link's owl companion in Zelda 64, or the moogles in the Final Fantasy games. These creatures, unpredictable, often indestructible, but somehow vulnerable, possess a natural wisdom that defies any enemy and lifts them from the mundane world. They are often represented as servants of a great power, depicting the early appearance of the self as it guides the struggling hero towards his destiny.

The self is also an archetype of healing and unity, and will often arise in the dreams and fantasies of people struggling with inner conflicts. The drawings of children who are in the midst of divorce or family difficulties often contain circular motifs, symbolising the attempt of the self to bring some unity and healing to a child's fragmenting inner world (Stevens, 1999). This healing and unifying aspect of the self can turn up in games, with the almost universal representation of force fields and energy shields as circular or spherical zones of light.

But the self also has a shadow side; as the most powerful force in the Jungian psyche, the shadow of the self is often symbolised by an ultimate evil. Taken together these two aspects reflects the great polarities of consciousness and unconsciousness, light and darkness.

These four archetypes are the main forces within the unconscious and are often projected on to objects in the outside world, including games. As one can see from the examples given, many games already contain symbols of these archetypes, either through social convention and repetition or through the imagination of the designer, who might spontaneously produce such symbols in a fantasy. But developers cannot simply put an archetypal image in a game and claim that they are being "Jungian". We need to understand how the archetypes relate to the individual and to his psychological development, and why he has one fantasy rather than another.

The Archetypes and the Individual

The archetypes and the collective unconscious are in Jungian terms, the lowest level of the unconscious psyche, their patterns shaping the layers above. But as we have seen, the archetypes appear in dreams and fantasies as images from personal life. We have also seen that archetypes appear as positive or negative images depending on our relationship to them. In other words, they are coloured by the experiences we have in life and by our conscious attitude towards them. In Jung's model of the psyche, our relationship with the archetypes that determine how they appear to us is shaped by the personal and cultural unconscious.

Above the collective unconscious lies the personal and cultural unconscious. The cultural unconscious contains all the unconscious assumptions given to an individual by the society he or she grows up in. Some writers do not refer to a cultural unconscious, as strictly speaking, all these experiences are mixed up with personal ones, but I will separate them as it allows an entry point for cultural studies, which as I will show, is an essential subject when using archetypal images in games. The personal unconscious is similar to the traditional view of the unconscious mind described at the start of this section. It contains all our memories, forgotten experiences, subliminal perceptions and habitual tendencies. It also contains our complexes.

The basic units of the personal unconscious that shape our relationship with the archetypes are the complexes. I'm sure many are familiar with the term complex, as it has entered popular use as a term describing all manner of psychological problems, but few are aware of what a complex actually is or how it arises. When an archetype is activated it gathers to itself ideas images and experiences associated with the situation or person that activated it. This bundle of experiences, emotions and ideas surrounding an archetype is a complex. A good example, given by psychiatrist Anthony Stevens, is the activation of the mother archetype in a child. According to Jungian psychology, every child is born with an innate expectancy of a mother figure, the archetype of the mother. This archetype becomes active when the child experiences a woman whose behaviour is similar to the child's innate expectation of a mother. Sometimes this woman may be the birth mother, sometimes it may be a foster parent, aunt or older sister. The emotions and experiences associated with this mother figure form a complex, surrounding the archetype's emotional core (Stevens, 1999).

The forming of complexes is completely normal, but they often cause suffering. An example of this is given by Anthony Stevens. Stevens described a woman whose childhood had been dominated by a brutal, tyrannical father. This woman's father archetype was activated only partially and only the law-giving, authoritarian aspects of the father archetype were built into her father complex, with the loving and protecting aspects of the paternal archetype remaining unconscious. Stevens continued to describe how this woman kept being drawn to bullying men, but at the same time she had an unfulfilled longing for a man who would give her love and protection. According to Stevens, this woman's dreams fantasies and behaviour showed that she longed for someone to activate and fulfil the unconscious aspects of her father archetype (Stevens, 1999). As well as demonstrating the harm done by bad parenting, this example also shows that archetypes are complete, that they contain every aspect of fatherhood, motherhood, herohood and selfhood, and that once activated, they seek completion and conscious realisation. The archetypes in their total form are often symbolised in world mythology as figures such as Mother Earth or Gaia; as ultimate father figures such as Zeus, and as ultimate heroes such as Odysseus.

Our relation to the archetypes and the content of our complexes is also shaped by the culture we grow up in and the unconscious assumptions that we pick up as a member of society. An example is a society that promotes and encourages the view that a hero never shows his feelings. These emotions and images bound up with a particular society's view of what makes a hero represent a kind of cultural complex, since it is held by a large number of people, and will be transmitted to members of that society whose own complexes are formed by such images. These cultural complexes, held by large numbers of people, are often projected on to others and often affect the way a society functions. They can be harmful as sociologists and cultural critics have shown. But such complexes cannot be argued with, reasoned with or overthrown by revolution; like personal complexes, which in fact they are, they require healing and transformation.

The gradual process of working through complexes and integrating unconscious contents into the conscious personality form Jung's theory of psychological development, the individuation process. Unlike some theories of development that focus on social adaptation alone, the process of individuation describes a life long and personal process of increasing self awareness, maturity and self realisation. Individuation is a natural process of the psyche, occurring the background of one's life, but it can be arrested by traumatic experiences, harmful complexes or a faulty attitude towards the unconscious. Individuation begins with the awakening of self consciousness and self identity in a child, and continues through the whole of life with the gradual integration and conscious understanding of the unconscious material that appears to an individual in their dreams fantasies and projections. The culmination of individuation is a successful relationship with the self, the archetype of wholeness that represents the totality of the individual psyche.


Complexes, such as a woman's struggle against a tyrannical father figure and her search for his loving counterpart form the characters, themes and set-pieces of the inner dramas that are enacted in dreams and fantasies and projected on to the outside world. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the emotional resonance that a player associates with certain video game characters and themes derives from a projection of the players current psychological situation.

The fact that games are interactive allows a player to go beyond the passive projection or mimesis of theatre and literature, and to consciously take part in their fantasy. Thus the woman described earlier might be particularly drawn to a game that depicted a tyrant as an enemy and the rescue or discovery of a loving male figure as a goal. Whether such a game could help her therapeutically is debatable, but by seeing her inner concern and the path to its resolution within a game, and by being forced by its interactivity to make decisions regarding her inner situation, the woman is given a concrete set of ideas and images that might help her in some way. At the very least, this game and its challenges will be very relevant and involving to this particular woman.

By seeing images that reflect unconscious archetypal potential, a gamer may in some cases be assisted in his personal development. The emotional resonance experienced when unconscious archetypal potential is projected onto an image may account for the popularity of certain game characters and themes, and give a reason why some gamers like dressing up as their favourite character, or spend time drawing them or writing fan fiction. A gamers favourite character is a symbol or a reflection of unactivated archetypal potential. By playing the game, drawing pictures etc. the gamer is trying to integrate the aspects of the archetype represented by the character into his or her conscious personality.

The process of resolving inner conflicts and integrating unconscious material may sound like very unusual subjects for a game, but this process is reflected in many games already, because it is symbolised in myths and fairy tales as the heroic quest. In part three of Games and the Imagination, The Game as Quest, I will explore the heroic quest and show how it operates as a symbol of the development of consciousness and identity. I will also show that far from being the preserve of RPG or adventure games, the heroic quest and the individuation process appear in the majority of genres, in a large number of games.


1: Selecting a first person viewpoint from which to interpret the imaginative relationship between a player and a game is fraught with difficulties. As we have seen there is a schism between the third person, objective viewpoint, and the first person, subjective viewpoint. Within the first person viewpoint there is a further schism; between a perspective that regards the psyche as a social or linguistic construct (the tabula rasa view described earlier) and the Jungian viewpoint that states that the psyche is based on fundamental inherited psychological structures. Most schools of aesthetic or cultural criticism focus on the former, because it has a strong base in linguistics and semiotics which are ideal tools for understanding structures of cultural meaning. This viewpoint has already been successfully applied to video games (Poole, 2000) and I regard it as highly important. But I maintain that any attempt to understand video games must include personal psychology and address the issue of personal meaning, and that any personal psychology that claims that the psyche is a tabula rasa is incomplete, as overwhelming third person research will attest. The relationship between a player and a game is a complex one, and any "playability theory" must encompass cognitive, personal (in the sense of something having a unique resonance and meaning to an individual) and cultural domains.

What is needed is a dual integration; firstly between a first person psychology that admits the existence of universal (i.e. inherited) psychological structures, and a first person psychology that admits the intersubjective, cultural and contextual nature of the material based on those structures; and secondly, an integration of the third person objective viewpoint and the first person subjective viewpoint. The first integration is a conceptual matter, the second is known by consciousness researchers as the "Hard Problem." Until such an integration takes place, anything said about the psychology of video games, and indeed the psychology of anything, will be limited and provisional.

2: Jungian psychology is controversial in academic psychology because it is a first person theory, and like all first person theories it cannot find a sound base in third person research. It is controversial in first person academic fields such as cultural studies, because it claims that the psyche is not a total social construction and because Jung's complex, heavyweight writings have often been misunderstood. As it occupies a middle ground between the first and third person realms, it is in a difficult philosophical position, but as I stated in the note above, the only way for psychology to go forwards is to embrace an integrative approach, and Jung's ideas may provide a stepping stone towards that.

3: The description of the anima and animus, as the female "image" within a male and the male "image" within a female is not to make any judgement regarding homosexuality, it is just the common description used by Jungian writers for ease of understanding. Since the archetypes are psychological and emotional patterns with no content of their own, they are not innate images of men or women, but the feelings and ideas associated with them. Therefore, the anima "feeling" of a homosexual man, that is, the feeling of a desirable, or perhaps dangerous "other" will be symbolised by a male image or projected onto a man.

Bibliography and Suggestions for Further Reading

Glassman, William, Approaches to Psychology (2000, Open University Press)

Hesse, Hermann, Steppenwolf (1927; 1965 Penguin)

Hyde, Maggie, McGuinness, Michael, Introducing Jung (1999, Icon)

Jung, Carl Gustav, Jaffe, Anelia, Memories Dreams, Reflections (1963; 1983, Flamingo)

Jung, Carl Gustav, Von Franz, Marie-Louise, Henderson, J.L., Jacobi, Jolande, Jaffe, Anelia, Man and His Symbols (1964; 1978 Picador)

Poole, Steven, Trigger Happy, The Inner Life of Video Games (2000, Fourth Estate)

Rheingold, Howard, Virtual Reality (1991, QPD)

Sardar, Ziauddin and Van Loon, Borin, Introducing Cultural Studies (1999, Totem)

Stevens, Anthony, On Jung (1999, Penguin)

Storr, Anthony (editor), The Essential Jung (1998, Fontana)

About The Author

Richard Dare develops games for Smartphone and PocketPC. He would be very interested in hearing from anyone who would like to discuss his ideas or take them further. He can be contacted at:

©2004 Richard Dare

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Date this article was posted to 9/8/2004
(Note that this date does not necessarily correspond to the date the article was written)

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