The Secret Mythology Of Monkey Island English Literature Essay

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It is vitally important to single out and identify what it was that made Point and Click adventure games so popular in the 1990's. One of the most successful titles released in this period of escapist gaming was the work of a small team at LucasArts. In order to understand their success, we must understand the roots of the game; its inspirations, intentions and results.

As has been mentioned in previous chapters, LucasArts video games had the advantage of two hugely popular and highly praised film trilogies to call upon when developing their games. The StarWars and Indiana Jones trilogies, according to box office records, made $1,904,771,960 billion and $1,194,052,435 billion worldwide by 1989. These successes left LucasFilm and all other branches of its empire (including LucasArts) with a huge reputation in traditional and structured storytelling. These movies all share a common trend, the narrative follows a strict structure inspired by the works of Joseph Campbell. A prominent figure in the analysis of heroic myth throughout civilization, Campbell was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer who endeavored to break down the structure of myth. Most importantly in the context of this essay, was his analysis of the many faces and intentions of the Hero. Campbell (1968) outlines his overall structure in the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces: He talks of a 'hero' venturing forth from a world he knows into a world of unknown and supernatural wonder, he will on his journey experience mysterious and fabulous forces and will have to fight for a decisive victory, the hero will then return from this alien place with a power to bestow 'boons' upon his fellow man. This outline can be applied to many of LucasArts titles, however none more so than The Secret opf Monkey Island.

With LucasArts now reaching the peak of their creative talents, October 1990 saw the release of a videogame which would go on to emerge as one of the most critically acclaimed adventure games of the decade. It also, like many of Lucas' films, was built around this solid myth structure but it took a completely new angle with its distinctive and exciting setting. The Secret Of Monkey Island (1990) takes the principles of the heroic myth as laid out by Campbell and delivers an interactive experience packed with charm and humor that has over time matured into a classic in it's own right. Monkey Island is, according to many involved in the videogame industry, one of the most exciting interactive narratives to be released during the point and click era of gaming (see appendix 1). It reached its status of such high regard through the use of varying narrative techniques and video game design to deliver a Joseph Campbell experience. Whilst other games in 1990 were helping you build railways or guide two plumbers to save a princess, Monkey Island was setting out to tell a story of Love, laughs and a man's endeavor to become "Guybrush Threepwood, A Mighty Pirate".

In the opening moments of the game the player is introduced to their setting, Melee Island. This is where the adventure really begins. The player is first introduced to Campbells archetypal "Old Wise Man" in the form of the blind Island lookout; this is where the player and hero, Guybrush Threepwood, are given their instructions to complete the quest of becoming a mighty pirate. In the Campbellian structure(2004), the old man represents "the first encounter of the hero-journey with a protective figure who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass" This idea of amulets, can be perceived in varying ways, however in the case of monkey Island the player is provided with knowledge of how to become a mighty pirate, information which will help the player on their journey. Our protagonist, Guybrush, is already on an island inhabited by pirates much mightier it would seem than he. So this initial opening chapter begins his quest to become a member of a pre-existing society. Much like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, trying to become a Jedi, the players initial task is representative of Campbells concept of proving your worth to the tribe before setting out on your journey. This is ultimately achieved by completing a series of trials in which Guybrush must prove his credential as a pirate, again connecting with Campbells outlining of the heroic myth. Campbell states that the heros ability to defeat these challenges demonstrates how great of a person (or pirate!) they truly are. This same argument can be easily transferred onto the puzzle solving element of Monkey Island, and in fact any adventure game. However it also coheres well with narrative idea that the protagonist, Guybrush, must withstand a struggle from the very beginning in order to prove himself to his 'tribe'.

Anything but the mighty pirate he dreams of being, Guybrush and the player must solely rely on their wits; the puzzles and the quirky game design echo this idea. In order to defeat the swordmaster, the player must play through learning based puzzles. Much like in an RPG where you must gather or collect items in order to defeat bigger or better opponents. Learning insults through fighting various wandering pirates around Melee Island, then using logic to work out the correct insults to beat the sword master. Another challenge is to plunder some buried treasure from a dark forest, relying on either outside guidance or stumbling around in the woods until you by chance achieve your goal. Such decisions to solve puzzles or wander aimlessly are often ones faced by other heroes on their journeys. Many myths surround the idea of a maze or labyrinth. This sense of a character being in an alien environment, with no clear route to their goal creates tension in a written work. Yet in Monkey Island, it has been utilised to create another puzzle for the player to interact with.

The third and final quest is to steal an idol from the governor's mansion, a test of wits and man-eating poodles this trial similarly harks back to ancient legend and myth. The abovementioned man-eating Poodles, are a representation of 'the beast' guarding the prize. Guybrush must find a way past this defender before he is able to venture into the governors home, which represents the cave or temple of many ancient myths. It is beyond this archetypal guardian, that lies the ultimate prize or 'boon' as Campbell describes it, the governor Elaine Marley. In the context of Monkey island Elaine represents both the ultimate prize and the divine female or Campbells 'Divine Goddess'.

It is these clever elements of Game design employed by LucasArts' that allow the player to be challenged in ways that mimic the patterns and conventions of the heroic myth by testing various skills that allow the overarching quest of the game to be embarked upon.

One of the ways that LucasArts made the story and narrative of Monkey Island so compelling was it's use of cut scenes to fill in gaps that were unobtainable during initial game-play. During the opening stages of the game a cut scene reads "Meanwhile, deep beneath Monkey Island…" This is where we get our first glimpse of our story's Villain 'The Evil Ghost Pirate LeChuck' and his ghost ship anchored deep under Monkey Island in a place that can only be described as Hell. The player is exposed to the undead crew of the ghost ship ominously discussing your arrival. The glowing blues and reds of this nightmarish locale are equally off-putting and are a stark contrast to that of the colors of Melee Island. This place is equally a place fueled by myth for the various characters you meet throughout your journey, they tell Legends of doomed journeys to Monkey Island, ships returning without their crews.

These cut scenes and NPC enabled narrative progression is what allows the player to gain an air of excitement and intrigue. They must venture to this Hellish place, yet have no idea how they will get there. Such an idea of the goal or part of the quest being some distance from home is a convention noted by Propp(1968) in his work 'Morphology of the folktale', he stated:

"Generally the object of search is located in 'another' or 'different' kingdom. This kingdom may lie far away horizontally, or else very high up or deep down vertically."

The trigger for the main quest to begin is LeChucks kidnapping of Governor Marley. The players' relationship with Marley is dependant on the order in which the trials are completed, Guybrush will either have a jilted romantic exchange with The Governor due to his not being a pirate or she is taken away just as the relationship with Guybrush has begun. In either circumstance Governor Marley takes the role of the desirable female figure that everyone desires. Numerous NCP's will talk of their admiration for Governor Elaine Marley, whilst she complains of her annoyance at having to continually turn away their advances. The Villain of the piece, LeChuck is also driven by his lust for Elaine, leading him to kidnap her and take her to the illusive 'Monkey Island'. The female figure or love interest is an important convention of any myth Campbell describes that her value in the story is to act as a goal for the hero, whilst also representing a symbol of reward that can only be attained through the achievement of spiritual purity. In the rather skewed case of Monkey Island this is symbolised by Guybrush proving himself as a mighty pirate. Campbell explains the female goddess figure as follows:

"For she is the world creatrix, ever mother, ever virgin. She encompasses the encompassing, nourishes the nourishing, and is the life of everything that lives. The whole round of existence is accomplished within her sway, from birth, through adolescence, maturity, and senescence, to the grave. Thus she unites the "good" and the "bad,""

This has never been truer than in 'The Secret Of Monkey Island' and it's sequel 'Return to Monkey Island' The unattainable female character drives the plot of both games with the Hero's desire to reclaim the known love of a female figure, a female figure so divine that she unites both good and evil in the need to have her. This however was lost in the subsequent games in the series in which Guybrush and Elaine Marry. Part of the function of her role in the story was lost when this decision was made. Guybrush's endless pursuit of Elaine whilst she laughs him off was one of the key driving forces behind what made the story and characters so successful. When she is kidnapped, neither Guybrush nor the player once hesitates in their need be the hero and save the governor.

The game takes it's first transition into a new chapter, moving the setting from The transition from the Island of Melee, home of pirates and thieves to the high seas in search of the legendary Monkey Island. It becomes daytime for the first time in the game, suggesting a new dawn, a new adventure. However before actually reaching the island the player must again fulfill another convention of fairytale and myth. Described by Propp as 'The Acquisition of a magical agent' the Hero receives some sort of magic, which helps progress the story. This comes in the form of a potion that Guybrush must put together using inventory items. Once the potion is complete Guybrush enters a deep and almost magical sleep, waking up only apon his arrival on Monkey Island. This concept of the Hero entering a dream state whislt on his journey into mysterious and mythical worlds, is a common element of Myth outlined by Campbell. Once Guybrush has awakened he has reached his destination. This all works towards emphasizing the mythical and mysterious aura surrounding the island, portrayed earlier in the story.

Exploring Monkey Island allows for the skills learnt earlier in the game to be finally tested, albeit applied in new ways. Just as Campbell stated:

"The initial trials will dictate how difficult the hero's journey will be"

The players knowledge on how to beat the puzzles in this section of the game have fundamentally already been tested. Those skills now only need to be refined and adapted to suit the new puzzles. The earlier insult based swordplay evolves into a similar collection process, in which the player must collect bananas, feeding them to a monkey long enough for him to open a gate for you. Wandering around the dark forest evolves into exploring an enormous island, discovering a route to the other side allowing you to venture down under the island, this coheres with the earlier mentioned convention of the goal being far away above or below where you start your journey.

Prior to this our wits are tested as we attempt to find a way around the Vegetarian Cannibals that inhabit Monkey Island. Eventually the player finds themselves in the depths of Monkey Island, it soon becomes clear that Guybrush will require a guide for this particular leg of his journey. This is a reflection of the concept of "magical intervention" mentioned by both Campbell and Propp in their analysis of myth and folktale. This comes in the form of the decapitated head of the Monkey Island navigator. Once the player reaches the Ghost Pirate LeChuck and his ghostly pirate ship, that was shown in earlier cut scenes, the player finally can feel the satisfaction described by Joseph Campbell of the Hero as he reaches the mythological setting. Once onboard the ship after much jostling with a rather obnoxious severed head, Guybrush must recover a magic root that enables the player to mix a potion that has the power to defeat the ghost pirates. This idea of obtaining a magical agent is representative of the fruit that Gilgamesh pursues a convention also seen in countless other myths. It is described by Campbell as "a Symbol of knowledge and life", however in Monkey island it is of course a way to make some root beer, which we all know is deadly to ghost pirates. This discovery and return to Melee Island coincides with the return of the Villain, LeChuck. Along with the return of LeChuck comes with it the feeling of terror and danger, this neatly coincides with the return to the darkness of Melee Island, creating a daunting scene for the imminent and fast approaching climax. This meeting of the Hero and Villain is often depicted as a battle, which only the Hero can overcome. However with the wit and satire that LucasArts bring to the genre of point and click, we learn that in fact Governor Marley is still more competent that all the other characters combined. This further cements her place as the divine female, whilst Guybrush defeating LeChuck reflects his role as the hero of the piece. In the preface in a later edition of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Clarissa Estes (2004) Ph.D. explicates:

"It does not matter how long one has lived, for, you see everything begins with inspiration, and inspiration is ageless -as is the journey. With regard to the heroic, so much is unpredictable; but there are two matters, above all, about which a person can be certain-struggle on the journey is a given, but also there will be splendor."

And this could be described as 'the result' of Monkey Island, a game in which struggle overcome by both the characters, and player throughout the story. It's the human need to overcome that is ultimately victorious. It explains why Monkey Island is ultimately such a well loved and critically acclaimed game. It has taken the conventions and structure of Mythology that we all subconsciously know, love and understand and combined it to create a comedic, fulfilling and rich story for its audience. The creators understood what makes story work due to their extensive experience in the film industry, in the creation of Monkey Island they crafted an interactive experience that breathed further life into conventions and structure that have been integrated in mans stories for thousands of years. They proved that games aren't necessarily all about the graphical elements, by allowing the player to truly engross themselves into a story and character they felt that they already knew they could create a game that would be permanently associated with a genre and a generation for years to come.