The Hero Archetype and The Red Shirt

I had a random thought during World Mythology today. We are studying the Hero Archetype, as described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell, he was an American mythology professor who studied, deconstructed and quantified the myths of the world. He showed how various myths and characters fit into archetypes, such as the Flood Archetype, the Apocalypse Archetype, etc.

I’m not going to bother explaining all the details of the Hero Archetype; I just want to point out a few key things.

The hero:

  • goes through a change in personality or outlook
  • has some sort of climatic/peak point of resolution
  • usually dies

When we started talking about all of this, my random thought popped up. Star Trek Red Shirts were the heroes.

For those of you that don’t know what “The Red Shirt” is, it is a reference to the original Star Trek series. Whenever the team had to beam down to some sort of hostile planet, there would invariably be a “Red Shirt”, some unknown character that just got introduced that show. This was the character that was going to die, since the writers couldn’t kill off one of the main characters (Kirk, Spok or Bones). For some reason, the person was always wearing a red Star Trek uniform; hence, The Red Shirt.

Basically, the Red Shirt was the hero, according the Hero Archetype model. Being the martyr of the group, the Red Shirt sacrificed himself for the betterment of man kind, in this case the bridge crew. Kirk, Spok and Bones couldn’t be the heroes because they didn’t go through any sort of change in personality or outlook on life. They were the static, unchanging members of the crew, always approaching situations in the same manner. Obviously the climatic point of resolution for the Red Shirt was his death, when the space alien/space disease/space monster, etc killed him. It might not seem like much of a point of “resolution”, but his death brings about change in others.

So, what does this have to do with game design?

Well, besides the obvious narrative concepts this presents, it also presents an interesting game idea: “The Last Day of Ensign Ricky”, in which the player plays a peon in servitude to some sort of uber-powerful character who is supposed to be the center of the narrative. Think of a game in which you play Sancho Panza instead of Don Quixote, always trying to keep the MC out of trouble. Or if you need a more pop-culture reference, you play Kif to Zapp Brannigan.

Or perhaps this was just an interesting random thought that I felt was blog worthy. There’s always that possibility too.


2 Responses to The Hero Archetype and The Red Shirt

  1. Meredith says:

    Wasn’t the Red Shirt theory a whole side plot in the movie “Galaxy Quest”?

  2. jeffmcnab says:

    Actually it was. I had completely forgotten about that.

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