The 7 Basic Video Gaming Plots, Game Types and Characters

Gamespulp has always had a thing for video game stories. And stories in general, late nights with a smoke and a book about some sick shitbird crim in some sick shithole city. That love for a good tale led me to think about Christopher Booker’s 7 Basic Plots.

You know this one, there are just seven stories in all the world, they’re just retold in different ways. As far as plots go, there’s not too much difference between Star Wars and Ghostbusters; The Odyssey and that old TV show, Monkey.

Booker’s seven basic plots are so…basic, and brilliantly so, that they’re almost designed to overlap, creating hybrid stories. And that makes them perfect for today’s genre-bending gaming world.

Video Games and the 7 Basic Plots

Overcoming the monster

In which the hero defeats a threatening force…

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  • Space Invaders
  • Borderlands 2

Rags to riches

In which the hero gains, loses and gains power, wealth or lover…

  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Lifeless Planet
  • …Rags to Riches (Look it up)

The quest

In which the hero and friends chase a MacGuffin across the land…

  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • Fallout 3
  • Tomb Raider

Voyage and return

In which the hero  visits a threatening new world, coming home with bugger all…

  • Resident Evil
  • Silent Hill
  • Broken Sword

Comedy

In which the hero ensures cheerful triumph over confusing evil…

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Monkey Island
  • Tales from the Borderlands

Tragedy

In which the hero is flawed and is destined to fall…

  • Red Dead Redemption
  • The Walking Dead: Season One
  • Max Payne

Rebirth

In which the hero becomes a better person, sort of…

  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Final Fantasy VII

Easy. You’ve probably got a few yourself – and maybe a few disagreements with that list too. That’s cool, crack open the whiskey and we’ll discuss it. While you grab the Jack, let’s take these seven basics a little further.

We’re taking about video games here, they rock their own path. They’re not just going to accept some vague PT Barnum chicanery. Games carve their own path. So gamespulp proposes…

The 7 Basic Games

Strange land

In which the hero ventures into unfamiliar territory…

  • Limbo
  • Alien Isolation
  • Fallout 4

Power fantasy

In which the hero lives out their twisted dreams…

  • Battlefield 4
  • Destiny
  • Halo

Start to finish

In which the hero runs from A to B (and sometimes back again)…

  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Never Alone

Survival

In which the hero fights for life…

  • Resident Evil 2
  • ARK: Survival Evolved
  • Zombi

Your world but not

In which the hero explores an almost familiar land…

  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • Indigo Prophecy
  • Beyond Eyes

The Complex God Complex

In which the hero rules all they survey…

  • Theme Hospital
  • Sim City
  • Black and White

Eagle eyes

In which the hero discuss the true art of exploration…

  • Dear Esther
  • The Stanley Parable
  • No Man’s Sky

How’s that whiskey coming along? Anyway, this whole theory can be taken even further. Because what makes a story is the characters. Even those annoying ones who ask you to fetch it kill shit. And we’re the heroes of the plot, so our protagonists should, in theory, fit into one of seven different archetypes (and sometimes more, if you’re really lucky!).

The 7 Basic Characters

You (But Better!)

  • The Division
  • Elite Dangerous
  • Actually every RPG ever

Power tripper

In which the hero is hopped up on steroids, probably…

  • Contra
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops
  • Gears of War

The Everyman

In which the hero is just like you and me…

  • Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse
  • Alien Isolation
  • The Sims

The comic

In which the hero plays it all for laughs…

  • Discworld
  • Conker’s Bad Fur Day
  • Team Fortress 2

Full of it

In which the hero has what you might call an attitude…

  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Crash Bandicoot
  • God of War

Mary-Sue

In which the hero is flawless, utterly flawless…

  • Tomb Raider
  • Half Life
  • Never Alone

Kamikaze

In which the hero fatalistically faces death with a grin…

  • Max Payne
  • Shenmue
  • Grand Theft Auto V

Identity unknown

In which the hero suffers a savage lack of personality…

  • Final Fantasy
  • Grand Theft Auto III
  • Elite Dangerous

So now I’m sitting here, trying to figure out where that piece of shit Candy Crush belongs. You know, just to make my life a little difficult.

As a plot, it’s a quest. As a game, it’s, and as a character, Tiffi is pure gee-whizz Mary-Sue.

I got this. Hurl another at me. So long as you’re hurling The Beatles Rock Band. ‘Rags to riches’ as a plot, the game is ‘start to finish’, and the characters are attitudal to the max. Well, Lennon is, and we all know he’s the star. Sorry, Paul.

But what’s most impressive is that narratives and characters have become such an integral part of modern video games – fuck me, if Candy Crush Saga can have a story, any game can – that even they fit effortlessly into a Jungian generalisation like Booker’s 7 Basic Plots.

After all, if you can argue that all movies are just westerns (don’t challenge that, I can argue for this all day long), then all video games are just Super Mario Bros.

Agree? Disagree? Think you’ve got a game that proves this is all bullshit? Then let me know on Facebook or Twitter. Or both at the same time.

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