Symbolism in Gaming
A symbol doesn’t essentially have to be an event. It can be anything in a game. Be it objects, locations, settings, characters, etc. A symbol a concept or idea that is used to relate to or represent another. They are often used to reinforce characterization and plot, hence adding additional meaning Games are a visual medium. They focus on that unique aspect of transmitting important information visually so that the gamer gets a strong grasp of what is going on. One of the things I’ve noticed recently is that a few images from a few games possess a kind of universal recognition. This brings about a feeling of significance to the gamer. So, this got me thinking. Back in the day, during my literature classes, my teachers would always go into the depth about symbolism. If you have read the book ‘The Great Gatsby’, you will know what I’m talking about. The real meaning of the book is explained by little things, images that would keep popping up throughout the book, and the story between the lines.
I know, I know, I am not going to babble on and on about books and bore you. But when compared, don’t you think that games rely much more on actual visual representations, also have symbols and stories behind them?
to what’s happening in the story. I mean, I’m pretty sure game designers wish to convey a story with depth, similar to how a writer does. Don’t you think a form of symbol somewhere in the game, creates a feeling of intuition? We stare at the screen for hours together, might as well know what we’re actually looking at.
So, out of boredom one day, I started thinking about how symbolism holds a special significance in games. Here are a few examples that support my thoughts:
Example 1: In Assassins Creed, the gameplay is based on a series of real-world assassinations that occurred throughout history. Every character you kill in the game, was once a real person. Not just this, date and location of their death is highly accurate!
The scene with symbols is that once a symbol is used in relation to something, that relationship always exists. This can create a form of confusion if the writers then change the symbol or try to use it to mean something else.
Example 2: In the game Max Payne, there are several indications of Norse Mythology. Certain popular names in the game have been carefully chosen to bring about an ancient symbolic meaning. Not to mention the blatant signs of illuminati symbolism, as well!
Yet, unlike the books or movies, we gamers play a direct role in the story. This factor makes everything more personal.
Example 3: The cake from the game Portal is a perfect example of a symbol which has had a powerful impact on its gamers. This cake, in the beginning was a representation of success and future rewards, which was later on revealed to be a false promise. After this drama, it became the symbol of GLaDOS’ betrayal. Hence, it wasn’t a fictional character who was betrayed. It was you, the gamer who was. We were promised cake, but we didn’t get any!
At times, symbolism conveys a universal truth.
Example 4: In an all-time favorite, Super Mario Bros, the concept of ‘the eternal return of the same’ has been followed. A concept which has captivated many through the ages of time. Simply put, Mario is a game that shows us that time is not linear but is recurring. It is how the universe keeps repeating an infinite number of times in more or less the same way. This factor is also a key concept in Hinduism. It is also the basis for the Super Mario universe, in which landscapes and enemies keep recurring again and again. The pleasure we feel during the game is the feeling of recognition.
Hence, symbolism is a complex issue and the story doesn’t end just here. But as far as gaming is concerned, it is always there. What are your thoughts on this? Any symbolism you noticed in games that blew your mind? Drop your comments below.