The Hacker
New Mythical Content of Narrative Games

I presented this article at the TIDSE 2006 conference in Darmstad, Germany.

This article is available as an audio article from


Mythology and its general relevance for popular culture is is a framework of growing importance for understanding the way narrative games function as cultural artefacts within society. Myths are better compatible than conventional stories with the key characteristics of games: interactivity, (world)simulation and gameplay. Furthermore, games as a technologically advanced medium, open up new mythological perspectives on contemporary society and technology, a perspective where the hacker is proposed as the new hero of this day and age.

1 Introduction

For what had Prometheus done in the first place? He had given men a power-up.

- Steven Pool [1]

Storytelling has a long history and over the years many media were devised to relate tales. Games are one of the most recent additions to the possible narrative canvasses. Although there has been a long an heated debate on the subject, most scholars would agree that storytelling is a factor in some games. For some games story is just providing colour to the central gaming action. Others have higher narrative aspirations and are trying to carve out new paths to the ever illusive holy grail of interactive storytelling, more often than not with only limited success.

Up until this point games are not really known for the quality of the tales they spin. When compared to traditional (linear) forms of storytelling such as the printed novel or feature film games are lacking. Game characters are often flat and stereotypical, plots are considered weak and predictable. Although it may not be fair to compare a medium as young as games to the more mature cinema or the venerable printed word, some insist that games will never be able to catch up. Games' celebrated quality of interactivity goes against the authorial control required to create a narrative masterpiece. Several scholars, including myself, work hard to find ways to resolve the paradox between freedom of the player and control of author, but so far no definite strategies have emerged. One might start to believe those critics who say successful strategies that lead to the creation of narrative games on par with most important works of linear fiction might never be found.

At the same time, mythology is gaining ground in the study of narrative games as relevant framework to approach game stories. The mythological sources and aspirations of many fantasy games are obvious, and the 'Frontier myth' is a popular template applied to popular science-fiction or action cinema and games alike. If the mythological interpretation of games reveals one thing, it is that most myths are relative technophobic and conservative. As someone who does not particularly identifies himself with those notions, but also as someone who also enjoys science-fiction in general, this does not seem satisfactory. How come I enjoy that particular type of storytelling while I oppose its typical message?

To resolve this paradox I will investigate the the mythological nature and meaning of games from the perspective of media theory, ludology and social mythology. In particular I will investigate the way media and mythology shape society in general and in narrative games in particular.

2 Storytelling Media

Marshall McLuhan is notorious for the power he attributed to media to shape human society. His history is divided in four eras that coincide with development of dominant media: the eras of the spoken word, script, printed word and electronic media (perhaps best interpreted as our current computer age). Of these, McLuhan resented the era of printed word the most. Although he admits the printing-press improved education and literacy, it also inspired nationalism and the accumulation of power by military and commercial corporations. Instead of liberating the individual it took away his power to express and react. "Perhaps the most significant of gifts of typography to man," he writes, "is that of detachment and noninvolvement." [2]

Although, his observations have been nuanced by later media scholars (most notably by Raymond Williams) the relevance of these for storytelling are evident. In most literary circles the printed novel is still regarded as the most superior medium for storytelling, with theatre and certain types of cinema playing second and third fiddle respectively. Other media such as face-to-face storytelling, graphic novels, television and computer games compare poorly to the standards set by the printed novel.

A closer inspection of common ways to define stories and storytelling reveals that these have been shaped much by the medium of the printed word and its particular traits. At the heart of most definitions is that a story relates a series of chronological and causally related events, with beginning, a middle and closure at the end. No wonder that media that are sequential and authored in advance are good at telling tales like this. McLuhan might comment that such media shaped the way we tell stories so that it reflects their sequential and pre-authored nature and has little to do with the most superior shape of stories themselves (if such a thing can be said to exists).

To better understand and appreciate the stories told by other media than the traditional media of the era of the printed word, we need to resort to theories devised for these media. A well-known example from the world of comics is the work of Scott McCloud. In search of the elementary structure of comics he proposes the panel and the way it functions in relation to other panels on the page. The magic of comics, he says, is found in the space between the panels. The reader fills in the blanks herself and relates the depicted events in the panels. She provides her own closure based on a visual and verbal interpretation of the frames. This a pivotal point made by McCloud, as he states that: "If visual iconography is the vocabulary of comics, closure is its grammar. And since our definition of comics hinges on the arrangement of elements then, in a very real sense, comics is closure!" [3, my typesetting]. Interestingly, the type of closure McClouds talks about does not depend on pre-authored causal relations in a text, but is constructed in the mind of the reader, cued by the visual layout. Association, juxtaposition and similarity are far more important for this type of closure than the sequences and differences of printed word.

In a later work McCloud travels further down this alternative narrative path when he considers how comics are best adapted to digital forms. The computer screen, he observes, makes only for a poor substitution of the page in a comic book, and when single screen panels are use much power of the comic is lost. Instead, he proposes to use the screen as a window onto an infinite page where the panels are laid out unconstricted, where panel interrelation is free and expressive [4]. McCloud manages to use the move of comics to the computer to play up the strengths of the first, which shows insight into the particular attributes of his chosen medium and how these relate to the expressive art of telling stories.

His work led McCloud to a very different perspective on stories than the one advocated by traditional literature. Stories are not about the relation of events, they are not histories, rather he states that: "Storytellers in all media and all cultures are, at least partially, in the business of creating worlds." [5]. This perspective on stories seems to be much more suited to games as well. Games are very good at creating worlds and many scholars have reflected on this ability. For example, Henry Jenkins [6] makes a strong case for architectural approach to designing game stories. In addition the larger interpretative freedom McClouds grants the reader of comics might be a welcome step away from a theory of narrative that makes creativity the province of the genius of the author only.

3 Games as a Medium for Storytelling

When we shift our attention to computer games as a medium a few characteristics particular to games that shape the way we tell stories come in to sharp focus. These characteristics are interactivity, simulation and gameplay. In this article I wish to address these terms in the most generic possible way. This is partly because different games implement these aspects in very different ways, and partly because there is not much consensus on these terms among scholars of games. In addition I hope the reader agrees that a generic approach to these characteristics suffices for this article. I am trying to comment on the narrative potential of games in general. The exact implementation of narrative in games is best left to the individual craftsmanship of game designers and interactive storytellers.

Interactivity is heralded as one of the hallmarks of new computerised media, and computer games are often placed at the pinnacle as the one of most interactive media to date. Although there are many ways to understand interactivity, with games interactivity is generally understood as the power of the user to interact with the game in such way that the game 'text' (the sounds and images it produces) itself is changed so that it in some way reflects the players choices (see for example [7]; or [8]). This type of interactivity is far beyond the interpretative freedom of a reader of a linear, non-interactive text. Interactivity grants some control over the game to the player to the extent that the game designer no longer produces a text, as the author of a novel does, rather the player produces one within the framework provided by the game designer. The job of the game designer is to create a tool, a semiotic space or machine for the player to use and craft her own stories. Unfortunately, giving up authorial control seems to be a rather hard thing to do. Few writers are prepared to vest enough confidence in the storytelling abilities of their audience, while the audience also seems reluctant to pick up the challenge to entertain themselves. As Steven Poole expresses the sentiment: "we don't want to have to make crucial narrative decisions that might, in effect, spoil the story for us. We want to have our cake and eat it." [9]

The perspective of games as interactive machines ties in nicely with games as simulations. The logic that is embedded in the machine can be described as a system of rules that model in game-world. The game-world might be taken quite literary as a fictional playground for the player but some worlds are more abstract and have no real-world counter part or consists only in mathematical relations of the various game elements. Most game-worlds are somewhere in between these two extremes. The old game of chess is a good example. This game metaphorically represents two opposing armies at a field of battle, but the abstract rules that make up the game are more important than any reference to a real historical place or battle. Simulation in computer games has a long history (long as far as computer games goes that is). In his early work Chris Crawford already drew the same parallel between simulations and games as between technical drawing and a work of art [10]. More recently, Gonzalo Frasca worked on the notion of simulation as an alternative to narrative or textual representation. An alternative that takes into account the status of a game not as a text but as a machine for the production of texts [11]. It is important to see that most approaches to games simulations scholars stress the importance expressive power of the simulation itself over the direct representation of a (fictional or non-fictional) reality. As Steven Poole argues: "Videogames will become more interesting artistically if they abandon thoughts of recreating something that looks like the 'real' world and try instead to invent utterly novel ones that work in amazing but consistent ways because [...] a 'realistic' simulation is always built on a foundation of compromise anyway." [12].

Gameplay, finally, is probably the most fluid of these three aspects. Although every gamer has an intuitive grasp of what gameplay she likes and what gameplay she dislikes, finding a solid definition of gameplay is difficult. Most people will acknowledge that gameplay is the thing the player does while playing, and good gameplay amounts to a certain enjoyable quality of this activity. It is not uncommon to link gameplay to the notion of flow. A state of mind described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [13] in which the player looses track of time, becomes unaware of her surroundings and is totally immersed in the game. To achieve flow the player needs to feel challenged, but not too much: she must also feel in control. Furthermore she needs clear goals and some sort of feedback. A well designed game delivers all these experiences and is easy to see that good interactivity design and a coherent simulation contribute to flow and gameplay.

These three aspects are of course not the only aspects crucial to gaming. For example, one might point out that games involve some sort of conflict and its resolution (winning or loosing). However, most stories also involve conflict and some sort of resolution (closure). If anything, the conflict in games is often represented in the most primitive form (violence) whereas other media have found more sophisticated ways of depicting conflict. Considering the relative young age of computer games this should not come as a surprise. What is surprising is that games already show the first signs of expanding their palette beyond violence alone [14].

In considering these aspects of games and how these relate to story telling a common mistake is encountered. The games industry has a tendency to focus on realism and transparency in order to create immersion. They seem to think that the player will only suspend her disbelieve when the simulated world is realistic enough, this requires the controls to be as transparent and intuitive as possible and rules out anything that might break the spell. Game scholars too, often retain that games as expressive media are less sophisticated than other media. For example, in his account of game time, Jesper Juul argues that chronologically discontinuous games work against immersion because they call attention to themselves as games [15]. In his view it something that might work in film or a book but goes against the ideal experience of a game. I disagree, games lack an established and expressive grammar to communicate discontinuous time, not the potential to express it effectively. Books and cinema were not invented with structures to represent discontinuous time from the start, and when the necessary grammar evolved it took time for the audience to adjust. It might very well be that most current games are always played in the 'now', as Juul insists, but that is not their necessary condition. David Jay Bolter and Diane Gromala argue against transparent interface design: "the most successful digital consumer products are not merely transparent, but instead make the interface part of the experience" [16]. It seems like a viable strategy for designing games as well. Gameplay consists of interacting with the game, and to think about the presses of the button and to integrate that experience into the game will give the player a great sense of control. Control will lead to flow, through which immersion can be reached. This is much closer to the transcendental cyborg consciousness famously described by Ted Friedman [17], which quite literary recall Marshall McLuhan's notion of media as the extensions of man. More expressive grammar and structures in games will only enhance the power at the command of the player, and deepen her experience.

What, then, are the types of stories games are suited to relate? For one thing games are part of popular culture and should appeal to a wide audience (often by economic necessity). They are good at delivering worlds and should be able to let the player roam free inside them. This makes games in many ways a closer cousin to television, episodic comics and cross-media events than to literature or cinema. They are part of a folk tradition of storytelling rather than they should aspire to storm the vestibules of high art and literature. To put it simple games are excellent vehicles for modern myths.

4 A Mythological Approach to Storytelling

The emergence of interactive storytelling, in games and outside games, have inspired a renewed interest in mythology. Myths are among the oldest forms of storytelling and stem from an age before written records existed. These days we like to imagine ways in which the shamans told their stories around the camp-fire interactively. Most of this is, of course, guesswork. Although the ritual re-enactment of certain myth are indeed ancient examples of interactive storytelling. But games copy more than the structure of myths alone. It is not enough to assume that the mythological content of many games only offers shallow, escapist entertainment, for the there is more power in myths than that.

Myths have long served a very particular role in society, they teach us how to live. It is a perspective on myth that has been popularised by Joseph Campbell. In his key work The Hero with a Thousand Faces [18] he presents his theory of the monomyth. Campbell shows that many stories from around the world and from many different sources all deal with life, death and the rites of passage. It is as if one single story, the monomyth (The Adventure of The Hero), underlies all these other stories, although they might focus on different parts of the monomyth. Basically the monomyth teaches us to overcome life's obstacles and to step into the footsteps of our parents; they show us how to live and experience life. Towards the end of his work, Campbell observes that today too much has changed for the monomyth to retain much relevance. Scientific progress and liberal democratic ideals have transformed society too much. No longer is it necessary to become as your parents, and people are more free to choose their own path in life. The symbols of the past seem to have lost their value [19]. Still, narrative works that follow the monomyth closely, or are directly inspired by it, are still created, and are still hugely successful. Two of the best known examples are the Star Wars series and The Lord of the Rings. The myths Campbell described keep emerging in popular culture; Campbell's work has found its way into many storyteller's handbook.

Another mythological take at popular fiction can be found in the work of film scholar Geoff King [20]. He recounts the frontier myth that inspired many popular films since the heyday of the Western, especially in the big action flicks of Hollywood. In King's account, the frontier myth also serves to help its audience to make sense of the world. Its basic premise is that of the strong male hero, purified by a hard and simple life on the frontier, who fights the technological and bureaucratic forces of modern, hedonistic society and restores the family unit or small community because he puts more trust in his wits and intuition than in technology. The frontier can take many guises, from its American frontier original, via any wild and untouched stretch of nature, to the vast unexplored stretches of deep space. The frontier myth pits mankind against technology and condemns a society that relies to much on the latter. The frontier myth can be easily identified in many action films and works of fantasy and science-fiction, including the aforementioned Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Both stories antagonise the industrial perfection of Saruman and the Empire, while contrasting it with nature loving heroes or the ramshackle technology of the Rebels. Games frequently use the frontier myth, a clear cut example can be found in Half-Life where the government turns out to be the real enemy after they failed to contain the aliens and to harness their own technology. In this case the frontier comes to our hero Gordon Freeman, and his perilous trek through the alien invested complex prepares him for the real encounter with the enemy. The fact that the government ends up using Freeman to eliminate the alien threat is a common twist that mostly serves to underlines the their inability despite their technological advantage.

As all proper myths, the frontier myth holds some relevance in real life. In this case technology is seen as a factor that is changing society, and not for the good. It reflects a conservative almost Luddite sentiment that apparently strikes a chord with a large part of the audience. Finding meaning in a increasingly anonymous society is difficult and many people do recognise the feeling of being enslaved by the technology that was supposed to make life easier. Ironically, the fact that these stories are often mediated by the very same technologies and are controlled by similar large companies the myth antagonises, seems to escape the general public.

5 The Success of Interactive Myth

Our appetite for mythical content is not the only reason of the success a mythological approach to storytelling in games might have. I find that as a strategy for interactive storytelling it holds some promise, at the same time it seems to go well with some recent trends and practices within the industry. The mythical form of stories simply seems to fit the media form of games rather well.

Games or, according to Scott McCloud, any form of story aim at delivering worlds. Most myths, too, concern themselves with the creation of a mythical universe. Despite the relevance myths might hold for their public, few people mistake the fictional character of the myths for facts. Or at least they should distinguish between myth and reality. Joseph Campbell, states that people sometimes do well to refer to the myths outside their own religion, for he feels when they do not take them for facts their message comes across more clearly [21]. Various myths often combined into a mythology, a collection of myths of a culture that deal with the same characters or locations. The cycle of Norse Myths are a well known example. These tales relate the dealings of the old gods of Scandinavia. Although some myths should be clearly placed at the beginning of the cycle and others towards the end, the tales in the middle are largely interchangeable. In the middle the characters are well established and do not change much as each has their own role to play at reflects their own part of life or the populace. Each new iteration of the same metaphorical conflict offers a new perspective on the represented themes. In this regard John Fiske draws a parallel between mythology and television series, where every show is often a similar reiteration of the same conflict. Within an episode "[t]he syntagmatic chain of events may reach closure, but the paradigmatic oppositions of character and situation never can" [22]. A similar observation could be made for video games, as most seem to reiterate the same paradigmatic oppositions over and over again, even when the cast and set change more frequently.

At the same time the recent trend in many cultural industries is to make repeated use of the same intellectual properties. It is expensive and considerably risky to keep investing in new fictional characters and worlds when the audience displays an unquenchable thirst for the same heroes. As a result there are more sequels and more adaptations from one media to another. These days a fictional character might start out as a minor comic book character that is ported to the silver screen before she stars in her own television series or computer game (see [23, 24]). This fictional universes that span many media texts and artefacts are build around a coherent core that function much like a ancient mythology: it represents a particular outlook on life. Interestingly such a fictional universe is inherently much more interactive than the content of a linear story, as fans can more freely explore or even contribute to this world. Many minor additions to these cross-media constructs are designed facilitate such visits. In his discussion of the frontier myth, Geoff King includes examples from film themed theme park rides. He argues that these rarely aim at delivering the same story as the main cinematic source, rather they are designed to make the visitor feel part of the same fictional universe [25]. Curiously, many of such theme park rides seem to include a moment where, apparently, something goes wrong. These moments help the audience to suspend their disbelieve and cross the boundary into fictional world. It helps them forget for a moment that they are safely strapped into a cart; it can be regarded as a form of media transparency. Although, I do not think it is fully transparent and it takes a little bit more to really make the audience forget that what they are seeing is only a show. In fact, as I argued above, I doubt these attractions should aim for full transparency or risk to stop being enjoyable. If anything, this common strategy of going off the beaten track illustrates better the willingness of the audience to buy into the fantasy. To some extent, we want these stories to be true; we welcome the chance to be able to participate and enjoy them as if they are real, in the safe knowledge that nothing really bad can happen.

This willingness of the audience to play their part in the communal fantasy is one of the foundations of an interesting structure for interactive storytelling discussed by Marie-Laure Ryan called fractal storytelling [26]. She takes the idea from Neal Stephenson's science-fiction novel The Diamond Age in which an interactive storybook plays a prominent role. Fractal storytelling resolves around the idea that people enjoy stories that to some extent are predictable. There are only so many stories and we are pretty good at recognising them: start with the words 'once upon a time' and we all know we are dealing with a fairy tale and easily predict the way the tale will develop. Horror films and action films are also notorious for reusing the same narrative developments and devices over and over again. Satirical takes on these genres such as Scary Movie or Last Action Hero are good examples where these mechanisms are clearly foregrounded.

Contrary to appeals to originality and creative genius, more often than not the audience wants the same action spiked stories, at best with some minor variations. Interactive storytellers can make use of this appetite of the audience by delivering what people want to hear and see. Authors should not struggle with the player for narrative control, rather the author and the player should cooperate. The author can expect that when the player buys a violent game she does not expect pacifist solutions to be part of it, and therefore the player should not be disappointed when these are indeed not part of the game. Games have already been described as a restrictive language where rules govern a world where we are challenged pursue goals in indirect or inefficient ways (see [27]). Likewise, stories also often rely on a restricted language, classical, traditional and modern myths in particular. Aristotle's theory of the drama is good example of such a restrictive language that is still applied to this day. In all likelyhood, these languages correspond to different genres while at the same time they might share a common, universal core. The interplay between stories, games and these genre-languages strongly resembles the way languages function in the social linguistic theories of popular and 'high' culture of Mikhail Bakhtin [28].

The idea of the fractal story helps the interactive storytelling to focus on giving the player freedom where it matters. To accommodate for all possible actions of the player is not very efficient when the goal of the story is more or less fixated by its initial premise. The abduction of a princess by a dragon leaves little doubt as to how the plot will end. However, the eventual demise of the dragon can take on several different meanings depending on the trajectory of the player. As Barry Atkins puts it: "The satisfaction of such stories, at least at the level of discrete plot fragment, rests not in matter of plot sophistication, but in matters of sophistication of telling. The question is never will the prince overcome the dragon but how will the prince overcome the dragon?" [29]. This still leaves a lot room for different stories. The interactive plot is not an end in it self, rather it is a means to create interactive stories that are the result of the creative collaboration between storyteller and player. In the end, it is not about the structure of the game but about the experience of the player. The best way to give the player an experience she likes is to establish a symbolical playground rife with dramatic, paradigmatic oppositions and leave it to the player to explore at her own leisure. When the symbolical oppositions are interesting enough, and when she has enough freedom to explore and experiment with these, the player will want to return over and over again. That way the interactive story can grow with the player: the game creates stories that within certain parameters also reflect back to the player.

6 Stories Games Might Tell

Closer inspection of the stories presented in games reveals that myths are indeed already popular content for games. Campbell's journey of the hero and King's frontier myth are both useful templates for analysis of games (as is the case for many science-fiction, fantasy or action stories). Most of these instances of these myths are not really known for their progressive message. We already have seen that a lot of films produced within the Hollywood studio model, with its reliance on technology and scale, advocate a sentiment that goes against their own mode of production. At a first glance games do not appear very different. Which is strange, because in so far, with games too, the medium is the message one would expect that these technologically advanced artefacts communicate a message that is more progressive and less technophobic.

However, there are alternative avenues to interpret the mythological content of games. Ian Bogosts [30] holds the view that video-games in fact represent a new mode of thinking and organising that he associates with complex systems. It is a way of thinking that favours 'unit operations' over top-down system thinking or 'system operations':

Unit operations are modes of meaning-making that privilege discrete, disconnected actions over deterministic, progressive systems. It is a term loosely amalgamated from several fields, including software technology, physics, and cybernetics, but it could be equally well at home in the world of literary theory. I contend that unit operations represent a shift away from system operations, although neither strategy is permanently detached from the other." [31]

System operations refer the old practices of sciences and society to organise everything in large systems that are understood top-down. These days, our society and or knowledge has grown so much in scope that a top-down approach seizes to be effective. Most sciences have moved beyond system operations towards unit operations. The emergence of the computer game as a medium with social and cultural significance is a clear indication that culture will follow suit. For what is computer game but a complex and open system? Bogost proposes a comparative computer game criticism that interprets games among similar lines I have outlined here. Above all, it "would seek to understand how videogames reveal what it means to be human." [32] Interpreting games in this way, they might have to teach us a few lessons that go beyond technological and bureaucratic angst, despite the fact that still seems to be the most dominant theme in many game stories. The popularity in games of one particular character arch-type, the hacker, is particularly promising for the future of game myths.

Hackers have become common heroes of many science-fiction stories found in games and elsewhere. They are very prominent in the subgenre of cyberpunk where they are often encountered in their most pure form: computer wiz-kids that use their skills to enter the computers of mega corporations and governments in order to free information and to expose the evil intent of those organisations. Games like System Shock and Deus Ex make extensive use of this theme. William Gibson, one of the genre's classic authors, frequently uses the term console-cowboy to refer to these future criminals, data terrorist or freedom fighters. A term that recalls the frontier myth, and indeed that myth provides us with a meaningful interpretative framework to approach many works of cyberpunk. The new frontier is now the electronic frontier in cyberspace. We can also encounter the hacker in other stories. Geoff King briefly discusses the hacker nature of the girl Lex in the film Jurassic Park and contrasts her different, more intuitive approach with that of computer-nerd and villian Nedry. [33]. This whole film, like the book it is based upon, can be interpreted as a clean-cut example of the frontier myth, but also serves to illustrate the difference between unit operations and system operations (and represents the former as the more superior of the two).

Still, there is a important difference between the hacker and cowboy as the more typical frontier hero. Cowboys seem to live more in the past than hackers do. Cowboys invariably want to restore the country side, and human society, to a pure, unspoiled state, untouched by technology. Hackers, on the other hand, usually live by their technological skills, they cannot live without their technology. The hackers differ from their adversaries in their more intuitive, bottom-up, approach to technology, which allows them to control the technology rather than being controlled by it. In a sense the hacker represents a sort of synthesis between the old frontier heroes and the way our world has evolved. the hacker does not try to escape modern society, rather the hacker shows us how to embrace technology and without giving up our individuality. In this way the significance of the hacker exceeds the world of games and fiction. For example hackers would excel in Bogost's unit operations, and McKenzie Wark uses the hacker and the hack to describe modern information workers in his political A Hacker Manifesto. [34]

The difference between hackers and cowboys is clearly illustrated when one compares the films The Matrix to Johnny Mnemonic, which both star Keanu Reaves in the role of the 'hacker'. In The Matrix hacker Neo finds power within to fight the system, but although this leads to his personal transcendence, the film's main antagonist is clearly the technology itself. The sequels make a point in celebrating a more primitive tribal society over the world as we know it today. In the matrix Neo is more of a cowboy than a hacker. In contrast, Johnny Mnemonic does not really antagonise technology. One of its main heroes is the cyberdolphin Jones, an interesting mix between nature and technology. The antagonist is not technology itself, instead the bad guys are with the pharmaceutical corporation that are controlling the technological advances and withhold the cure for the disease that is caused by cyberware. Of course, in the end they prove to be no match for hacker Johnny and his friends who with their superior understanding and bottom-up control manage to save the day.

It should become clear that games are excellent vehicles for the figure of the hacker and the hacker myth. For what is gaming but a bottom-up approach to understanding complex systems? Control, so vital to gameplay, corresponds well to the performance of the hack. Last but not least, the hacker myth points the way forward instead of celebrating ages past. If we are in need of new road signs for life (as Joseph Campbell repeatedly stated), than the hacker myth holds much more relevance for contemporary, complex society than the way of the cowboy. The hacker, in its many guises, is the newest incarnation of the mythological trickster, and as the trickster has done for ages, the hacker shows us how to harness technology and how to incorporate it into our lives and society.

7 Conclusion

Every medium for storytelling favours its own type of story. We cannot and should not compare the stories of games to standards set by the 'high' culture of literature or art-house cinema. If games are to evolve as a storytelling medium a form of storytelling should be found that matches the characteristics of games. Mythological storytelling, which shapes many stories in popular media, seems to be very well suited to interactive storytelling in general and games in particular. The structural form of the myth with its own restrictive formal rules can be easily incorporated by games. The general audience relishes this type of story as they know what to expect and because it holds relevance to their everyday life, even when the narrative theme is anything but ordinary.

The mythological content of popular media, however, shows a serious conservative and technophobic streak. However, society advances and we need our stories to reflect that change, or at least to help us cope with it. To this end games, as one of the technologically most advanced media to date, seem to hold the key. They are more accommodating to the emerging myth of the hacker; a new and more progressive incarnation of the classic hero. In this way, games constitute an invaluable platform that can teach us how to deal with modern life in new ways. In this way, games give shape to new mythological content that will shape our lives.


1. Poole, S.: Trigger Happy, The Inner Life of Videogames. Fourth Estate, London. (2000) p. 216

2. McLuhan, M.: Understanding Media, The extensions of man. Routledge Classics, London (1964/2001) p. 188

3. McCloud, S. Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art. HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (1993) p. 67

4. McCloud, S. Reinventing Comics, How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionaizing an Art Form. New York, HarperCollins Publsihers, New York (2000) p. 222

5. Ibid. p. 211

6. Jenkins, H.: Game Design as Narrative Architecture. In Harrington, P. and Frup-Waldrop, N. (eds.) First Person. The MIT Press, Cambridge. (2004) 117-130

7. Poole (2000) p. 105

8. Aarseth, E.J.: Cybertext, Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. (1997) p. 3

9. Poole (2000) p. 123

10. Crawford, C.: The Art of Computer Game Design. (1983) p. 9

11. Frasca, G.: Simulation versus Narrative. In Wolf M.J.P. & Perron, B. (eds.) The Video Game Theory Reader. Routledge, New York. (2003) p. 221-235

12. Poole (2000) p. 240

13. Csikszentmihalyi, M.: Flow, The Psychology of the Optimal Experience. HarperPerennial (1990)

14. Meadows, M.S.: Pause & Effect, The art of interactive narrative. New Riders, Indianapolis. (2003) p. 20

15. Juul J.: Introduction to Game Time. In Harrington, P. and Frup-Waldrop, N. (eds.) First Person. The MIT Press, Cambridge. (2004) p. 131-142

16. Bolter, D.J. & Gomala, D. Windows and Mirrors, Interaction Design, Digital Art and the Myth of Transparency. The MIT Press, Cambridge. (2003) p. 149

17. Friedman, T.: Making Sense of Software, Computer Games and Interactive Textuality. Available at: <> (1999)

18. Campbell, J.: The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1949)

19. Ibid. p. 387

20. King, G.: Spectacular Narratives, Hollywood in the Age of the Blockbuster. I.B. Tauris Publishers, London. (2000)

21. Campbell, J.: The Power of Myth. Ancher Books, New York. (1988/1991) p. 5

22. Fiske, J. Television Culture. Routledge, London. (1987) p. 145

23. Aarseth, E.J.: Waiting for Death Jr.: The culture and business of crossmedia productions. Paper presented at the IGDA conference. (2005)

24. Kerr, A.: The Business and Culture of Digital Games, Gameswork/Gameplay. SAGE Publication, London. (2006) p. 69-73

25. King (2000) p. 176-184

26. Ryan, M. Narrative as Virtual Reality, Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. (2001) p. 337

27. Carr, D., Buckingham, D., Burn, A., & Schott, G. Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play. Polity Press, Cambridge. (2006)

28. Bakhtin, M.: Discourse of the Novel. In Holquist M. (ed.) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. University of Texas Press, Austin. (1981) p. 259-422

29. Atkins, B.: More than a Game, The Computer Game as Fictional Form. Manchester University Press, Manchester. (2003) p. 43

30. Bogost, I.: Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. The MIT Press, Cambridge. (2006)

31. Ibid. p. 3

32. Ibid. p. 53

33. Poole (2000) p. 65-66

34. Wark, M.: A Hacker Manifesto. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. (2004)