Mythology 101: a quick recap

Some people believe that as the Head of Game Design, I never get to take a break, that is truly a myth. A sound mind equals a sound body, so now that the Pitch & Play event is over, I am taking a short summer break. Rather than leaving all of you wanting for more Mythology, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a recap of the different areas I have already covered… Just in case you missed something good.

We’ll start with some of the most common mythologies; Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Norse. In later episodes we’ll look into some of the less known areas… African, Native American, Inca, Mayan, Asian and Aboriginal. Why? Well you only have to look at games such as God of War to realize how much Mythology can influence our games, but there’s a lot more stories to be told.


EPISODE 1: Roman Mythology

In the first episiode we took a look at Mars and Cupid, some unique stories there, and unknown to me, there was a link between them.

After spending some time looking at different cultures, you will see that there can be a lot of crossover and similarities between their myths. This is especially noticeable between the Roman Mythology and Greek Mythology, so next time we will take a look at a couple more key figures in Greek Mythology.

With a little bit of historical research, you can find some great elements that can become foundations for a game concept, a story, or even a unique mechanic like the spear shake. So the next time you are having writers block or can’t come up with a spark for a new game concept, look back in time, somewhere between the dinosaurs and the Dragons… you never know what you might find.

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 1


EPISODE 2: Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is probably some of the most well known because of the movie industry. Movies such as 300, Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans took some of the most common stories and brought them to the silver screen. In the Titan movie series they focused on Zeus, Poseiden, and Hades, the gods that are supposed to have created all of us mortals. If you are interested in learning more about them, watch the movies, or there is a lot of other sources to find out more. But let’s take a look at some Greek myths that maybe you haven’t heard about.

With a combination of brawn and brains Theseus overcame a variety of obstacles in a story that has video game written all over it. How many stories are just waiting for an interactive journey to bring them to life? If these lesser known Greek gods and one lesser known Greek myth have triggered a game idea, then maybe this series is doing what I intended, encouraging you, the reader, to look deeper into Mythology for other characters and creatures that might be the foundation for a story based game.

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 2


EPISODE 3: Australian Aborigine Mythology

In Australia there is a culture that has existed for around 50,000 years, the Aborigines are a unique people steeped in Mythology. The stories that they tell today have truly been passed down generation to generation, in their homes, or around their campfires, for thousands and thousands of years. Their stories of mythology are based on what they refer to as Dreamtime, the Dreamtime stories help to explain how things came to be, or provide guidance or morals for the children. Effectively the Mythology is created as a form of education in Aboriginal culture. As those children grow, they become responsible for telling the stories.

My key lesson from Australian Aboriginal Mythology is to think more about what you are creating, what is the story behind the landscapes and the creatures? Most importantly is there a deeper meaning to your games overall story, is there some kind of moral or lesson that you want your player to think about? By asking yourself these types of questions it may bring a little more cohesion to your level design, your characters, and especially your game players experience.

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 3


EPISODE 4: Chinese Mythology

The most common image that comes to mind when you think of Chinese Mythology is the dragon. I’m going to save the dragons for next episode, and instead focus on the other creatures of Chinese Mythology. Let’s look outside the common place and discover the types of creatures that we might be able to use to influence our characters and enemies. What craziness exists in the myths that date back to 2000 BC, and inside of those myths can I find some creatures that could make my game better or different?

So why would I do the A to Z of Chinese Characters? Well, ultimately it is to show the wide variety of unique beasts that are a small part of the Chinese Mythology. We can look at the types of creatures, their abilities, their behaviours and their physical looks. Hopefully we can use this information to inspire us to create new and unique characters for our games, or look to the mythological past and find the perfect creatures or characters for our game concepts. Keep digging, I have only scratched the surface on Chinese Mythology.

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 4


EPISODE 5: Dragon Mythology

The most common image that comes to mind when you think of Chinese Mythology is the dragon. It has influenced many cultures to a point where it is almost considered history instead of mythology. In movies such as Dragonheart, Eragon, and Reign of Fire, in TV shows such as H.R. Pufnstuf and Game of Thrones, dragons have become common place. Of course games have also had their share of dragons; from Spyro the Dragon, the Dragon Age series, Panzer Dragoon, Dragon Up and even Dragon’s Lair. Of course we can’t forget the Fantasy role playing games, starting with Dungeons & Dragons and more recently World of Warcraft which feature dragons.

If there is one thing that we can learn from this wide array of movies, games, and myths, it is that there is a lot of variation in the stories of dragons, and what those dragons are… if you are really interested in seeing how someone has used that variety effectively, just watch DreamWorks How to Train Your Dragon. Although we have heard the stories and myths of dragons in Chinese and English literature and media, you probably had no idea just how widespread they go. It kind of makes you wonder, why would all of these cultures all have such a similar creature…. hmmmm? Let’s take a trip around the world and look at just how embedded this Dragon mythology really is.

So what can you learn from all of this? The mythology of dragons goes way back. It has a place in almost every culture, and has a variation in looks, abilities, stories and meaning. This gives us great freedom to come up with our own twist on creatures that may be well known, or do some research and discover some elements that you maybe didn’t know existed.

If the Vampires of Twilight can go in sunlight, and have sparkly skin, surely we can use our own creativity if we want to include a dragon or other well known creature in our games. Or, we can just dig deeper and find that ancient mythology that fits our storylines and game mechanics for the creature that we really want to use.

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 5


EPISODE 6: Egyptian Mythology

The Mythology of Egypt could be considered more of a religion than a mythology, they prayed to their animal hybrid gods, they worshipped them, and they were instrumental in their communications (hieroglyphs) especially when sending their people to the afterlife and ensuring they were taken care of. The common thread that is encountered in their gods was that if you weren’t a previous king you probably had some element of animal as part of your make-up and the meaning and story.

OK, Egyptians had a bunch of gods that were apparently part animal, so what can you learn from all of this? Well apparently when you start to examine a creature, you can think about what it represents and attach a story or mythology to it. Parakeets, small, noisy, they fly… The Parakeet is a protector, taking to the skies and sounding an alarm when danger approaches, known as the god of alarm, they represent freedoms from danger… Yep, I made all that up. So can you. When you think about the characters and stories of your games just look to mother nature and think about what that animal or bug might represent, you might be surprised what you come up with. It worked for the Egyptians!

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 6


EPISODE 7: Celtic Mythology

This week I wanted to step away from characters and start thinking about the objects and weapons that might be a core part of your game designs. What better to look at for this than the Celtic mythologies, a wide range of myths that included Irish, Scottish, and Welsh stories.

A lot of the mythology from that time period may have been lost due to the Romans destruction of most of the Celtic writings, but there was still a lot of very interesting stories that survived in secret forms hidden from the Romans, or handed down generation to generation. When people are asked about myths and magical objects, the first things that come to mind are King Arthur’s Sword in the stone, the Stone of Scone (aka Stone of Destiny) from Scotland, and the infamous and lipstick covered Blarney stone in Ireland… but there is a lot more to Celtic mythology than a bunch of rocks.

Each of these items brings a unique aspect that has a natural home inside of a game, but really it should spark many more ideas. What weapons, items and powers can you give to your characters to assist them on their quests and adventures? Is there a myth out there that is a great fit for your game idea, or can you use some of those myths to create your own unique elements for your games?

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 7


EPISODE 8: Native American and First Nations Mythology

The stories, myths, and religions of the First Nations and Native Americans are deeply entrenched in symbolism and spirits. Their stories and mythology provide insight into weather, flora, fauna, and earth & sky. Through dance, songs, and rituals passed down by their ancestors, they share these stories and provide meaning and guidance for each generation.

Much like the Australian Aborigines, the Native American and First Nations people have a deep mythology and belief in the spirits that were part of creating their world. With ties to nature and the earth and stars themselves being part of their beliefs, how can their stories influence your game ideas, and how can you incorporate lessons and morals in the same way that they have. If there is deeper meaning behind your games stories, perhaps the purpose of play, and retention and return for your games will be better too?

- See more at: Mythology 101: Episode 8


There is so many ways that researching myths of different cultures can help you to create better characters, objects, worlds, and characters. Simply by looking back and considering the underlying elements of mythology, you can become a much better game designer.


Stay tuned for future episodes of Mythology 101, and if you have ideas for an area I haven’t covered yet, drop me a line.

Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS

Mythology 101: Episode 1 (Roman)
Mythology 101: Episode 2 (Greek)
Mythology 101: Episode 3 (Australian Aboriginal)
Mythology 101: Episode 4 (Chinese)
Mythology 101: Episode 5 (Dragons) 
Mythology 101: Episode 6 (Egyptian) 
Mythology 101: Episode 7 (Celtic) 
- Mythology 101: Episode 8 (Native American & First Nations)