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Analytical psychology driven game design in Jung’s Labyrinth

Summary of my development of Jung's Labyrinth, a psychological exploration game, afaik only of its kind, that uses Jungian psychology, mythology, alchemical and dream symbolism in a series of active imaginations to map the process of individuation.

Jan Jilecek, Blogger

December 8, 2020

13 Min Read

Jung’s Labyrinth is a psychological exploration game I made in 3 months. The game is unlike any other. I noticed a niche on the market, for games that would utilize Jungian psychology. There are literally no games (or movies) that would go in-depth into archetypal/analytical psychology and use its concepts literally.

Most people never even heard about Jung, but they know Sigmund Freud. In my subjective opinion, Freud was a narrow-minded sexually repressed genius, whereas Carl Gustav Jung was an incomprehensibly deep and open genius.

I compare Jung to Einstein, but you can understand how Einstein came up with his theories. As he himself says, he just thought about a problem longer than normal people. But Jung… he was sort of an archeologist for the mind and the roots of consciousness. The depths of his understanding of the mind are scary. Each time I read his books I feel like reading something out of a Lovecraftian story, except it’s almost always scientific and provable.

But Jung’s opponents often claim that Jungian psychology is pseudo-scientific. Reading 10 pages of any of his books would prove them wrong, if only they tried it.

Jung came up with the concept of the Collective Unconsciousness, and he proved it. It means that there is a sort of a collective basis of our minds, from which everything stems. That means that a newborn’s mind is NOT a clean slate, but it’s already full of predetermined neural structures that form its character. Kind of like instinct in animals. Those things are shared among people and are called archetypes.

Archetypes exist in everyone, and each person has his own activated version of the archetype, a personal complex. The archetypes that are activated the most in you are shaped by the circumstances of your life.

First about the archetypes

Those archetypes include the Shadow, Anima and Animus (contrasexual identity), Wise Old Man and the Self.

The Shadow consists of repressed parts of your conscious personality, and are both good and bad. The Shadow holds your untapped potential, both negative and positive. Hitler was controlled by the vicious Shadow of everything he ever repressed and what his father Alois did to him. All that creative energy he had turned against him and eventually against the world. He projected his inferiority onto others.

The Anima and Animus are contra-sexual identities. Anima means “soul” (and Animus too). Anima is female and Animus is male. Everyone has a part of the opposite sex in himself. Yin Yang is THE representation of this concept.

In men it’s Anima, emotional, non-rational and spiritual personality. It also holds the image of the ideal partner, that you often project on a new sexual partner before you start to differentiate between the ideal and the reality.
In women the situation is reversed. Animus is a manly spirit, rational and rather aggressive. The problem with Anima and Animus is that they are often low-resolution. For men it’s low resolution feeling and for women low resolution rationality. You can sometimes hear them in arguments, when the woman says “You always do this and this”, it’s the Animus talking. In these cases your Anima often reacts.

In mythology Anima takes many forms. Her shadow form is represented by Witches, Lamias, Nymphs, Naiads, Succubi etc.

And there is the Wise Old Man, or Senex. Detail-oriented old man who seeks the truth above all else. Without going into detail - imagine Dumbledore, Gandalf, the Architect from Matrix or any other Old Master (Lao Tzu).

These are the main 3 archetypes that are a part of the individuation process. Individuation is a psychological process of becoming who you are, or reaching your Self. As Buddhism describes the same process as Individuation, the state of reaching the Self could be described as attaining Nirvana.

There are many concepts and details I would like to talk about, but I want to talk about the game too, before I lose your attention.

The process of becoming who you really are happens unconsciously throughout your life. For example - your contra-sexual identity becomes activated in the later years, around 50 years of age. Men start to get more feminine and soft and women more masculine and hard.

The point of Individuation is to make this process conscious. Two main methods are by dream analysis, as dream symbols are a great source of information about your unconscious processes; and active imagination, which is a conversation with your inner archetypes.. self-induced dream state, similar to lucid dreaming.

How I came up with the idea

I noticed there are no games or movies that would utilize this. For me, it’s the most important thing in life. Kindling the light of my consciousness. But studying this and really investing into it means you will inevitably become alone. Most people feel aversion to looking at their Shadow in the face and accepting it as part of themselves. Who would want to admit that they could become a guard in the concentration camps in the ‘40s? Most people would say they would never do it, but those people need Shadow work the most. Accepting that one is capable of immense atrocities is the first step to becoming your full Self. And most people can never do even this first step. Knowing your personal Shadow is crucial for this process. You have to notice your personal projections, face your fears and most importantly integrate your capacity for mayhem.

No games use this. One movie that I know of uses this —Christopher Nolan’s Inception. He also mentions Jung’s ideas in Batman Begins (Scarecrow). But that’s only shallow touch. EVERY major story uses mythological concepts and it becomes successful BECAUSE it uses mythology. Mythology is embedded in us. There is a field called comparative mythology that tracks the parallels among world mythologies. Jung noticed this too.

And I wanted to create a game about the whole process. Utilizing things I know about mythology, dream analysis, analytical psychology and alchemy. Yes, alchemy. That was Jung’s major contribution. He noticed, mapped and proved that alchemists were using symbolic language to map the process of Individuation. But try to explain that to a person who knows nothing about alchemy, mythology, dream analysis or analytical psychology. Impossible.

So I made this game.

I came up with the idea (or rather the idea came to me from my Unconscious and I happened to catch it) when I was consciously sleep depriving myself for 2 days. I wanted to reset my sleep cycles. But it backfired and I couldn’t sleep the second day I planned to go to sleep. I had this beautiful feeling on my brain, that I get only a few times a year. It’s sort of a tingling sensation. Like if you drank 4 cups of coffee, but didn’t have any negative effects. Only positive.

And in this state of mind, an idea came. A great idea.

I wanted to make a horror game for some time. I quit my job of 3 years about a month prior so I had all the time in the world. I wanted to have a shot at making my own business.

I also wanted to make a game about my ideas and my character. As Jonathan Blow says “Take your deepest feelings and desires, and put them in the game”.

Suddenly it was obvious that I should make a game about the thing that I consider to be perhaps the deepest concept I know, and the most important thing on my mind for the past 2 years. Individuation. Finally finding who I truly am. A way to have a deeply meaningful life. Never having to do anything that I consider to be useless and NOT meaningful EVER again (I captured that feeling into a movie I made, Button Pusher).

So I frantically written down the idea and drawn concept art on 3 pages of paper, and then recorded a personal VLOG. When I watch it now I see I was obviously losing my mind. The idea was too great. I couldn’t express the feeling. One of the things I said was “I cannot die now. I am perhaps the only person who can do this game”.

At first I thought I am delusional, but no, people proved me RIGHT. I worked for a month on the game and released an announcement trailer. Thousands of people saw it and praised me. The gifted me reddit gold on reddit and I gained patrons. And a few people confirmed, in disbelief, that I was indeed the only person who thought of this.

It was confirmed. I wasn’t crazy. My idea was seriously substantial.

Development and marketing strategy

In the beginning I knew that I have to estimate this well. I am (or used to be) a software engineer and we are known to have horrible estimation skills. But I had some games behind me, so I knew what I am capable of.

I set 3 MONTHS for myself to make this game.
I got the idea on 05/22/20, started working on it 06/01 and released the official trailer today, 08/27. Planned release date on 09/04.

I surprised myself. I worked every day, even weekends, anywhere between 4 to 18 hours a day. I got into flow states every day. I LOVE THIS.

I came up with a marketing idea. I knew how to do marketing already, and I began after a month of development, giving me 2 months. Each week I would do big post on reddit. I found subreddits that absolutely LOVE the game, like /r/jung, /r/occult,/r/dreaminterpretation,/r/alanwatts,/r/rationalpsychonatus and more. But I instinctively knew these kind of people would be interested in the game. I knew because I am like them. I made the game for myself. For the type of person like me.

I was tired of modern games. I recently bought a new gaming laptop and couldn’t wait to finally be able to play Witcher 3 and Metro Exodus. But I stopped playing each of these after an hour or two. I absolutely hated the games. Witcher holds your hand whole time (in the middle of the Griff fight it was still TEACHING ME how to use the inventory) and Metro Exodus has an absolutely DUMB story (and I am a fan of Metro 2033, read the books, played the first two games. Love Stalker and Fallout).

It all comes down to this - I am a DARK SOULS fan. I can’t play anything else now. Only a few chosen indie games I love - like Limbo, Inside, SMB or Short Hike.

I also wanted to make a game for myself.

Back to the marketing idea. I created a website, where you can test your archetype. Sort of like MBTI or Big Five, you answer 72 questions and it calculates what archetype is strongest in you. I made the site in 2 days in GatsbyJS and I used Netlify for CI. I absolutely love that stack. I couldn’t be more efficient.

The strategy: Most of these online tests want you to pay via premium SMS or give them your email. I did none of this - instead I put a link to my Steam page and trailer on each results page.

It worked flawlessly. And a sort of a miracle happened. After two days, for some reason, Koreans and Filipinos made a god damn VIRAL MEME out of my site on twitter! It went like this “Share your archetype and your ult”. I had to google what ult means, but apparently it’s your “ultimate obsession in K-pop”. That’s right. K-pop….. I do not understand why they connected these two things, but when I searched for my name on twitter, I got new results linking to the test every 5 seconds, for 2 days. Each screen of the results page had the name of my game in it. In 2 days, without any paid marketing, I got 200,000 views of the test page. 1% of these clicked on Steam page, and a 1% of these added to wishlist. K-pop loving teenage girls (most of the twitter horde) are perhaps the polar opposite of my target group (men with interest in depth psychology), so the low conversion rate was understandable. But even today, the website draws around 500 people.

I hired voice actors on fiverr and did e-mail campaigns with my mailing list to find voice actors for the game. A few people signed up, and one guy, Daniel M. was especially helpful. His passion to be in the project helped the development greatly. Sped it up. He’s the main voice actor and he made the development so much easier. A real professional. Thanks Daniel. There is also Daniel W., who was a tremendous help. Both guys from Texas.

The game features a soundtrack by MJDorian, a classical music composer who is also a Jungian. And a small anecdote - I wanted to buy a license for Zack Hemsey’s “Nice to meet me” for the end credits, but his PR responded with something like “We don’t do licenses for games, sorry”. The song would fit the end perfectly. Reaching your true Self. Attaining your true potential.

That is all about the development process of Jung’s Labyrinth, I hope you enjoyed the read.

Here are the social links:

Jung's Labyrinth on Steam
Psychological exploration game. Based on teachings of Carl G. Jung, this game explores the themes of so called…store.steampowered.com


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