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Feature: The Osiris Archetype And The Birth Of Collecting

It's an inconspicuous connection, but there are parallels between the myth of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris and the common theme of collecting or regrouping objects in video games, writes Jason Johnson in today's
October 14, 2009
It's an inconspicuous connection, but there are parallels between the myth of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris and the common theme of collecting or regrouping objects in video games, writes Jason Johnson in today's Gamasutra feature: "Video games and collecting things go hand in hand, and the Isis and Osiris archetype is an archetype about collecting. In the myth, Osiris, the supreme, benevolent Egyptian god and also the king of Egypt, is murdered by his brother Set -- who also just happens to the Egyptian god of supreme evil -- and Set usurps the throne." "Dismayed by Osiris's necrophilic ability to produce an heir after his death, Set cuts Osiris's corpse into many pieces and scatters them across Egypt. Isis, Osiris's loving wife (and also a fertility goddess) then begins her quest to retrieve these pieces. Upon her quest's completion, Osiris is resurrected, as he is also a god of resurrection and the afterlife. Osiris returns to aid in vanquishing Set and evil from the kingdom. Echoes of this myth can be heard not just in today's religions, but also in video games, where it could be argued that their influence resounds even more strongly." Whether it's coins, nuts and bolts, crystals, stars, or rings, countless video games implement the Osiris archetype in varying ways. Even Donkey Kong's "rivet" level offers a rudimentary example of the Osiris archetype in games, even if Mario isn't inventorying the objects: "These rivets are the metaphorical pieces of Osiris's body, and upon their removal, the girders collapse, toppling Donkey Kong, who has taken on the role of Set in the scenario, and restoring tranquility to the construction site. This is comparable to Set's downfall, and the return of the rightful heir to Egypt after the pieces of Osiris's body had been reunited." But Johnson explains how the archetype goes well beyond Donkey Kong and can be seen in other game genres. He argues that by acknowledging the Osiris archetype and using it as a template, game designers can accomplish "cohesion between gameplay and narrative." For more on the Osiris archetype and how it relates to game design, read the full Gamasutra feature, published today.

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