The Preservation of Traditional Narratives through Popular Video Games, featuring "Fable"

Image Credit: TheXboxHub

The following article was originally published May 30, 2020 through the LinkedIn database. Since originally publishing this article, it has provided a large amount of feedback, which includes users sending me private messages. On August 9, 2020, I started my own brand called #TheModernistSon. Thus, I am republishing this article so it is available for readers through my own domain.

Abstract: The world of video game culture frequently integrates stories from previously existing narratives, and this process is necessary in order for traditional narratives to remain relevant within a twenty-first century society. The following article highlights various examples of the aforementioned process through video game franchises such as (the) Legend of Zelda, as well as the testimony of video game fanatics from a folkloric perspective.


Within the realm of video game culture, players continue investing time in video games for reasons ranging from personal entertainment to treating symptoms of anxiety. However from my perspective, video games have always been a method of seeking entertainment through their suspenseful narratives and quests to become the Machiavellian hero of (that) video game world. Nevertheless, individuals also play video games because it distracts them from real world anxieties and challenges which at the time appear insurmountable. With respect of video games, this popular medium has always served as a gateway to transport players from our own world into the unknown; as well as providing us players with new places to explore beyond the mundane circumstances of the real world. Therefore, video games have proven to be an essential aspect of twentieth and twenty-first century society. In terms of video game culture, the preservation of traditional narratives allows players the ability to share traditional motifs with new audiences. Prior to writing this article, (for the first time) I spoke with a video game fanatic named Tyler who also happens to be one of my good friends. Through my consultation with Tyler, his perspective has provided me with significant insight in terms of what it means to be a gamer and why it is important to preserve traditional narrative motifs through mediums such as popular video games.

Romanticism and Video Games:

The issue of preserving traditional narratives ensures stories collected from the pastoral past remain significant, particularly in terms of modernity and the twenty-first century gaming world. With respect of modernity, from a folkloric perspective this term means something different for everyone involved. Modernity could have a specific meaning for myself, whereas my girlfriend could completely dismiss my idea. In order for traditional narratives to effectively demonstrate modernity, narratives must be experienced through modern cultural mediums such as popular video games. Furthermore, the integration of cautionary tales in video games allows new players the opportunity to further their knowledge of traditional stories through acquired interest while playing popular video games. In terms of how video game narratives work and operate Dr. Keri Duncan Valentine from the University of West Virginia highlights messages video games convey to players, as well as the relationship between video games and common elements featured in many traditional stories. Dr. Valentine states in her book Examining the Evolution of Gaming:

Contemporary video games are able to carry explicit political or moral messages, can retell fairy tales, and remediate myths from around the world. The narrative of the 2010 video game Alan Wake (Remedy Entertainment, 2010) released by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 and Windows PC, is, created through an amalgamation of several myths from different cultures around the world. Folktales are being shared by a global community who otherwise might never interact with them. These folk stories are in part, being kept alive by their inclusion in popular contemporary video games, breathing new life into tales no longer deemed relevant by a 21st century audience. (Valentine and Jensen, 38-39)

Valentine’s statement contributes to the significance of video games in folk life, such that folktales are consistently preserved through narrative motifs of heroism, cautionary tales, and lessons of morality. For instance, the Super Mario series demonstrates the issue of the Machiavellian hero through the individual’s willingness and ability to save the entire world for the “greater good”. Motifs of heroism have existed in narratives for centuries, such that Nintendo’s latest effort with the character of Mario (Odyssey, at the time of orginally writing this article), continues to preserve traditional narrative components through Mario’s quest to halt Bower’s plans to conquer the universe through his marriage and alliance with Princess Peach. Although a new Super Mario narrative is established with each iteration, (with the exception of remastered video games), the core elements of traditional narratives remain consistent. The process of preserving traditional motifs through popular video games ensures that stories from around the world remain significant and a focal point of modernity. The concept of romanticizing pre existing narratives in modern video games appears in franchises such as the Fable Trilogy, published originally by Lionshead Studios between 2004 and 2014. Through acknowledgement of the pastoral past, this process is necessary for the survival of valued narrative components; such that transmission of old stories through video games allows new audiences to experience heroism and morality in a newly romanticized form.

 Romanticism of traditional narratives through video games emerges quite often following the birth of the video game industry in the 1970s. Although some of the earliest video games were essentially digital versions of baseball among other sports, these classics became the stepping stones to masterpieces such as Super Mario Bros 3 released in 1988. In terms of the Fable series which was initially released in 2004, the primary objective of each installment transports players into a world that demands heroic expectations, or evil depending on the player’s in game morality. Fable’s narrative allows players to determine the fate of the fictional province of Albion, such that for the first time players had the choice of being good or evil within the context of video games narratives. However, the primary issue in fantasy video games draws from the pastoral past; through mediums such as medieval romances depicting heroes and good conquering evil. Medieval romances become a significant aspect of the literary world because the aforementioned narratives include lessons of morality, which influences the actions and perspectives of readers and audience members. Drawing from the pastoral past once again, popular video game plots emulate the pre existing role of medieval romances in order to attract a substantial modern audience. During my consultation with Tyler, he discusses the nature of traditional narrative motifs commonly preserved in the video game world through best-selling franchises such as The Legend of Zelda:

I have noticed the preservation of older story elements in games like The Legend of Zelda; maybe the oldest folklore trope that exists is the “damsel in distress” with the princess, who in this case, is probably more capable than her protectors. At the same time, there are different incarnations where she (Zelda) deliberately hides her powers from those sent to protect her, and that is when you have the central hero come and save her. As for the preservation being important, whether Zelda is trying to conceal her powers the basis of the story remains the same. The hero comes to her rescue regardless, and this gives us as the readers and audience members a way of believing in ourselves. (Interview conducted February 20, 2020)

With respect of Tyler’s testimony, the nature of his statement indicates the significance of heroism as a commonplace motif within traditional narratives. In terms of preserving narrative motifs, such traditional narrative elements frequently reappear in modern video games. Early Medieval romance manuscripts exist as forms of entertainment for mass audiences, as well as demonstrating moral lessons as a means of protecting children from the dangers of the real world. Therefore, the entertainment aspects of traditional folktales holds a relationship with the inherent purpose of creating and producing video games for global audiences. As a result, video game worlds frequently draw inspiration from previously existing narrative motifs as a means of introducing societal values of the past to a modern twenty-first century.

Romanticism and Video Games, a Personal Assessment:

A major component of fantasy video games draws from the issue of heroism, and players accessing the role of the hero as a means of escaping real world concerns. Something to emphasize is folktales frequently contain elements of heroism in order to establish narrative and contextual identity which remains significant throughout the plot of 1991’s Streets of Rage for Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. The video game Streets of Rage has since been remastered for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, among others. Nevertheless, Streets of Rage does not contain strict narrative development other than the introduction in which players assume the role of a police officer. However, the video game police officer demonstrates heroism as they rebel against the corruption of society. Drawing from the role of video game characters, the issue of players assuming this heroic role allows traditional story elements to resurface within the world of early modern video games. Although narratives transmitted as a means of entertainment do not necessarily encourage readers and audiences to complete acts of heroism, these narratives remain important because it allows players to have confidence.

Video Games and Narrative Influence:

The preservation of traditional narratives remains successful because of factors such as variation, as well as the integration of pre existing stories. Outside the video game world, traditional stories are frequently integrated though mediums such as popular sitcoms, children’s books, and even various children’s television programs. The process of preserving traditional narratives has become commonplace for the twentieth and twenty-first century world, especially through mainstream video games as previously discussed through reference of Dr. Valentine’s book. Furthermore, professor of English Jonathan Ostenson’s article “Exploring the Boundaries of Narrative” highlights the issue of video game narratives influencing gamers to explore other cultural mediums. Professor Jonathan Ostenson of Brigham Young University states:

Video games have come a long way from the days of