BY ERIKA CABRALES.
How might oracle-texts be useful in developing an interactive narrative in more contemporary media, such as games and interactive dramas?
Looking back through the ages, many famous authors have consulted oracle-texts for their narrative structure. Firstly, there’s Philip K. Dick in Man in the High Castle, where he used the I Ching to consult how the characters would act and subsequently the direction in which the story would take (Dick, 1974). Another is William Butler Yeats, where it’s believed had a pack of tarot cards among his prized possessions; his autobiographical work The Trembling of the Veil also alludes to his involvement with the Rider-Wait tarot (Wen, 2014). Lastly is T.S. Elliot who makes no claim to any deep knowledge of the Tarot pack’ (Lorantz, 1970) but has in his poem The Waste Land references to several cards in the tarot deck yet ‘; the ‘drowned Phoenician’ as the ‘Ten of Swords’ (Wen, 2014), and the Tower being alluded to in lines 427-430: ‘The Prince of Aquitaine in the ruined tower’. From these examples, I think it’s possible to build an entertaining narrative. To expand upon it to make it interactive, however, is something I’m interested in exploring.
Narrative is a blend of characters, world, plot, and many other things that all rely upon one another to create a form of text that’s targeted at a certain audience. However, doesn’t narrative rely on both acts of randomness and indecision that stems from, for example, a character’s psyche? I Ching can help with this just as it did with Philip K. Dick and his novel Man in the High Castle. He used it to determine what the characters would do next, which seems strange to me because it doesn’t seem to stay true to what the character will do instead, but I believe it’s still valid because it’s in human nature to linger in between two impactful decisions, such as when Dick mentioned using the I Ching to determine whether Juliana Frink should tell Hawthorne Abensen whether he is targeted by assassins or not (Dick, 1974).
Despite owning a pack of tarot cards, I have never thought to use it to develop a narrative structure. Yet when taking into consideration the popular model of The Heroes Journey, it contains archetypes and suggests a narrative just as Tarot does. Some parallels can be drawn, one of which includes the Tarot Arcana of the Fool: Davidson suggests that the Fool, ‘whose lack of worldly experience appears to put him at a disadvantage…it means his mind is open to another level of consciousness—whether he realizes it or not’ (2014). The Fool is suggested to be much like the protagonist in a typical Heroes Journey: the hero is comfortable in the world they know but, outside of that, they have much to learn (Kieffer, 2016), just like The Fool.
While there are similarities between the archetypes in both Tarot and the Hero’s Journey, there are also key events that stand out. Davidson points out how a pivotal moment of learning, like losing a loved one or some other such sacrifice, in a hero’s path changes their perspective; this resonates with the Tarots cards Death and Hanged Man (2014).
Considering all the above, oracle-texts are very useful in ‘divining’ a narrative, so to speak, and can especially help with interactive games and dramas. The I Ching helps with what action the character will take and perhaps even random events which, I believe, keeps everything fresh and exciting, especially when it’s unexpected which resonates with real life events. The Tarot cards are useful in cementing archetypal characters with help from The Hero’s Journey. Not only that, but they can be used as a narrative base for climactic points in the protagonist’s self-development. I also think with the many cards in the Tarot deck, as well as the many spreads and interpretations of each card, that it will prove useful with situations when constructing outlines and deciding what happens when a situation unfolds.
Dick, P. (1974, February). Interview by A. Cover. Retrieved from https://philipdick.com/literary-criticism/frank-views-archive/vertex-interview-with-philip-k-dick/
Wen, B. (2014, February 3). Poets and the Tarot. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from https://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2014/02/poets-and-the-tarot.html
Lokrantz, J. (1970). T.S. Eliot’s Use of Tarot Cards in The Waste Land. American Studies in Scandinavia, 3(2), 59-64. Retrieved from https://rauli.cbs.dk/index.php/assc/article/view/2572/2570
Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). Tarot Cards in The Waste Land. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.shmoop.com/the-waste-land/tarot-cards-symbol.html
Davidson, J. (2014, July 7). Tarot Hero’s Journey: The Fool. Retrieved from https://jessicadavidson.co.uk/2014/07/07/tarot-heros-journey-the-fool/
Kieffer, K. (2016, August 25). Breaking Down The Hero’s Journey Plot Structure. Retrieved March 18, 2019, from https://www.well-storied.com/blog/heros-journey