The Hero’s Journey in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern that is found in almost every story from every part of the world. This archetypal structure resonates with us because it’s a pattern we find true in our lives. This concept was put into words by a man named Joseph Campbell whose work has influenced literature, psychology, film, and several other fields by demonstrating the vital elements of a journey.

I have always enjoyed the Uncharted games from Naughty Dog, primarily because of their cinematic gameplay, the puzzles, and most of all, the characters. It’s hard to find good plot in video games, but I believe the Uncharted games are some of the best. To show you why I believe this is the case, I’ll walk you through Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception to show you how the plot is moving on through the Hero’s Journey to shape the protagonist, Nathan Drake, into a real character.

(The game’s been out for a while now, so if there are spoilers, then you’ve had plenty of time to see them.) 

Epic shot of Nathan Drake.

Epic shot of Nathan Drake.

Before we get into it, however, let me share with you the basics of the Hero’s Journey, loosely adapted from Joseph Campbell’s work.

THE HERO’S JOURNEY

These are the parts of the Hero’s Journey simply put:

  1. The Ordinary World: The hero is introduced in their environment. Here we see what their daily life is like and we also get to see the beginning of a conflict for this character.
  2. The Call to Adventure: Something happens–an internal or external pressure propels the hero towards action or change.
  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero is uncertain, reluctant, or fearful. They try to turn away from the adventure.
  4. Meeting with the Mentor: The hero encounters a person who equips them for the journey to come, either by training them, giving advice, or equipping them.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: The end of Act One–the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and begins the journey.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero is tested by facing trials, having to choose allies, and in doing this, gathers enemies as well.
  7. Approach: The hero and their allies prepare for the challenge that awaits them.
  8. The Ordeal: Near the middle of the story–the hero confronts death and must face their greatest fear. This is also called the Crisis.
  9. The Reward: From the Ordeal (or Crisis), the hero learns an important lesson. The hero may also earn a physical reward from facing their fear. There is celebration, but the journey isn’t over yet.
  10. The Road Back: The hero must return home with the reward they’ve found, whether it’s physical or emotional, but the way back is full of dangers and obstacles. There might be a chase, a run to the finish.
  11. The Resurrection: The climax–the hero is given their ultimate test. Will they act on what they learned in the Crisis? The hero sacrifices themselves in another moment of death and rebirth, but this time it is the ultimate sacrifice. In this action, the conflict from the first stage is resolved.
  12. Return with the Elixir: The hero returns home or continues on, but in either case, they demonstrate the treasure (the Elixir) has transformed them, brought healing (physical or emotional), saved the land, etc.

These steps are sometimes rearranged, abbreviated, and sometimes they may not all appear in one story, but take any story you truly love and see if you can locate the different stages. Challenge accepted?

THE HERO’S JOURNEY IN UNCHARTED 3: DRAKE’S DECEPTION

Here, I’ll take you through the game. I’ve laid out the steps in the journey, but there are many elements inside of this structure that I have included in my analysis of U3. If you’re curious about these, I highly recommend looking into Joseph Campbell’s writing. There are also many other scholars who have taken on this archetypal structure and used it as a lens to talk about literature.

For all you writers out there, I can’t recommend Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey enough. He adapts Campbell’s work to apply it directly to storytelling, and the strength of his ideas is proved by his long and successful career as one of Hollywood’s top story consultants. His book in particular has helped me think more critically about my writing and supplied me with all the right questions to ask when it comes to revision. If you’re having problems with plot or structure, there is no better resource.

The highlighted terms are from Campbell and Vogler. If you’d like more information, please take a look at Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces and Vogler’s Writer’s Journey.

Now, to the game!


Act One

The Ordinary World

In the case of the video game, Uncharted 3:Drake’s Deception, the Ordinary World is established in a flashback of the Hero, Nathan Drake. The player is introduced to Drake as a young teenager living in Cartagena, Columbia. Drake, shown in ragged and dirty clothes, is a streetwise American teenager scraping to get by in a foreign country. The police are wary of him, demonstrating that he already has a reputation as a bit of a thief. Parents are completely absent from his situation.

Call to Adventure

Looking to steal a ring that belonged to his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, he encounters Victor Sullivan trying to steal the same item from the museum for his shady employer, Katherine Marlowe. Sullivan and Drake both try to acquire the ring. When Drake seems to have the upper hand, Marlowe orders her men to recover it from him by force. When one of Marlow’s men corners Drake, Sullivan saves him. Sullivan offers to take Drake in and to help him with tracking down the mystery left behind by Sir Francis Drake.

Refusal of Call

Drake is wary of Sullivan and keeps his distance from him, repeatedly saying that he is doing fine on his own. He is a Reluctant Hero.

Meeting with the Mentor

Sullivan acts as Drake’s Mentor. As a thief himself, Sullivan recognizes Drake’s ability and sees a bit of himself in the kid. He repeatedly attempts to offer his aid to Drake.

Crossing the Threshold

Drake finally accepts Sullivan’s help. They shake hands over a meal.

Drake crosses the threshold.

Drake crosses the threshold.


Act Two

Test, Allies, Enemies

This stage is where the game begins chronologically. Drake, twenty years older, and Sullivan tangle with a man called Talbot. He reveals himself to be a minion of Marlowe, who is still seeking the ring Drake has in his possession. Marlowe establishes herself as the main Villain. Here, Sullivan takes on the role of Ally. Drake also acquires Allies in the characters of Chloe Frazer and Charlie Cutter. Cutter serves a bit of a Mentor role briefly—as someone previously inside Marlowe’s organization, he gives Drake information about their plans. Chloe and Cutter help Drake as he tries to acquire more information about Marlowe’s plans. As a treasure hunter, he plans to find out Sir Francis Drake’s secret and how his ring is tied to the mystery.

There are several tests in this stage. Drake travels to various locations, including France and Syria, following the trail of Sir Francis Drake, who left clues about his mysterious journey in journals and architecture that are guarded by puzzles and ciphers. He eventually discovers that Marlowe is seeking Ubar, the Atlantis of the Sands, and the treasure that lies there. Drake must overcome Marlowe’s minions who frequently try to impede their progress. There is a heavy emphasis on the masculine element through the tests as Drake is often being shot at or attacked in some form or another.

However, the feminine aspects of Drake’s character conflicts begin to come to the foreground. After a close call escaping a burning building, Sullivan questions Drake’s actions for the first time, wondering if the treasure they are hunting is worth all the trouble they are going through to get it. He says that Drake’s pride is the real reason they are endangering themselves, though they both decide to continue with the quest.

Sully questions Drake's motives.

Sully questions Drake’s motives.

In Yemen, Drake is reunited with Elena Fisher, his estranged wife who is a foreign ambassador there. Elena acts as an Ally, helping Drake get access to different places in the city, but she is also a Shapeshifter. The relationship between Elena and Drake is complex, and she is torn between her duty as an ambassador and the feelings she still has for Drake. She voices doubts about Drake’s quest after they experience a particularly dangerous brush with traps that Sir Francis Drake himself turned back from in his pursuit of the treasure of Ubar. She questions why Drake feels that he has to continue even when it is clearly dangerous to go on and Marlowe’s motives may be more nefarious than simple treasure seeking.

Elena furthers Drake’s feminine conflict by voicing concern for Sullivan, who is devoted to Drake and would go to great lengths to support him. The player at this point can begin to see Sullivan as a clone for Drake, a vision of who he might be if he continues with his treasure-seeking ways. Sullivan enjoys the treasure hunting life, but he has no family, no romantic connections.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

In Yemen, Drake’s group makes an important discovery. Following that, Talbot interferes, drugging Drake and capturing him. Marlowe questions him about what they discovered, but moreover, she plants doubt in his mind as to the life that Sullivan has led him into, whether or not he actually saved him or condemned him to this kind of life. Drake escapes, but he confronts Talbot, who shows himself to be another clone and Shadow of Drake. They look physically alike, are experts with weapons, and Talbot demonstrates a possibility of what Drake could become if he buried himself in treasure-hunting for the sake of the treasure itself, becoming warped without concern for who gets hurt. After following a false lead and escaping from a band of pirates, Drake finds that Marlowe has taken Sullivan into the desert because he knows the location of Ubar. Marlowe, despite her past with Sullivan, is ruthless and will no longer have a need for Sullivan once they find the city. Drake must rescue him.

Elena, in Drake’s prolonged absence, was planning to rescue Sullivan herself. Drake, recent events wearing on him, shares a brief moment of rest with her and in an even rarer act, apologizes to her. There is a plane leaving to get supplies to Marlowe’s convoy, and Drake decisively acts, making sure that Elena does not come with him because he knows it will be dangerous, and he does not want to see her in harm’s way again because of his actions. She accepts his decision, but still helps him onto the plane.

Ordeal

Drake’s presence is discovered on the plane and the firefight inside causes the plane to depressurize and

A mirage of Sully keeps Drake going.

A mirage of Sully keeps Drake going.

crash. Drake, barely escaping, is left in the middle of the desert with few resources and little hope of finding the convoy other than the night sky. As he grows more and more dehydrated, Drake encounters mirages, first of water, then of Sullivan. He is left wandering in the desert for quite a while and is forced to confront the doubtful voices of Marlowe and Elena as he deals with exhaustion and no shelter. Alone, Drake has to decide what he is really looking for in the desert. Constantly disappointed by hopes for water and rescue, Drake clings to his desire to save his friend and fights the elements and more of Marlowe’s men to find him. A group of desert riders help Drake and decide to help him find the convoy, but it is clear that Drake has walked out of that desert with a new perspective. People are more important than treasure, a discovery that could serve as the armature for Uncharted: 3.

Reward

Drake’s manner impresses the sheik, the leader of the Bedouin, and he gains an Ally. As a result of the Ordeal, Drake recovers Sullivan safe and sound.


Act Three

The Road Back

Marlowe, having gotten what she wanted, has continued on to Ubar. Drake and Sullivan know that they must stop her from acquiring the secret of Ubar. 

Resurrection

In the lost city, Drake experiences another hallucination due to the water of the oasis, the true secret and weapon discovered by Sir Francis Drake. Believing Sullivan was killed by Marlowe and Talbot, he chases after them, and it seems that he might be faltering in his devotion to what he discovered as a result of the Ordeal and turn into someone like Talbot. After reuniting with Sullivan, he reorients himself to reality and commits himself once again to stopping Marlowe. They prevent Marlowe from taking the urn that is polluting the water, keeping Ubar’s secret out of dangerous hands. As the structure begins to crumble, Marlowe is trapped in quicksand. She pleads for his help, and he does give it despite Sullivan’s discouragement, acting on what he learned in the desert that people are more important. However, his efforts are in vain and Marlowe and Drake’s ring are swallowed by the quicksand. Talbot, in a rage, has a Showdown with Drake while he is separated from Sullivan. Regardless of the destruction, Talbot is bent on vengeance. Drake slips over a cliff and barely manages to grab a hold. Sullivan tangles with Talbot, though he is clearly no match for him. Drake must make the decision to take out Talbot, and he sacrifices his own safety to make a risky shot while hanging off the cliff. In this way, Drake kills his Shadow, symbolically erasing that potential for darkness.

Return with the Elixir

Drake and Sullivan escape from the city, which disappears into the sands of the desert. Back in Yemen, they are reunited with Elena. Sullivan takes Drake aside to apologize for the mistakes he made in being a father to Drake and tells him he is far from being perfect. He then gives back Drake’s wedding ring, an item he had in his possession for “too long”. Drake takes it, and then goes to Elena. She voices concern over the loss of his other ring, but Drake tells her that he traded it in for something better, and she notices that he is wearing his wedding ring again. Drake demonstrates that he has internalized the lesson of his Ordeal as well as the Resurrection. His elixir allows him to become a person who is more sensitive to the people around him. He realizes that his pride as a treasure hunter was pushing away the woman he loved and endangering his oldest friend and Mentor. The game ends with them leaving together, a more complete whole as a united team.

Drake ring

There you have it! If you decide to try applying the Hero’s Journey to a favorite book, game, comic, or anything else, please share it here. I’d love to see what you find.

Now that you know about the Hero’s Journey, can you see it?

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