ARG Story Structure: The Hero’s Journey In Game-Based Training

ARG Story Structure: The Hero’s Journey In Game-Based Training
WAYHOME studio/
Summary: The story in an ARG created for corporate training can help to create structure as well as change direction in gameplay. The monomyth, or hero's journey, is a complex narrative pattern that has been established as the primary way in which stories have been structured from mythology to modern day movies.

The Importance Of ARG Story Structure In Alternate Reality Games For Training

Andy Petroski, Emerging Technologies Leader and Author, is allowing our readers to read portions of his work. This article comes from his book Alternate Reality Games: Gamification For Performance.


In our previous article about ARGs, we discussed what makes an ARG story functional and the different ways individual players might interact with the game. Here we’ll talk about story structure.

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There are 8, 12, or 17 stages of the hero's journey depending on which interpretation you choose to use. The stages represent a structure that can also be followed for creating an ARG’s story. In an ARG, the players can be the main character or may play the role of someone who is aiding (or disrupting) the main character.

  • At the beginning of the hero's journey, the main character is introduced along with the presence of an underlying conflict.
  • Then, the status quo is disrupted and the main character must consider their role in the change or challenge.
  • In phase three (3) of the hero's journey, the main character questions his established role and has to determine whether to turn away from the challenge.
  • Then, the hero encounters a force (a person, skill, or resource) that gives her the ability to face the challenge.
  • At phase five (5) of the hero's journey, the main character commits to the adventure and overcoming the challenge.

Phases 6-11 are summarized as follows:

  • After committing to the journey, the hero is tested, supported by allies, and confronted with enemies.
  • After minor challenges and tests, the hero and his allies are confronted with a significant challenge that they must prepare for.
  • As the story progresses, an ultimate challenge is faced by the hero.
  • Overcoming the ultimate challenge prepares the hero for success during the rest of the journey, even though success is not assured. The hero is strengthened to overcome the final test and resolve the challenge that began the journey.
  • Phase twelve (12) details the hero’s transformation from the experience and her journey home or on to another adventure.

You have seen the hero’s journey played out numerous times in popular film. Some examples:

  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • O Brother, Where Art Though?
  • Star Wars
  • The Matrix
  • The Lord of the Rings 

[Hero's Journey: 1. The Ordinary World 2. The Call to Adventure 3. Refusal of the Call 4. Meeting with the Mentor 5. Crossing the Threshold 6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies 7. Approach 8. The Ordeal 9. The Reward 10. The Road Back 11. The Resurrection 12. Return with the Elixir]

Don’t worry. Your ARG story doesn’t need to be the next major motion picture blockbuster or great American novel. A well-crafted story can also be considered, more simply, as having a beginning, middle, and end.[1] The structure of a story can help to establish the need for activities in the game and introduce the initial challenges (beginning), present the main challenge and conflicts (middle), and lead the players to a new state of knowledge, performance, or understanding (end).

In the Robots Are Eating The Building ARG, the need for activity was established with the video introduction described in an earlier article (beginning). The main challenge was established and gameplay was encouraged by updates to the robots’ statuses and the building’s integrity (middle). The storyline was concluded through updates about robots that were defeated and the players who defeated them (end).

The I Love Trees ARG for the PA Educational Technology Expo & Conference (PETE&C), also described in the article mentioned above, introduced players to a challenge that was familiar and motivational. And, it was done in a fun and playful way through the Principal Wiggins character (beginning). The main challenge and conflicts were presented through the tree-shaped game board, arbor-related challenges (pests, disease, etc.), Tweets, puzzles, subsequent announcements and appearances from Principal Wiggins, and the public leaderboard (middle). The conclusion was also presented to each player through the completion of the tree-shaped game board, Tweets, a Principal Wiggins announcement, and the leaderboard (end).

[If you’re looking to create that great blockbuster be sure to read 'Save the Cat!' by Blake Snyder]

In our next articles, we'll explore ARG character creation and effective ARG story development. Stay tuned!


  1. Why You Need To Use Storytelling For Learning