McGuffin in Games: What is it and how does it work? (Topic)

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McGuffin in Games: What is it and how does it work?


What do Tomb Raider and Uncharted have in common? Most would say that both games are more or less inspired by Indiana Jones and have a common concept, and this will be true. But what do Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Half Life: Alyx, Borderlands, and Limbo have in common? Here the answer is less obvious, but it is - it's MacGuffin.

McGuffin is a screenwriting technique used to develop a plot. However, today he has gone beyond cinema alone, and we can safely talk about McGuffin in games. In the plot of each of the games listed above, there is a certain object or object around which the entire plot of the game revolves, and the heroes try with all their might to get or find it.

So what is MacGuffin in games and how does it work?

Let's take a look. As mentioned earlier, McGuffin came to us from the cinema, where he was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, who described him as an anecdote in his lecture. According to the director, one day he was traveling on a train, where he heard the following conversation between two strangers:

- What kind of package do you have? - the person across the street asks his fellow traveler.

- This is McGuffin.

- What is McGuffin?

- This is a device for catching lions in the Highlands of Scotland.

- There are no lions in the Highlands of Scotland!

- Then I'm not taking McGuffin with me.

And in this simple anecdote, in principle, the true essence of this concept is revealed. In this dialogue, McGuffin is what pushes the heroes of the anecdote to action - the dialogue itself. At the same time, McGuffin himself remains unknown, because what matters is what effect he has by his mere existence.

However, in simple terms: McGuffin is an item that everyone wants to get at any cost. It takes the audience's attention and moves the plot forward while one or all of the characters in the work try to keep up with it.

It's even simpler [omitting all the formalities of the English language and the mentality of English speakers] - it's some kind of "thing" that everyone needs for something. In this case, the merit of Hitchcock is only in the fact that he gave this name, and also described McGuffin as a phenomenon. But you can find it in many stories and works that have existed throughout our history. This is the treasure of Captain Flint in "Treasure Island" by Robert Stevenson, Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, or if you dig deeper - the Nemean Lion, the Kerinean Hind and other things from the myths about the exploits of Hercules.

You have seen him in many films more than once, but let's take a more native path for this material.

The Fallout series throughout its history builds a plot around such a McGuffin, and develops it with each part. So, in the first game it is a water chip, which the Vault Dweller went after to save the inhabitants of Vault 13 from death, and in the second part it is the GECK, for the sake of which the Chosen One travels Western America on his highway.

At the same time, McGuffin himself must be correctly selected in order to be something the heroes need. It should be a really worthy thing so that, roughly speaking, the characters in the game would raise their asses and go looking for it, and the player himself considered it a realistic reason.

It should be something that is as familiar to the game world as possible to be believed. Be something adequate for the logic of the world.


This is what almost every story in Tomb Raider and Uncharted is built on. The main characters go for ancient valuable artifacts capable of wonderful things.


Nathan sets out to find the Treasures of Eldorado, Atlantis of the Sands, and Lara Croft [in terms of restart] sets off to find Kitezh and Yamatai Island. And although here the McGuffins are not specific objects, but even entire islands or the heritage of ancient civilizations, they are valuable as artifacts have passed. We understand why the heroes take the road for them, but we also see them as the backdrop for the hero's adventure. After all, such a McGuffin simply pushes the action to make the snowball roll and grow.

McGuffin himself is not important, what matters is what the desire to get it leads to. With the development of the plot, he fades into the background before something deeper, acting simply as a catalyst for events. In the same Fallout, the search for the water chip leads to the War Against Super Mutants, and in the sequel - the battle against the Enclave. Both the first [water chip] and the second [GECK] McGuffin have already been found by the characters in the middle of the game, but during his search the stakes have increased, and the characters face the consequences of their journey.


At the same time, McGuffin, as Hitchcock suggested, is a Scottish surname. And this is important, because it can be not just an object, but also a specific person. You don't need to go far for an example, remember Half Life: Alyx, released a couple of months ago, it had two McGuffins at once: first Eli Vance, the father of the main character, and then a mysterious weapon against the Alliance - Gordon Freeman, as the heroes think.


In Yakuza 0, McGuffin is the girl Makoto, who absolutely everyone needs and both Kiryu and Majima are trying to protect her. In the third Witcher it is Ciri, in Limbo it is your sister, and in the second Silent Hill it is the wife of the protagonist. And so you can go on for a very long time.


In all these examples, he takes on an abstract form and throughout Alyx we don't know who we are looking for, just assuming it's Freeman, and in Yakuza 0 the heroes think most of the time that Makoto is a man.


As for Limbo, we learn about our sister not at the beginning of the journey, but a little later, but this gives it meaning.

For this technique to work, I repeat, it does not always have to obey the rules of logic. In Assassin's Creed, Assassins and Templars of the present hunt for forerunner artifacts throughout the series of games, as they can be used to influence the course of history and the development of mankind. At the same time, against the background of their search, we saw dozens of stories of specific Assassins and their predecessors. But the artifacts themselves, although not logical to us, always have value for the characters. A similar conspiracy in Odyssey with all its mythical creatures, in a game that claims to be "historical", Ubisoft gets away with it, as the stakes in the global history look serious. Any detail, even the most absurd for us, will work well in a piece if it has the desired effect.


Another principle by which McGuffin can work in games is its ghostly significance. Heroes can hunt for something that she really has no value at the end of the work. So, the whole plot is built around the holocron in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It contains the names of all the children with the Force, but when Kell Kestis finds him, he destroys this card, entrusting the fate of the children to the Force. This suggests that McGuffin is important at the same time, but the most important thing remains one thing - the path made for him.


Similarly, in AC: Odyssey, in an additional quest on the island of Messara, Kassandra wants to fight a local landmark, the Minotaur, and goes through a series of stupid tests, and also defeats a criminal gang, just to understand that the Minotaur does not exist [more precisely, not exists in that area, and not as a whole] and this is just a tourist scam of local residents parasitizing on the Myth of Theseus. But was this questline worse for that? Not at all, it is very interesting.


In the end, I want to say that McGuffin will appear in games more than once, as he has appeared hundreds of times in games before. It can be the main plot engine, which is damn important, and it also means nothing. However, McGuffin needs to be important enough at first to make a fuss about him, and logical enough for the world in which the game's event takes place.

The Topic of Article: McGuffin in Games: What is it and how does it work?.
Author: Jake Pinkman