Lately, tarot card motifs have appeared in many video games. Tarot cards are assigned to different characters in Dragon Age: Inquisitionthey have appeared as murals in Cyberpunk 2077have been symbols of characters in Persona titles, and Final Fantasy 14 has an entire healing class based on them. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as many other games have tarot motifs.
Tarot cards have been used for hundreds of years and contain 22 major arcanas, swords, wands, coins and cups. Today they are often associated with fortune telling and the occult, but the original purpose of the cards hundreds of years ago was actually to play games. As such, tarot and the concept of games have always been linked. Why they appear as motifs in video games has a lot to do with a revival of tarot and how they can be used to tell stories.
The Revival of Tarot
A revival of the tarot has come up a lot in the media and online discussions. Some believe the revival has more to do with self-care than the occult, and they could be right. Rather than using the cards as a kind of divination, many who read cards today mention that readings are useful for shedding light on various topics and for thinking critically about various issues. Comfort can also be found in the themes of the cards, which themselves show a kind of hero’s journey that begins with the innocence of the fool and ends with the completion of the world.
This resurgence has impacted the video game industry. Looking at the cards and what they symbolize, a lot can be said with very little of the use of their images in story-centric video games. The meaning of the cards themselves is complex, allowing for interesting angles on what the video game’s characters and themes are about with tarot card motifs.
Video games with tarot motifs
Cyberpunk 2077 has an entire sidequest related to the major arcana of tarot. The sidequest is aptly named “Fool On The Hill” and is about finding tarot graffiti around Night City. Each piece of graffiti relates to a character or something that happens in the game. For example, the Fool feat (symbol of potential) is awarded when V becomes a Mercenary and the World feat (symbol of a cycle ending) comes from beating the main story. Each ending is also named after a major arcana, where the star (symbol of wishes and inspiration) is assigned to the Aldecaldo ending and the sun (symbol of good fortune) is assigned to become a hireling legend.
The recently released horror game the quarry Also has tarot card collectibles. Each collected symbolizes a choice in the game. For example, the fool is about choosing how to mess with the van and the devil (symbol of obsession) is about whether or not to shoot Nick. The cards have appeared in a number of horror games due to their association with the occult, such as Silent Hill has played tarot card based puzzles in the past. Another example is: Murder Housein which the Easter Ripper uses tarot cards with Easter eggs as a business card.
The tarot has been in more than just recent titles. It has also appeared in some pretty old games. The Sega Saturn game, Mansion of Hidden Souls, used tarot cards as a kind of compass where each room was associated with a different card. Another old title is literally about Tarot cards, a puzzle game from 1987 called The Fool’s Message†
Games have also often had fortune tellers using tarot. In Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness, players could have their fortune read by an NPC. The cards that appear depend on where the player is in the story. The same applies in Curse of Monkey Island† In Max PayneLisa Punchinello uses tarot and leaves a fortune on the table that Max reads. Chihaya in Persona 5 is also a tarot card reader.
Video game titles that use magic also often have tarot-based schools or classes. SaGa Frontier has the Arcane Magic school, whose spells are based on minor and major arcana. Astrologers in Final Fantasy 14 use cards loosely based on tarot to grant buffs and heal party members. Lucia from the shadow hearts series also used tarot cards in battle (although sometimes they had a negative effect on the party). Tarot cards have been used as spells in Ogre Battle† Beyond magic, they’ve also been part of gear items like the wearable rings in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia†
Often there are video games that relate their characters to specific tarot cards. Boss monsters in the house of death series are usually based on tarot cards such as the wizard, the moon and the emperor. In the Persona series, arcana are everywhere. The most recent game used confidants as major arcana and previous ones have used minor arcana for demons, shadows, and personas. Dragon Age: Inquisition used the major arcana for his characters, and sometimes the arcana symbols even changed depending on the player’s choices. For example, Solas can turn from the Hermit (symbol of inner guidance) to the Tower (symbol of chaotic change). outside RPGs, Sayonara Wild Hearts also uses tarot arcana in its lore and characters.
Some games are also subtle about their tarot references. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is such a title, because the crests are all based on major arcana. For example, Seiros is the high priestess (symbol of mystery and intuition) and the beast is the devilish arcana. Even with games that don’t have tarot, fans often make tarot cards from the characters and events, assigning arcana based on their different properties.
In short, there is already a lot of tarot in video games, and there will probably be a lot more in the future. Even those who have no interest in tarot will probably learn a bit about tarot cards from playing video games here and there. After all, the cards are essentially symbols of building blocks used in storytelling. After all, most gamers have seen characters such as hermits, mages, priestesses, emperors, and devils. In this resurgence of tarot, video games have definitely become part of the trend.
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