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Ramón, Fernando and Pac-Man do not want to give in: opening micro power conflicts in narratives

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By Eduardo J. Romero Andrade
, Guayaquil

My e-mail duduromeroa@gmail.com

Create a micro conflict

Do you remember the last time you faced a power stronger than you, or that you had to resolve an unexpected conflict?

In the following paragraphs I will need to open three imaginary doors in which power and conflict create narrative.

What is the power?It is a sum of actions that alter events in others. Similar to deciding who can walk through the doors and who can't.

What is conflict? It is what blocks the way to achieving an objective. Similar to entering one of the doors and, seconds later, hearing it slam shut. Even if you anxiously turn the knob, you will still be locked in. The objective will be to get out of there.

The doors

Behind the first door: a neighborhood with a gentleman sporting a mustache and a suit, demanding a rent payment.

Behind the second door: an Ecuadorian soldier, writing to his marshal. They are living through a battle that ended 201 years ago at the foot of a volcano.

Finally, the third door hides a neon-lit maze with pixels; and inside, a character chewing and chasing ghosts.


It is a set of events intertwined with actions, causes, desires, and achievements of the protagonists. A common narrative structure has three sets: development (act I), climax (act II), and resolution (act III). And it is in act II, digging in their heels, where intense problems, obstacles that disrupt desires, and confrontations appear (Lynn, 2005, pp. 38-42). All of this is compacted into a narrative conflict, which we will discuss later.

Greek and Roman philosophers from 2,400 years ago debated to define the best strategy for storytelling: Is it enough to imitate life? Is it enough to alter it, or should one only show its conflicts? (Genette, Levonas, 1976, p. 3), (Castillo, 2015).

In general, narratives are often accompanied by a guide-like narrator. In other cases, the events provide clues as to why the characters embark on, proceed through, or arrive at a pre-conflict path.


From the Latin confligiere -to clash, to strike one another, to fight-. Its nuances have different tones, much like the keys of a piano. There is conflict when we desire something we will never obtain; or when we resist the desire that another is imposing on us (Howard, Mabley, 1993, p. 47).

Power is the force that enables or blocks, gives or takes away, imposes or facilitates.

There is also conflict when we must fight against something, feeling trapped and emotionally suffocated alongside fear and the desire for the impossible (Manterola, 2017, p. 275).

Also when a change in the emotional or material balance of the characters tragically falls on them (McKee, 1997). Similar to raising a piano to the fourth floor; and after stumbling, seeing him fall destroyed: "from the difficult, the impossible" (Field, 2011).

The study of narrative conflict is very broad (Russin, Missouri, 2012), (McKee, 1997), (Suber, 2006). I will focus on the proposal of Howard Suber (USA, 1951) who proposedthe importance of power relations in audiovisual narrative.

In the following paragraphs I will use the term conflict. Which is a set of connected conflicts that can form part of the core of a story.

Is a conflict similar to a problem?

The problem creates tension due to a complex decision that must be resolved soon. It requires our experience or our ingenuity to make the best decision when faced with two paths. On the other hand, aconflict could overwhelm us by demanding of us a final and absolute resolution of a larger set of unresolved problems.

Conflict and challenge

A conflict contains several challenges. A challenge is an event that strains our mental, emotional, and material resources available to us to reach a solution (Horikoshi, 2023).

Conflict and suspense

A conflict creates suspense when we partially know the facts: that is, we know the nature of an event to occur, but we are anxiously unaware of how and with what effects it will occur (Cleland, 2016, p. 119).

Conflict and mystery

A conflict will create mystery when we need to understand the reasons for the change in the state of characters and events. Seeks to answer Who did it? (Scott, 2011, p. 267).

Conflict and tragedy

Tragedywas a popular theatrical genre among the Greeks and Romans of the 5th century, where one of its greatest exponents, the author Sophocles (496 BC-406 BC), participated and won theatrical competitions (Tobalina, 2022 , min. 6:40).

Since Greek antiquity, tragedy is the same as presenting an imperfect character with emotions of "commiseration and fear" (Sapere, 2021, min. 5:00).

In Greek tragic works, humans are portrayed as lacking strength and wisdom for the conflict; and even if they face it, they will never have benefit. The pessimistic question posed by tragic narratives is: What should I do then? (Critchley, 2019, p. 9-11), (Minecan, 2021, min. 3:40).

Therefore, unlike conflict, where we at least hope that the final effort will lead us to achievement, tragedy is the narrow path, edged to the precipice, where we exhaustedly accept that there will never be a return.


It is a varied, multiform force, which allows or blocks, delivers or removes, imposes or facilitates on top of other powers. The energy of power is also born from another force, person or human collective; and it can be real, perceived, or just intuited (French, Raven, 1959).

Other authors contribute that power is only displayed and perceived from the collective. It will only be power when the collective feels it as such (Carpizo, 1999, p. 322, 323). Unlike strength, which is individual.

  • Typology of power (Carpizo, J., 1999, p. 347)
  • Original power: from laws.
  • Political power: from the State.
  • Paternal: from parents to children.
  • Economic: by material accumulation.
  • Ideological: power through ideas.
  • Associative: power through groups.

First door, the distracting power of a rent debtor

Let's pause the theory and return to the mental exercise of opening doors. In door 1 I left clues of a reference to the comedy program El Chavo del Ocho (Mexico, 1973 to 1980).

In a scene from the chapter Playing Football (1975) two characters show one of many micro power relationships to alter the other's actions. In the situation shown below, Don Ramón (Ramón Valdez, 1923-1988) will block Mr. Barriga's (Édgar Vivar, 1948) wish to receive money in exchange for a monthly rent:

  • El Chavo del 8, chapter Playing soccer (1975, min. 7.20 al 7.59)
  • Mr. Barriga: (laughs) Which team do you support?
  • --- Don Ramón: Me?... I support Guadalajara!
  • Mr. Barriga: Pay me the rent then!
  • --- Don Ramón: (astonished) I don't support Guadalajara... I support América!
  • Mr. Barriga: Pay me the rent then!
  • --- Don Ramón: (stammering) How did I even think of América? No sir, I support that great team... Who do you support?
  • Mr. Barriga: Monterrey.
  • --- Don Ramón: ...Monterrey! sir.
  • Mr. Barriga and Don Ramón: Monterrey!, Monterrey!, go, go, go! (waving their arms).
  • Mr. Barriga: (Shaking Don Ramón's hand excitedly) ...I'll go collect from the other apartments...
  • --- Don Ramón: Yes sir, come on in!

Don Ramón's audacity comes from what authors call the object at risk (Howard Suber, cited by Russin, Missouri, 2012, p. 239). What is at risk is the important thing that we will lose if the opposing power overthrows us, or if an agreement with that power is impossible.

The object at risk is evident from the most vulnerable character (we will see it in the scenes of doors 2 and 3). Without an agreement between his powers, Mr. Barriga would only lose one tenant; but Don Ramón, everything. Even so, Don Ramón maintains a strong distracting and comic power. No amount of anger from Mr. Barriga will prevent him from returning every month to recover the accumulated money.

In 1978, the Mexican journalist Carlos Monsiváis (1938-2010) predicted that El Chavo would only promise "a single gag: the adult who dresses and speaks like a child", insinuating a "lucrative banality" of Mexican TV in those decades (Monsiváis, 1918 , cited by González, 2019).

I propose that the various micro conflicts between the characters (and their dissimilar desires) provoke curiosity to know what new events will frame each chapter.

Don Ramón, a fairly occasional employee, will never sweat to pay the rent. He prefers the effort to comically demonstrate his power against the supposedly superior other. Don Ramón will never give up that power because that would take away from the novelty of his comedic display. This not giving in is the impossible compromise that prevents the conflict from being resolved (Russin, Missouri, 2012, p. 267).

Second door, the strategic power of a 19th century Ecuadorian

And what happens at door two? My reference comes from facts studied with a magnifying glass by Ecuadorian historians, such as Guayaquileño Gabriel Fandiño M. (48) from his book Colonel José Antonio Pontón, guerrilla commander in independence (Nuevo Alausí Institute of Historical Research and Popular Culture, 2021).

As context, almost three centuries after Spanish colonization in America (1492), our desire for freedom had to face the political and material power of Fernando VII de Borbón, king strong>Spanishfrom 1808 to 1833.

The king was a schemer, incapable and wasteful(Calvo, 2018) who was uncomfortable with democracy (La Parra, 2008). He simulated submission when Napoleon Bonaparte, having promised a military agreement with Spain, decided to invade it in October 1807, imprisoning Ferdinand VII until 1813. These events are examples of two dynamics: a power (Napoleon) that does not seek to achieve an agreement; and an object at risk (the reign of Ferdinand).

What is at risk is that important narrative element whose existence is endangered by an external power.

Napoleon left Spain in 1814 due to pressure from Spanish leaders and demands from the people. Fernando VII returned to power but with selective deafness: he did not heed the demands of his people for attention. This caused strong discontent. (Bernal, 2022, p. 1857, 1859), (Ayala, 2008, p. 23).

At the same time, King Fernando received reports of the discontent in the colonies in America. It was the most informed mestizos (especially intellectuals of Spanish and American parentage, or those who had visited Europe before these events) who proposed that it was time to break the Spanish domination.

In half of these events, the challenges of the Latin American independence soldiers of the mid-19th century come into play.

Colonel José Antonio Pontón

In 1785, José Antonio Pontón was born in Alausí, a cold mountainous valley in the southern part of the province of Chimborazo, Ecuador. From an affluent family, he studied Civil and Canon Law (that is, norms approved by the Catholic Church) in Quito. Upon returning to his hometown, he practiced equestrianism and fencing (Fandiño, 2016, p. 35).

Meanwhile, in Quito, plans for the first ideas of liberation against Spanish rule had been in place since 1809. However, these only began to materialize into tangible actions from 1820 (Ayala, 2008, p. 23, 24).

A first and important strategy was activated when intellectuals from Quito and landowners created the Autonomous Government Junta of Quito; that is, slightly independent of the king, but representing him (Ayala, 2008, p. 23). This action is known as The First Cry of Independence on August 9, 1809. Another objective was to demand attention and fair treatment from King Fernando VII.

The Spanish dominion, infuriated, sniffed out that Junta as a hidden rebellion. And as the months passed, it attacked it, imprisoning all its members (an evident power exerting extreme force against another).

One year later, a group of Quitenos planned to free the detainees, but they were killed inside and outside the prison in the massacre of August 2, 1810. Thus, "By the end of 1812, the country was once again firmly under control" (Ayala, 2008, p. 23).

Pontón's decision

Meanwhile, south of Quito, in Alausí, José Antonio Pontón, 24 years old, enlisted as a soldier opposing the King, but without prior military training. His desire was to be part of the events of independence, inspired by the Quito tragedy of 1810. Alongside him, peasants from the coast, highlands, indigenous people, liberated Afro-Ecuadorians, day laborers, and shepherds also enlisted under similar conditions (Fandiño, 2016, p. 36, 80).

Again, in a time leap, we enter the scene of door 2: the young Pontón, now as a soldier with hierarchy, writes a letter during a break to his immediate superior, the Venezuelan Antonio José de Sucre (1795-1830). Pontón asks for complementary powers: more weapons and training personnel. In addition, he requests decision-making authority to weaken sections of Spanish soldiers who were lurking around Cuenca, Alausí, and Latacunga, all in September 1821 (Fandiño, pp. 55, 56, 80).

From the high command there were tactical reasons that prevented everyone on the battlefront from being satisfied. Therefore, much of what Pontón requested was delayed or denied. Still, he had other abilities.

He detested superiority over the weaker. He was foolish and innovative in proposing quick strikes by groups of troops or guerrillas against an unsuspecting enemy. Likewise, inspired by other more experienced military leaders, Pontón prepared and promoted spies who gave him, in detail, information on the enemy's efforts.

Strategic power informant

Let's not forget that the scenario was a war against a foreign power. Nevertheless, the patriot spies yielded valuable results. Sucre was informed (via letters) by Pontón of the following: soldiers of the king were planning to depart from Guaranda to Babahoyo with "five hundred loads of flour, one hundred and fifty head of cattle, and two hundred bushels of barley," in a group consisting of "eight hundred infantrymen and six hundred horses" (Fandiño, 2016, p. 62).

There lies the combination of conflict (the desired but difficult to achieve) alongside suspense (we know the facts but not their outcome).

Conflict and challenge of a Latin American military spy of the 19th century

How did the spy soldiers, whether American or Spanish, from the late 19th century operate? Fandiño recounts that they were hidden in haciendas and farmhouses, and in villages where it was known that the enemy lurked. Here, two obvious and common desires for power come into conflict: knowing what the other will do or want to do, and with that knowledge, thwarting the success of opposing plans. The challenge lies in how to do this without being detected and survive to share the information.

A soldier spy had the ability to request food, espadrilles, and ponchos without arousing suspicion. However, for attacking, they did so ruthlessly, seizing "cattle, horses, or enemy military correspondence" (Fandiño, 2016, p. 74, 78).

The conflict of a spy was nuanced with the challenge of collecting information while protecting his identity in a scenario of tension and death.

The power of military deception

Again, here conflict is combined (something is difficult to do but must be achieved), challenge (we will use what is necessary for the objective) and suspense (we do not know what the result of the actions will be).

A plan by Pontón and other pro-freedom soldiers took advantage of the power of deception months before the date of the Battle of Pichincha. The tactic sought to convey to the Spanish army the following deception: that Marshal Sucre's troops would enter, from the coast to the Ecuadorian mountains, through Alausí (the southern gate of the province of Chimborazo).

The deception was a perfect bait. The Spaniards who had entered Cuenca suddenly left it silent, without enemy soldiers. These had headed in haste towards the northernmost provinces, faithful to the deception created.

This is how Sucre and his soldiers were able to enter the city of Cuenca to rest, feed themselves and create new tactics, all in February 1822 (Fandiño, 2016, p. 76).

Early morning of May 24, 1822

The rocky floor of the Pichincha volcano was the scene of reddish hand-to-hand slashes from both sides. Also from the flight of enemy survivors who in some areas hoped to enter the battle fresh. His attempt was blocked again by pro-independence soldiers, due to the actions of Pontón and another military strategist, Diego Ibarra (Fandiño, 2016, p. 107, 108).

Already with the light of day in May, the tactics of Sucre, of all the chiefs and the soldiers ended up extinguishing foreign rule in what is now Ecuador, from that dawn until today.

In June, the Spanish king, Fernando VII, had to endure the news that his colonial power over Ecuador (and later, due to other events, over much of America) no longer existed.

Pontón died at the age of 44, in Quito, on July 23, 1829. He died a free man, like many who fought alongside him. And his indirect opponent, the despotic and distant King Fernando VII, died in Madrid four years later, in 1833, just one month after turning 49.

Pontón's power conflicts

The conflicts experienced by Pontón were multiple. First, he failed to create actions to surprise the enemy with rapid group attacks; and second, to feel the imposition (tactically justified) of his superiors to avoid using his tactical experience in the confrontation.

The risk object of Pontón

Another element is the object at risk whose question is: "(...) what is at risk if that power is obtained or, on the contrary, is not achieved?" (Howard Suber, cited by Russin, Missouri, 2012, p. 239).

From the pro-independence side, the object at risk ranges from one's own life to the achievement or loss of individual freedom, without subtracting the punishment for rebellion; and from the colonizing side, the monarchical legacy was at risk.

The justified conflict

Neither of the two sides already mentioned, nor their direct representatives, will want to give up their power because they will always maintain that their actions will be "honorable, worthy of fighting" (Russin, Missouri, 2012, p. 266).

From the patriot side, defending and achieving freedom will be necessary for self-government; and from the Spanish side, fighting the power of the uprising will be necessary to perpetuate its colonial strength. For both, the other is the unworthy opponent to give respite, pause, and agreement. Pure conflict.

Door closing 2

Ecuadorian history contains significant narratives for audiovisual, interactive, or print narrative creators. However, these topics are not always readily available, have limited access from thematic publications, or require high production costs. What is presented here contributes to the dissemination of these events and the authors who study them.

Third door: the exchange of power in an illuminated labyrinth

I have tried to make the interactive example of the last door accessible to everyone and from the internet.

Este vínculo allows access to a faithful version of the Pac-Man video game, created in 1980 by Toru Iwatani (Japan, 1955).

I consider Pac-Man to be another simple example of micro-power relationships. Receiving a power-up that we did not have before obligates us (and motivates us) to achieve new goals. In Pac-Man, the achievement is advancing levels of the game and, of course, obtaining more power.

Brief context of Pac-Man

Iwatani, who wanted to create a video game appealing to female players, designed Pac-Man as an alternative to the "brutal and very masculine" alien games of the late 1970s (Iwatani, 2005, p. 26). Iwatani was exaggerating when he defined the hyperpixelated graphics of those years in this way.

Micropowers in the labyrinth

The micropowers of the round Pac-Man and the ghosts are as follows: Pac-Man and the ghosts are restricted to movement in a cross (up, down, left, and right). We cannot accelerate this movement, but the ghosts can.

As external players, we can observe the pattern of direction of the ghosts and decide movement strategies. The ghosts only have a behavior based on pre-established movements.

Pac-Man and the ghosts can regain their power more than once; but only Pac-Man can increase it. The relationships between these micropowers generate a conflict in a game that is fun to understand and that only requires dodging, chewing and earning points.

In interactive actions, achieving a higher score in Pac-Man will be a challenge if our skill in the game is increased and useful in each attempt; but it will be a conflict if despite all that we fall into frustration and a sense of inability to accomplish .

Similarly, we may desire a challenge with enough confidence in ourselves; yet we avoid being within the gray whirlwind of uncertainty and tension that is a conflict.

Graphic indicating narrative power relationships. In the center, the micro-conflict with variables of disagreements, risk objects, and desires. Own elaboration, based on Howard, Mabley, 1993.
Source: Own elaboration. Based on Howard, Mabley (1993).


Power as an action of change is a source of micro narrative conflicts when an opponent with almost always weaker power decides to confront another with greater power..

Create micro conflicts

Finally, below is a simple interactive tool, based on the question-answer framework from the concepts of narrative, conflict, and power (Howard Suber, cited by Russin, Missouri, 2012, p. 239).

Howard Suber is an American educator, author of the books The Power of Film (2006) and Letters to Young Filmmakers (2012), both of which are publishing house Michael Wiese. The Rialpe publishing house offers them in Spanish.

  • Write in each text box the answer to each question according to the conflict to be tested. You can rewrite each text.
  • The result will be displayed at the bottom
  • If you want to leave the boxes blank, use the eraser.
imagen de espada por Zdenek_Mezl TRY A MICRO CONFLICT

1. Which character has power?
Name one or more characters...

2. What is the power of that character?
Start the answer with a verb in the infinitive (ends in -ar)

3. What other character desires Power?
Name one or more characters...

4. What power does that character desire?
Name a power...

5. Which of them does not want to give up power, and why?
[The character], since...

6. Because of this impossible agreement, what is at risk?
[The character], since...

imagen de espada por Zdenek_Mezl EVALUATE YOUR MINI CONFLICT

Entity with power


Entity that wishes to be able


The impossible agreement and what is at stake

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