I know, I know, I'm digging up this dead horse to beat some more. But after discussing the MC/Protag. dichotomy on another blog, I got this question again, and I didn't have a good answer for my interlocutor.
[Rampant spoilers abound]
So the Dramatica definition of the Protagonist is, "The character(s) with the primary Motivations of Consider and Pursue." (As well as the Purposes of Knowledge and Actuality, the MoE's of Proven and Effect, and the Methodologies of Certainty and Proaction. This may be important later in the discussion, but for now, we'll focus on the Motivations.) The Antagonist, by contrast, is defined as, "The character(s) with the primary Motivations of Reconsider and Avoid." For most stories, especially stories with Heroes, this formula is very cut and dry. Take the Ring to Mordor and destroy it--clear Goal, clear Protag/Antag. Blow up the Death Star and prove the fighting capabilities of the Rebels--clear Goal, clear Protag/Antag. Get back home before [Andy loses us forever|Darla shakes my son to death|AUTO destroys the plant]--clear, clear, clear.
But branch out a bit, and things start to get weird. I've named this problem after James Bond, which was @jhull's classical example. So if Blofeld is hypnotizing girls at an alpine finishing school to make them sleeper agents to destroy major industries... that sounds like a plan to me, one that he's Pursuing. And James Bond is trying to Prevent that from happening, make Blofeld Reconsider his actions. So... is James Bond the Antagonist, and Blofeld the Protagonist? That... just doesn't gel based off how the story really feels. Dramatica's terminology isn't always 1-to-1 with normal terminology, but if it can't get it right here, when we're talking about the quintessential Protagonist!
So we can flip it, I suppose. Claim that the Goal is to stop Blofeld from achieving his Goal, and Bond is the Protagonist of that. But, as my debater put it, this feels incredibly arbitrary. They brought up another movie that really threw me for a loop: Die Hard. The character that is really trying to achieve something is Hans Gruber: he's trying to pull off the heist of the century, smokescreened behind the guise of a terrorist attack. John McClane, the cowboy, is trying to Prevent this from happening, primarily by alerting the police to the true power and intentions of the thieves. So again, we have to handwave it and say, "Well, we don't really empathize with Hans Gruber, so since he's the Bad Guy(TM), he's the Antagonist stopping McClane, the Protagonist." But Dramatica was specifically designed so we wouldn't have to do this!
This is weird enough, but what if we want the MC to be the Antagonist, like How to Train Your Dragon? Again, you have to semi-arbitrarily say, "Well, the Goal everyone's centered around is bad, and the MC is a rebel against it." Which I totally get--through most of the story, Hiccup does at least pretend to go along with the "Viking training" central plot. But if John McClane's anti-evil actions make him the Protagonist, why don't Hiccup's? What is the difference between Hans Gruber's heist and Stoick's genocide?
(I wanted to bring up Shakespeare's Othello, and how Iago's Goal of ruining Othello's life is the only thing driving the plot, but I don't have anything more to say about that. So... Othello.)
I've been going over some of the different possible solutions to this question. Maybe the answer is just that determining the Goal is somewhat arbitrary, but that makes it hard to analyze for veterans and confusing to pick up for newbies. Another thought I had was, "Maybe the bad guy is being Proactive, but they're still Preventing the Goal," but that just seems to be moving the problem without solving it. I've considered the possibility of "the Antagonist creates a status quo they try to maintain, and the Protagonist tries to break it," which solves the examples I've given but I don't think necessarily matches every story. What are all your thoughts? Is there a clear, principled way to determine the Goal in such a way that the Protagonist and Antagonist make intuitive sense? Or is the arbitrary nature of it inevitable?
I'm glad to see people are making conversation out of a post I'd given up on thanks to early negative response. ...Still not coming back, though.