Opinion: Platformers simulate life

Zachary Winslett

Arts & Entertainment Editor


“Point A” and “Point B” can represent, well, a lot. These destinations can be plots on the map of a grocery store trip, or these destinations can signify life and death. Cliche as it may be, the journey is composed of what is between those two points. Humans travel between an outstanding amount of pins on their maps in a lifetime – they travel between Guts Man’s stage and Elec Man’s stage, Orange Ocean and Rainbow Resort. Despite the copious amount of starting points and destinations, the significance of a singular journey is minuscule, and life is an amalgamation of those non-linear journeys into a linear pathway.
That, players and readers, is why 2D platforming games appeal to human sensibilities and equally infuriate them.
Despite not being morality RPGs or other genres that are apparently life simulators, 2D platformers do the best job portraying human life in its rawest form. It is not conversational, choice-ridden, or emotional; it is linear, paced, and limited, but it is still filled with reward.
Two-dimensional platforming games are a staple of classic game design. They are part of the backbone that constitutes modern day gaming, and they are still incredibly relevant. It isn’t their history or influence that this article aims to cover; instead, the primary focus is the way platforming games mimic the human experience.
Traditionally, 2D platforming games ask their players to complete a mission start to finish. Those missions are usually linear pathways or corridors, which are riddled with obstacles and enemies who are intent on inhibiting your progression. The path taken is predetermined, but the player can approach it in many different ways. Pattern recognition is vital to survival. Side quests are not portrayed as separate plot points, as they only serve to meld into the linear. All of the latter could be figuratively connected to life in some way or form, but they aren’t anything unique from all other games (of course there are obstacles in life, enemies to halt progress, linear processions, etc.).
It’s all about the camera.
A 2D platformer is equipped with a camera that focuses on a small, narrow portion of the screen– it makes a box. That is the box that players are confined to, and that is what they must conquer before moving on. It’s needless to say that there is a connection to life itself. The limited vision of human experience is its crutch. It’s what keeps any one person in balance. For the player of a 2D platformer, that limited vision restricts options, and thinking outside of this “box” is dangerous; however, it is ingenious, in regards to its design, which is eerily familiar to life. Completing these isolated incidents are imperative to the mission, as players cannot forcibly move the camera forward. Rain checks are not readily available, so players are stuck in place until they proceed. Unlike other genres, players are not remotely close to being omnipotent. Players are watching a character in a third-person and limited view. It is like being an outside observer of human limitations.
The camera is not only narrow; it also scrolls. The pacing of the camera can vary; it can be slow or rapid, and the urgency of the scene determines that. Scrolling is nauseatingly similar to the pace of life. It can transition from being mundane to being too fleeting. Players are often burdened by boredom or ravished by rushing. What’s even more representative of life is the lack of backwards progression. The scrolling continuously moves forward. Players cannot go backwards. Players cannot stop. Players can only move forward. They are forced forward by the camera itself.
As you grow older, you’ll learn a lot of tricks to make life easier and more predictable, but until then it can be complicated. For instance, any player attempting to run through a level this fast without experience would crash and burn.
Regardless of how many paths or missions one takes, they all mesh into a final objective. That objective is ultimately up to the individual. Worlds 1-1 and 2-1 blend in the end. Spark Mandrill and Boomer Kuwanger’s stages blend in the end. Green Hill Zone and Marble Zone blend in the end. A trip to the grocery store and achieving a precious goal blend in the end. That is why 2D platformers reflect the human experience. They give players eye witness to an outside simulation

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