If I asked you to imagine what a brick block looks like in a videogame, chances are you might think of something like this. If I asked you to imagine a dirt block, you might think of something like this. If I asked you to list some level themes, you might think of sky, arctic, underground, and forest. Typical game hazards? Spikes, Lava, Endless Pits.
Despite the fact that platformers can be widely different in their experience and execution, over the years they’ve largely adopted a very similar language when it comes to their art. This is something that struck me as my group and I were designing our own platformer and I recalled all the things I had seen in games like Mario, Sonic, Shovel Knight, etc. Perhaps these similarities are evidence of the limits that come with a particular game genre, but beyond that, they become tropes that cue in experienced gamers on what to expect. Spikes will always be bad. Pits are meant to be jumped over. Lava… you get the picture. This collective language of art style isn’t limited to platformers though, as it can be seen in other genres as well, such as the first person shooter with red barrels always conveniently next to the enemy, regardless of whether you’re in a military base, jungle, or a back alley. Games develop a language, and gamers become fluent in identifying the meanings behind it without even realizing it.