Art Tropes and Expectations

If I asked you to imagine what a brick block looks like in a videogame, chances are you might think of something like this.  rbricks_large_shop_thumb  If I asked you to imagine a dirt block, you might think of something like this. 20bfb253183157-592ba55e02bf1 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.

One thought on “Art Tropes and Expectations

  1. Yes, this is so interesting! I think this is part of the “block” that prevents non-gamers from entering the world of games. When you have never played a game before and decide to pick one up, it’s not only the interface and controls you have to learn– it’s the language of video games. There is a whole base of knowledge that you need to learn in order to be able to understand what you are looking at. I suppose one similar example might be transitioning from a non-athlete to playing a sport. If you suddenly decide to pick up soccer one day, it’s not only the rules of the sport you have to learn– you also have to train your body to acquire the requisite cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength. If you’ve already got that, though, then to pick up additional sports is relatively easy.


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