The thing about videogame clichés is that, when you think about it in a certain light, almost anything about a videogame you can name could be considered a cliché. Most particularly, the division of games into genres is an often quite harmful cliché. A video or computer game (there is no real difference) is a wonderful thing in that everything is possible, given sufficient imagination, vision and ingenuity on the part of the designer and programmers. The fact that software genres exist at all is somewhat saddening. In the old days of the industry, when “computer game” meant either an arcade or a university lab, there were very, very few genres. Now, almost everything (with some very notable exceptions, such as The Sims and the upcoming Majestic) has to be lumped in with the first person shooters, or the roleplaying games, or something else. There are many reasons for this: boneheaded software marketing departments, the view of the management of software companies to view games as nothing more than a commodity, designer narrow-mindedness, and the increasing trend of the industry to move towards an ever-more-genre-laden Hollywood-like production model. The saddest result of this is that many, maybe even most, gamers these days have come to rely upon the senseless genre definitions to the extent that they think along those lines. Now, much like some guys will only choose to see action movies or space opera, some gamers will only play FPS or the like, using the genre boundaries to justify their own closed-mindedness. In this why the concepts of genres are reinforced.

But I didn’t actually write this just to whine about the state of the industry. I wrote it because I have a few clichés of my own to contribute:

  • The Metroid/Zelda Design Model: Maybe it’s a little unfair of me to pin this one on two series’ which I greatly admire. In games that follow this design school, the player is given a huge world to explore, but at the start of the game a sizable portion is locked off because a certain piece of equipment is required to pass obstacles. For example, you can only reach Zora’s Domain in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time once you have found a bomb bag, because you need bombs to destroy the boulders blocking the way. Usually, you only gain access to the last area at the very end of the game, because that area contains the final boss. Both Metroid and Zelda are chock full of this kind of thing. However, they rise above the essential arbitrariness of their play structure by giving the player a lot of places to explore anyway, by cleverly disguising the first-this-then-that nature of the play (You don’t finish level two so you can reach level three, you get the bombs so you can enter Zora’s Domain!), and sometimes by offering choices as to where to go next. To give another example from Ocarina of Time, after getting the Bow in the Forest Temple, nothing prevents the player from going on to either the Fire or Water temples and completing them first. However, all three must be finished to enter the Shadow Temple.
    To be fair, the roots of this cliché lie at the very heart of the adventure genre. The Atari 2600 game Adventure, the very first game of the type, had this type of design.
  • Zippers: This is an example of where the boundary between a cliché and a legitimate part of the emerging shared videogame language are blurred. A Zipper is a place in a kart racing game that looks kind of like a stylized arrow that, when driven over, gives the player’s vehicle a great burst of speed. Because Zippers have been in so many games, players don’t have to question them. They can be reasonably certain that this thing that makes you fast in R.C. Pro Am will do the same thing in Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, and other games too.
  • Hearts give you health: Thinking about this too long will give you that warm “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” feeling. What does Link do with those things once he picks them up?
  • Bosses: Boss enemies are used very often to give a player an exciting climax to a level or a game, but nothing says you actually have to use them. At the end of Might and Magic II, for example, the player must solve a cryptogram! Banjo-Kazooie is a recent example of a popular game that only had a boss at the very end.