118. Video Game Clichés

Video games operate by their own quirky rules, most of which differ wildly from real life. Consider how Mario, a portly plumber with short legs, can jump roughly ten feet into the air without a running start. In real life, Mario might manage ten inches, but not much more.

Many of these strange video game rules have become patterns repeated over the years, and some of these patterns have been worn to clichés. Here are just a few.


In video games, deadly spikes are everywhere. A villain’s lair? Spikes. An ancient castle? Spikes. An ordinary meadow? Spikes. Along with bottomless pits, spikes are the standard obstacle in video games.

It would be nice to see some alternatives to spikes. Electric fences, perhaps? Buried explosives? Buckets of piranhas?

On a logistical note, I wonder who installs spikey obstacles in video games. Maybe villains outsource to construction companies for spike installations.

Big swords

I’ve already written about this one, and I don’t really have anything to add except for one brief observation: they may be clichéd, but huge swords are awesome.

Revealing outfits

Ladies in video games often wear tight, revealing outfits. Even when male warriors are clad from head to foot in heavy armor, females charge into battle with bosoms, legs or midriffs exposed. There may be some significant tactical advantage to fighting in a swimsuit, but I can’t imagine what it might be.

Death as a temporary condition

Unlike real life, in which death is permanent, many video games present death as a temporary affliction—much like the common cold. Administer a one-up mushroom, some phoenix down or a fairy in a bottle, and death is cured.

Variations include reviving characters through magic, time travel, advanced science or some other implausible means. Another version of this cliché is to fake the death of important characters.

Not to be cruel, but it’s always a bit of a relief when characters actually die. You know, permanently.

Puppet villains

Too many video game bad guys are revealed to be pawns controlled by greater villains. It’s almost more surprising to me when there’s no unexpected plot twist and the obvious villain turns out to be the bad guy after all!

Ice levels

There’s even a song about this one.

Cheerful, perky sidekicks

From a storytelling perspective, giving the hero a happy, optimistic companion makes sense. Such sidekicks can provide comic relief, act as a foil to more serious characters or brighten the mood of scenes that might otherwise be too bleak.

Even so, I’m tired of cheerful companions. I want a cynical sidekick: one who is pessimistic, sarcastic, gloomy, unsentimental and dryly humorous.

Breaking and entering

People in video games don’t seem to mind you entering their houses and stealing their stuff. As the hero of the game, you’re permitted trespass on private property and take whatever items are left conveniently lying around.

Link, the hero from the Legend of Zelda games, is notorious for smashing pots belonging to other people in his relentless search for cash. Almost every RPG I’ve ever played allows the player to loot the homes of innocent civilians.

What video game clichés have we missed? Let us know in the comments!

1 thought on “118. Video Game Clichés

  1. I believe the tactical advantage of the swimsuit has already been established at the London Olympic Games … chafing can really slow a girl down!

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