Medikits, Power-Ups, and Cheat Codes

In praise of the video-game cliché.

Click the launch module to the left for a slide show on video-game clichés.

Video games aren’t exactly inviting to neophytes. Every time you fire up a new title, you’ve got to learn how to look around, run, and fire an Uzi all over again. Once you nail down what the X button and the Z button do, you’ve got to figure out how to read the on-screen map, how to heal your wounds, and how to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Each game world is like a foreign country, full of unfamiliar sights and sounds and seemingly arbitrary rules. How do gamers survive in these strange lands? Clichés. Loads and loads of clichés.

In the last two decades, video games have developed a visual language from scratch. Sometimes, this iconography can feel tired and recycled—every shoot-’em-up game ever made includes an exploding barrel or 20. But it’s worth remembering that, more than TV watchers or moviegoers, gamers need their hands held. Go to see Transformers in the theater, and you’re guaranteed to make it to the final scene even if the plot makes no sense. Try out a new game, though, and you can wander around for hours without figuring out how to finish the first mission.

Click here for a slide-show appreciation of video-game clichés.