Singularity of Purpose -- "Go Right" and the Power of Platformers

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm
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"Go Right," a video posted by YouTube user RockyPlanetesimal, is just about the most inspiring two-minute montage of platformers that you'll ever see.

My good friend and JD contributor Drew Paryzer sent me a YouTube clip last night.  It's titled "Go Right," posted by YouTuber RockyPlanetesimal (full video after the jump). You may have come across it already, as it's been going fairly viral.  If I were to explain it simply, I might say that it's a very well-edited montage of different sidescrollers throughout the ages of gaming. But that explanation does not mention that fact that this montage has a possibility of making you weep nobly like Odysseus on Ogygia looking out to sea thinking of his distant wife and son.

Why A part of it is certainly the gorgeous, sweeping Michael Nyman music that the video is set to. It makes the sight of goofy heroes like Darkwing Duck and Rayman seem downright portentous.

The other obvious reason that this might tap into gamers' emotions is the nostalgia quotient. And it is certainly fun to see so many old standbys in one video, patched together so seamlessly. But seeing old favorites from systems past is no new thing -- you can watch a playthrough anytime you want.

So what about the imagery of "Go Right" is so entrancing and, ultimately, so moving?

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For me, "Go Right" presents, with stunning clarity, the ability of games to boil down the human experience and our ideas about it into simple, visceral forms. In watching the video, I remember what it was like to play these games -- my triumphs, my frustrations, my nights spent awake trying to get past that one part -- and I also see what my ideal self does when faced with a challenge.

The sidescrolling platformer / action title is one of the more basic incarnations of single player video games, and there are, as the video illustrates, a lot of them that follow the same general formula. You are this guy.  Your guy runs rightward and avoids death until he completes the stage.  Repeat until game over. But why? Is it just because that formula was successful once, and in going forward developers decided to bet on what was proven to work?

Maybe partially. But its also a perfect distillation of the most essential archetypes of heroism. There is a journey to be undertaken, a distance to be traveled. Though the road will be full of peril, to turn this journey down is never an option, and so the hero embarks upon it with quiet dignity. Obstacles are overcome with either natural skill or dogged persistence. The goal is clear, and through virtue and verve, the hero achieves it.

The thematic commonalities of the hero's path make up for the wide variance in specific avatars, so that we see the image of the hero moving boldly forward, gamely overcoming danger, no matter who exactly they are or where exactly they stride toward.

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This kind of willpower, this kind of drive to accomplish a plainly stated goal is exceedingly rare in the swampy muck that is adult life. Goals are rarely so clear, and the way to accomplish them is usually even more obscure. As video games have grown more mature, they have begun to mirror these things about life, and while that has made for complex characters and astounding plots to match, it has moved video games away from that place of Jungian resonance.

When I get all misty for the old games of my childhood, that's part of what I wish I could relive -- I want to go back to understanding the world in those comforting, basic terms.

"Go Right" expresses these terms perfectly. The video's below:





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