Video games have long drawn
inspiration from real world activities. But more recently this has been
on the increase. Many games now entirely shape their structure and play
mechanic around some in-vogue reference material. Whether this is hip-hop
or skate culture the advantages are clear: they gain a ready-built cultural
language and grammar of interaction from the communities they emulate.
It is high time then for a
detailed look at some of these video-gaming culture adoptions. Firstly,
are the resulting experiences are successful games? Secondly, how authentic
these experiences are to their real world counterparts? First under
the hammer are the Parkour-informed games of Assassin's Creed
If you haven't come across
it before, Parkour (or "free running") is a physical activity
where participants attempt to traverse obstacles in their path in a
smooth and fluid motion. The aim is to turn a simple short journey between
two points into an artistic performance that draws influence as diverse
as gymnastic and ballet. As it is described on the American Parkour
"Parkour is the art
of moving through your environment using only your body and the surroundings
to propel yourself. It can include running, jumping, climbing, even
crawling, if that is the most suitable movement for the situation. Parkour
could be grasped by imagining a race through an obstacle
course; the goal is to overcome obstacles quickly and efficiently, without
using extraneous movement.
Apply this line of thought to an urban environment,
or even a run through the woods, and you're on the right path. Because
individual movements could vary so greatly by the situation, it is better
to consider Parkour as defined by the intention instead of the movements
themselves. If the intention is to get somewhere using the most effective
movements with the least loss of momentum, then it could probably be
Free runners interact with
their environment using vaults, jumps, somersaults and other acrobatic
movements. They create an athletic and aesthetically pleasing journey
through their landscape (below picture courtesy Metroactive.com).
Recent TV documentaries such as 2003's Jump
London or the later Jump Britain have highlighted Parkour's ability
to re-connect proponents to their environment. This, combined with the
density of built structures, has led to the activity becoming popular
in European urban housing estates and other built-up areas, where it
provides a way to redeem these drab, dense urban living solutions.
Although not the central intent, this side-effect fits with the higher
aims of Parkour. The focus of practitioners has always been that of
satisfying individual performance rather than competition. They aim
to attain grace and precision rather than to travel the fastest or the
furthest. Free running is at bottom that strangest of animals, a non-competitive
sport. In the words of Erwan Hebertiste, "competition pushes people
to fight against others for the satisfaction of a crowd and/or the benefits
of a few business people by changing its mindset.
[Free running] is
unique and cannot be a competitive sport if it ignores its altruistic
core to self development." Much of this may be grabbing the minds
and bodies of today's urban youngsters, but its uncompetitive nature
means that this activity doesn't immediately lend itself to a video
game that needs to reward the player through rivalry.
Suitability to Games
But you may ask, what has all
this got to do with games? The first thing that strikes a developer
or gamer watching free running is an obvious synergy with a variety
of game genres.
Although it may not have been called free running back
then, its influence is clear in the character moves and abilities of
Tomb Raider and Ninja Gaiden. These characters may not draw
on Parkour culture or language specifically but their protagonists exhibit
the same desire to leap, balance and roll through their world.
In addition to these specifics
of movement, other games have more wholeheartedly adopted the wider
free running culture. These games provide players tactile urban environments
that offer an open playground in which they can try out their moves.
In particular, sandbox games such as Crackdown and Assassin's
Creed (as we shall go on to discuss) have not only culled free running
moves and movement but also its whole approach to interacting with an
environment. This has led both titles to not only create massive explorable
cities, but also to re-think how their players can interact in those
spaces. They reflect free running's desire to rediscover and re-imagine
their drab city environments, and find fun and play in these spaces.