Game Philosophy: Running

Run, Barry, Run!

To what?

To the next…

Logo

Today’s topic:
Running

So today I’d like to talk about running.

Obviously as a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, I love seeing a character run.
It’s not just games, though. I love seeing characters run in movies as well.
Tom Cruise especially being infamous for the amount of scenes where he runs.

Why Run?

So what IS it about running for me?
In the end it’s just a character traversing from point A to point B, right?

Well… yeah, but like always with stories it’s not so much about the destination. It’s the journey.

The goals may switch up. Like maybe the character is running AWAY from something.

Or maybe they’re CHASING something.

But honestly, at times the goals aren’t even that important to me. I just like seeing the characters run so we’d get insight into their characters.
What are they FEELING as they’re running? What are their thoughts? How do they express that? Do they trip? Do they scream? Do they work together with other people?

I think the epic feeling of characters running from place to place comes from the fact that there’s a constant feeling of momentum that way. Feelings are heightened because it’s not JUST those feelings going through their minds, there’s also the andrenaline that becomes an ADDITION to those feelings.

Add even MORE urgency by adding a ticking clock element to it. Like if they don’t reach a certain thing in time, they may never get the same chance to do the thing ever again. Maybe they’ll die, maybe they’ll lose SOMEONE, maybe they’ll miss out on the last copy of a limited edition Dora the Explorer DVD.

The Feelings

The feelings don’t always HAVE to be about urgency. Sometimes it can be fueled by a positive feeling. Which is why a lot of romantic comedies have such a moment where a character needs to reach the airport before their love interest leaves forever.

One that I think There She Is!! did amazingly.

The emotions that Nabi has been going through throughout the series finally get resolution as he decides “screw the discrimination!” and chases down Doki before she presumably leaves forever. Seeing Doki lose hope in the previous episode only for Nabi to reignite it after all those previous episodes of Nabi being hesitant to pursue the romance and expressing it through running? MAN that gives me such a surge of hope whenever I see that.

It’s not just the running, of course. It’s also how it brings back characters that have been introduced in previous episodes and how it creates this cohesive whole to the entire series by seeing them one last time as they help the hero.

Power of friendship, yadda yadda yadda.

You can do this WITHOUT running of course, Final Fantasy VII Advent Children kinda does the same thing at the end of the fight against Bahamut (and also breaking every law of physics that you can think of in the process.

But running feels more personal. It’s something that a lot of people have first-hand experience with. That feeling of andrenaline as you try to reach a place as fast as you can. Seeing a character jump unrealistically high is cool too, but you get kind of disconnected from it because not a lot of people have had such a G-force type of experience to relate to.

Of course there’s value in the character being alone as well. Seeing a character run while being attacked all over the place really feels epic when you know that the goal is to save a person they care about.

As much as this scene goes against the idea of Thief’s ghost running, in terms of story it IS a great showcase of how much Garrett cares about Basso, who’s been kidnapped by the rival character of this game, the Thief-taker General. Basso is trapped in a building which apparently is built like a maze, so Garrett REALLY needs that map to navigate through it and save Basso.

The implication is that normally Garrett WOULDN’T risk being spotted so openly to grab that map if it was for anyone other than Basso.
I personally would still have preferred if the player is smart enough that they’d be able to figure out a way to get the map WITHOUT getting caught and outright skipping this chase scene as a whole, since that would be a better representation of Garrett being able to ghost through everything, but as a “blockbuster” story it works.

Progression

Another meaning running can represent is progression. You can show the state of a character’s development by showing how their running evolves.

Naruto in particular pretty much creating a meme at this point

Come to think of it, that feeling of progression may be why so many Hollywood movies like to start their war sequences with two large factions running headfirst into one another… even if that flies in the face of modern war strategies everywhere.

But it’s more than just the characters. The story itself progresses through the running, which is naturally visualized because… well, if you keep running than naturally the environment changes. If you keep running in a straight line in a building, I’ll assume one way or another you’re gonna be outside the building eventually… whether it’s through a door or a wall is up to you, I guess.

Progressing the story through running can help bring the audience into the feeling of progression as well. Because you keep seeing different environments, your mind naturally gets this feeling of progression, even if it’s just visual.

This is probably why games ABOUT running end up feeling somewhat rewarding just on the pure mechanic of running alone.

The obstacles you traverse through suddenly become a mental list of events that happen one after another. Because it’s not just the same thing over and over again, you add variety in what the character experiences throughout the run.

Sometimes it involves jumping over something, other times you use ziplines, and then some times you just slowly balance your way over a pipe but you keep your momentum…

Or you’re a speedrunner and start doing stuff like this.

Whatever your method, there’s progression. And it’s heightened even more because the progression comes from the player.


It’s not because the character is running because the script said so, the character is running because of YOU.

YOU traverse through all those obstacles, YOU change the environment by moving to another new area in the level until you finally reach the goal.

Of course, the natural assumption of progression is probably why the LACK of progression through Scooby Doo style looping backgrounds or meme videos can end up kind of hilarious as a result.

It’s Fun

To cap this all off, though, running can just be fun to watch in it’s own right.
Forget about the environment and just watch HOW the person runs.

Running basically becomes a form of self-expression.
You’re not going for any particular emotion or to show progression in the environment. You run because… it looks cool.

It’s amazing how when you go back to basics, walking is simply the act of allowing your body to fall, only catch it again with the next foot and straightening your body up again before falling and catching yourself with the other foot.

That’s certainly a very “alien” way of looking at things, but that’s pretty much what running is. And if some sort of higher being that normally floats around through psychic powers would suddenly be demoted to us lowly humans, they WOULD have to learn those things from scratch.

With this in mind, it’s just great to see people have such control of their bodies that they’re able to do such awesome tricks in that concept. Parkour and Free running are basically testing the limits of what one can do with such seemingly simple process of moving from Point A to Point B.

There’s a difference between the two, by the way.
Parkour is about getting from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. You want everything to be as much of a straight line as possible.
Free running is about self-expression. You still want to get from Point A to Point B, but you take whatever route you want that gives you the opportunity to express yourself through cool moves.

Kinda the difference between the two Jet Lis in “The One” where Gabe Law (Training Room) fights in a circle while Gabriel Yulaw (Rooftop) fights in straight lines.

I love this movie so much despite it’s flawed CGI.
I went more in depth about it in the Movie Philosophy of Fight Choreography.

Conclusion

But yeah, it’s just great to see people show how far you can take something. Of course running as a concept may seem very natural and intuitive to us, to a lot of people, but there’s always a way to improve. To progress.

Through running we can show our improvements, show how far we’ve come compared to how we were before.

That’s probably the appeal of speedruns, to see how people keep improving their times on stuff.
And every time you see someone reach the world record, there’s just some type of catharsis once you see them dash through the whole thing that originally was such a pain for you to beat in the first place.

Published by Huy Minh Le

Huy Minh Le is a Video Game Enthusiast, Movie Lover, Writer, Content Marketeer and regular TvTropes reader! His studies in Game Design, Art, and Writing has led to a very creative, yet analytical mind.

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