Run and Jump
The Meaning of the 2D Platformer
184 pp., 5 x 8 in, 32 b&w illus.
- Published: February 6, 2024
- Publisher: The MIT Press
How abstract design decisions in 2D platform games create rich worlds of meaning for players.
Since the 1980s, 2D platform games have captivated their audiences. Whether the player scrambles up the ladders in Donkey Kong or leaps atop an impossibly tall pipe in Super Mario Bros., this deceptively simple visual language has persisted in our cultural imagination of video games. In Run and Jump, Peter McDonald surveys the legacy of 2D platform games and examines how abstract and formal design choices have kept players playing. McDonald argues that there is a rich layer of meaning underneath, say, the quality of an avatar's movement, the pacing and rhythm of level design, the personalities expressed by different enemies, and the emotion elicited by collecting a coin.
To understand these games, McDonald draws on technical discussions by game designers as well as theoretical work about the nature of signs from structuralist semiotics. Interspersed throughout are design exercises that show how critical interpretation can become a tool for game designers to communicate with their players. With examples drawn from over forty years of game history, and from games made by artists, hobbyists, iconic designers, and industry studios, Run and Jump presents a comprehensive—and engaging—vision of this slice of game history.
“McDonald gives us tools—practical and theoretical—to uncover infinite possibilities of meaning in every leap and fall. Through his lovely, accessible writing, I'm now convinced of the power of the platformer!”
Julianne Grasso, Assistant Professor of Music Theory, Florida State University
“McDonald brings the dual perspective of a careful theorist and a creative maker to the platformer genre. At once analytical and poetic, this book demonstrates how genre-specific structures elevate platformers to a unique platform on which designers and players co-create meanings.”
Patrick Jagoda, Professor of Cinema & Media Studies, University of Chicago; author of Experimental Games
“Why do we persist in making and playing platform games over forty years after Donkey Kong? In Run and Jump, McDonald explores the poetics of the form, constructing an aesthetic vocabulary of the platformer.”
Anna Anthropy, Game Designer in Residence, DePaul University; author of A Game Design Vocabulary