Gaming literacy: A brief history of the jump

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Everybody jumps. It’s a rule in video games. The jump is one of our most pervasive and beloved video game mechanics. All of our old gaming mascots were known for jumping. The platformer dominated early sprite-based gaming. Without jumping, we wouldn’t have video games as we know it.

 

But where did it come from? Who was the first person to think of making a video game character jump? Why did we, as a collective industry, settle on the jump as the go-to mechanic that served so many purposes including mobility, attack, puzzle solving, and so much more?

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Well, come with us as we take a look into the history of the jump to uncover its origins and evolutions.

It all starts with frogs

As is the case with most video game mechanics, the origins of the jump lie outside of the video game world. While it’s difficult to track down specific influences, jumping had been used as a mechanic in carnival and midway games for a long time before it was used as a video game mechanic.

 

 

You may remember a carnival game that asked you to flip a frog onto a lily pad or through a hoop. This was, essentially, just the video game jump in analog form.

Perhaps that’s why the first video game to ever feature a jumping character featured a frog. Appropriately titled Frogs, this 1978 arcade game developed by Sega-Gremlin had you controlling a frog who had to jump to eat insects while still landing on a lily pad. Eat as many as you can within the time limit without falling off to earn the high score. Riveting… or should I say ribbiting…

Sorry, I’ll never do that again.

The platformer genre

You might be wondering “what the heck is up with all these frogs?” It’s a commonly held belief that Donkey Kong was the first game to feature a jump, but that’s simply not true. It’s also a common belief that Donkey Kong was the first platforming game, but that’s also untrue. The jump and the platformer actually developed independently of each other. Donkey Kong was just the first game to marry the two.

Perhaps the first platformer ever was Space Panic, a 1980 arcade game developed by Universal. In this game, players were tasked with climbing to platforms via ladders in order to avoid pursuing aliens. They could dig holes in these platforms to trap the aliens and then fill those holes up to make the aliens fall. Causing aliens to fall on top of each other gave the player extra points.

This was the shape of the platformer genre for some time, and would continue to be the shape of many platformers even after Donkey Kong released. A few notable examples are Crazy Climber, another Donkey Kong precursor that tasked a player with climbing a building and Burger Time, another platformer game released a year after Donkey Kong which had a player assembling giant burgers without the ability to jump.

 

Enter the Jumpman

There was a fatal flaw with early platform games: it was easy to corner yourself into an unwinnable situation. All you could do is move left and right and up and down ladders. If two enemies managed to sandwich you between them, it was over. Much of the strategy in these early arcade games revolved around avoiding this one scenario. However, this made platformers not all that different from their maze game predecessors, like Pac-Man.

 

Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi’s Donkey Kong changed all that. It was developed partially in response to this ladder based platformer design. In the very first level of Donkey Kong we actually see the massive ape climb and destroy the ladders present throughout the first stage. This signaled to the player that they would have to find another way to maneuver. That way was jumping.

 

Level 1 of Donkey Kong was sort of a tutorial level for jumping. The threats were mostly linear, always coming at you from the same direction. However, Jumpman (also known as Mario) could not make it from ladder to ladder in enough time to avoid these obstacles. That’s where the jump came in. By timing the jump at the right time, Jumpman could vault over barrels and flames, letting him progress onward. If the player was ever to be sandwiched between two enemies, they could still escape the situation by jumping over one of them.

 

Jumpman wasn’t just a name chosen because Nintendo didn’t yet settle on Mario’s Italian moniker. They wanted to express that jumping was part of his identity. This was because Donkey Kong simply could not be beaten without jumping.

In the first stage, jumping was primarily used to avoid enemies. In the second stage, jumping could be used to cross platforms quicker than ladders would allow you to. The third stage, 75m, would be a stage that went down infamy. In this stage players had to use the jump to cross platforms in order to finish the stage. There was simply no way to complete this stage without mastering the jump as a central mechanic.

 

It’s not entirely clear if Donkey Kong succeeded because of how it implemented the jump or if the jump became popular because of Donkey Kong’s success, but either way, Donkey Kong would define the blueprint of the jump for years to come. We now know that jumps could be used to avoid enemies and to traverse locations that you couldn’t otherwise walk.

It was perhaps ironic that Donkey Kong Jr., Nintendo’s official sequel, would then de-emphasize jumping for more a more traditional climb-centric platforming game, while dozens of copycats would step in to try and get a piece of the original Donkey Kong’s success.

 

In the early ‘80s, it was clear that all games with a jump were mimicking Donkey Kong.  They were all games with single screen stages that tasked the player with jumping on enemies, or sometimes jumping from platform to platform. Jumping was an inherently defensive technique.

 

Once again, it’s tough to say exactly when jumping was retooled to be an offensive technique as well, but Nintendo played a big part in it. Mario Bros., the game that canonized Mario’s name and that created Luigi, inherited the jump from its predecessor Donkey Kong.  However, stages didn’t have a “finish line” so to speak. Instead, players were tasked with defeating all enemies on screen.

How? With jumping! Enemies would pursue Mario and Luigi throughout multi-tiered levels. By jumping underneath an enemy, players could flip the enemy over. Touching it afterward would then cause Mario or Luigi to kick the enemy, defeating it.

 

Adding another functionality to the jump was groundbreaking for video game design. It was a way to allow characters to do more, without actually increasing control complexity. Characters can now attack, dodge, and access a special kind of movement all with one button. In Mario Bros. players could even activate a screen clearing POW attack through the use of the same button. This would become the cornerstone of Nintendo’s design philosophy to this very day: giving the player a great deal of things to do without complicating the way they do them.

Limitations

At this point we had seen the jump make its way into videogames as a useful mechanic, but it was still very primitive. Most jumps were coded to make the player travel a set distance, kind of like the jumps in Castlevania. The player had to commit to each jump they made. This left very little room for error, especially when jumping around enemies.

Games themselves were also somewhat primitive. Most games featuring a jump took place on only one screen. A few games, like Pitfall gave the player the illusion of progression by featuring several single-screen levels that “connected” to each other.

 

It would be a long time before players would be jumping around freely like an acrobat. Luckily, Nintendo and a few other innovators had some tricks up their sleeve to make the jump an even more useful tool in the sprite-based era.

 

Come back next time when we examine different types of jumps, including the high jump, the long jump, the double jump, the dash jump, and more. We will also see jumping used for yet more purposes, like exploration.

 

This article originally appeared on Gamerterra.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org

 

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These video games can actually improve your sleep

 

 

Many of us often use big screens to wind down after looking at medium- and small-sized screens all day. While one in three Americans use comfort TV to relax before bed, another one in 10 say they go for gaming as their sleep aid of choice, per a 2014 survey of 844 adults published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

 

According to the study, any type of media (surfing the internet and listening to music included) was associated with poorer sleep quality (womp womp). However, gamers who stayed up late typically just shifted their wake time, too. That means even though they weren’t getting great sleep, they were at least logging their usual amount of shut-eye.

 

In an ideal world, you’d turn off the console one to two hours before it’s time to go to sleep. But if you’re going to game before bed, you’re going to game before bed.

 

So how bad could the damage be when you mix video games and sleep, and what might you do to hack your habit for better Z’s? We asked a sleep doctor to weigh in about how video games impact sleep. We also share a handful of better-for-your-sleep video games to help you unwind before bed.

 

Wachiwit/istockphoto

 

Blame just about everything you love about gaming for making it bad for your sleep.

 

“The last couple of hours before bedtime should be for winding down, but video games have many features that are not conducive to relaxation, including loud noises, adventure, suspense, interaction, and violence,” says Stephanie M. Stahl, MD, sleep medicine physician and assistant professor of clinical neurology at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

 

Then, there’s that blue light problem.

 

“The blue wavelength of light that is high in electronics reduces your brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone which plays a role in regulating your sleep and fighting inflammation and infection,” Stahl explains.

 

As such, it’s no surprise that some studies suggest video games could make it harder to fall asleep, put a dent in sleep quality, lower time spent in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep (and, in turn, hurt your ability to store memories and, well, think in the morning), and spur next-day tiredness and fatigue.

 

All that said, research is a little mixed on just how bad the effect of video games could be on your sleep, and more high-quality, in-depth studies are needed.

 

One small study of 13 teenage boys that had them either play Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a famously addictive first-person shooter game, or watch the “decidedly tranquil” nature documentary March of the Penguins just before bed found that gamers only experienced a slight difference in subjective sleepiness and how long it took them to fall asleep. Their sleep quality, though, was just fine.

 

The researchers’ takeaway? Video games in moderation before bed might be OK.

 

The big problem seems to be cognitive arousal. Trying not to get killed or strategizing the next moves in a campaign could make it difficult to turn off and sink into a restful sleep, especially if you’re new to a game or really into the storyline.

 

There’s also the matter of whether you’re feeding an underlying sleep disorder (most study participants weren’t struggling with untreated insomnia, for example) or just how much time you’re spending in front of a flickering screen.

 

Fifty minutes might not disrupt your sleep all that much. Binging for two and a half action-packed hours, on the other hand, could have a significant effect on sleep time and quality, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

“If you can’t give up video games before bedtime, choose less stimulating, quieter, non-violent ones in the evening,” says Stahl.

 

Set a stop-playing-now alarm — or better yet, use a plug-in shut-off timer — if you, like many, are a bedtime procrastinator these days.

 

While more research is needed, blue light blocking glasses that block out nearly 100% of the blue wavelength of light could also be worth an investment to possibly dial down the sleep-disrupting effects of late-night electronics use.

 

In most circumstances, experts won’t recommend playing video games right before bed, Stahl included. But if you must, here are some picks that may help you relax in these stressful times.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

What better time to escape to a tropical island than in a pandemic? With Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch, you’re basically on vacation. Build your dream getaway, start a garden, go fishing and get to know a huge cast of adorably charming characters.

 

It’s slow-paced, fun to look at and comes with a relaxing soundtrack, too. As one reviewer raves, “The game has provided all of us an enormous amount of happiness that comes with virtual peace in a current world where peace isn’t exactly front and center.”

 

Check out these bedroom design tips you can use in Animal Crossing and real life.

 

 

Nintendo

 

Available on just about any device (Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, iOS and Android), Stardew Valley makes for another cute, stress-free game.

 

The story: You’ve inherited a farm from your grandfather in a little rundown town. While there’s plenty to do — grow crops, date locals, forage, fish and more — you’ve got all the time in the world.

 

 

Nintendo

 

Miss hopping national parks and crave stunning views? Then this is the game for you. In Firewatch, (available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch), you get to explore the gorgeous Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, 1989. There, you take on the life of a lone fire lookout named Henry, who slowly begins to unravel a mystery.

 

Sure, the narrative can pull you in, but it requires the most participation at the beginning and end of the game. In the middle, it’s low-action enough that sleep should come pretty easy when you’re ready for an intermission.

 

 

Campo Santo

 

If you’re one for gazing into the sunset, listening to ambient music or meditating before bed, Journey (available on PC, Playstation 4 and iOS) should be on your horizon. Many say it’s one of the best video games of all time for its simplicity, beauty, music and story (but don’t worry; we won’t spoil it for you!).

 

The premise: You’re a robed figure traversing a stunning desert landscape toward a faraway mountain. While you may meet other travelers, you can only communicate by singing in chimes, so there’s no drama to distract from quality Z’s.

 

Thatgamecompany / Sony

 

Some people wind down by blasting aliens into bits or exploring alternate realities, while others could just use a good laugh. If you’re in that latter camp, try Untitled Goose Game (available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch).

 

You are a goose. A bad goose. Harass gardeners, steal umbrellas and knock down lots of stuff. It’s the essence of low-stakes fun — and there’s a two-player option now, so you and a partner can let off some steam together before settling into bed. Sweet dreams!

 

Looking for other ways to unwind before bed? Here are science-backed nighttime activities to help you relax.

 

Related:

This article
originally appeared on 
Saatva.comand was
syndicated by
MediaFeed.org.

 

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Featured Image Credit: Old Classic Retro Gaming/YouTube.

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