So this particular tweet has been stuck in my craw. I can think of a dozen examples without even getting up and I’m sure that examples are popping into your head right now (and, on top of that, I’m sure that our examples don’t overlap a whole bunch).

The main one I’m currently thinking about is how pixel collisions manifest. You want to avoid these collisions (don’t get hit) and, probably, you want to make other collisions happen… and if “you” don’t want to get hit, you’re probably going to shoot pixels (though eating a power pellet thus allowing yourself to have collisions for a short duration is also an option)… but, mostly, the games we started with began with variants of “you want these collisions, you want to avoid those”.

And the examples of what could we do to make this fun pretty much all involve violence on one level. Shoot this space invader. Shoot this asteroid. Shoot this incoming nuclear missile. As graphics got better, the basic ideas still were there. Swing your sword. Use your shield to block against your opponent’s sword. You want these collisions. You want to avoid those.

And so violence is pretty much the medium that video games works with because that’s the easiest way to make the collisions happen in a coherent experience. Which brings me to one of my thoughts on the criticisms of various tropes in use when it comes to story… let’s say that you’re about to put Your Protagonist through a game where they will likely kill, oh, let’s say a hundred entities. Not all of them have to be people, of course (or any!) but they won’t be able to get to beat the end boss without killing a bunch. What would inspire them to do something like this?

Which is why violence works fairly well in some games and not so well in others. For example, Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite have you be attacked by people. They have their reasons, some good and some bad, but the violence is primarily self-defense. It makes sense. (There’s one great scene in Infinite where there is some mistaken identity and you find yourself yelling “NO! NO! NO!” as you’re being attacked and, sadly, you’ve no choice but to defend yourself.) An example of a game that doesn’t work, violence-wise, is Uncharted 3. Great set design, great character design, great voice work… but I’ve put 100 henchmen in the ground so far and I have no idea why people are agreeing to work for my antagonist. And I think about the reason that I’m willing to keep going places where I’m going to have to shoot another 100 people in the head and how that reason is… money. I lose a bit of reason to keep playing (even though the set design is great, the character design is great, the voice work is great).

At this point, the number one technical limitation that the best games are figuring out how to work around is “how do we work around the fact that collision detection best manifests itself through violence?”


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


    • 1) it ignores multiple genres of video games,
      from the adventure game, to the casual game, to the visual novel.

      • Pong predates Zork (even if only by a little bit).

        We’re descendants of a very particular set of thought processes when it comes to non-text video games.

  1. Um, the best way to pervent collisions nowdays is boundary checking. And the primary method of “avoiding collisions” in modern games is called “being able to master thumbsticks or WASD well enough not to run into walls”.

    The shooting enemies thing is considerably harder than not passing through walls, the furniture or the floor, which is actually the bulk of all collision checks.

    • I was more thinking of the games like pong, where the point was to hit the pixel with your bar, or games like this dodgeball game I played, where you were trying to get your pixel out of the way of other pixels, or games like Combat, where you were trying to hit your opponent with pixels while trying to dodge theirs.

      The thing the computer used to check to see if a point got scored or not was pixels that touched (or not).

      I’m going waaaaaay back.

      • You’re focusing on collisions when the reality is more abstract. Graphics on a screen are…elements. Objects. “Things”.

        The game is how those things interact (or how you interact with those things, via an interface). Collision checking has nothing to do with the game. Things can overlap, impact, or move yes — but boundary check is simplistic and can be handled in a variety of ways.

        Collisions, as it where, are merely a choice on how object interaction is handled.

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