The Jumping Game

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You’ve all played the Jumping Game. Maybe you’ve only played it once and didn’t care for it. Maybe you only ever play it for short spaces of time. Maybe, like me, you have identified its signature across many different games.

More commonly found in first person or third person games that allow some degree of freedom in movement and feature irregularly formed terrain, the Jumping Game is played by trying to jump up something that may or may not be a wall.

Step one is to identify a point that you can see, or sometimes merely imagine to exist, and try to reach said point by scrambling over whatever sits between you and your goal. Occasionally, the game’s developer will have thrown you a bone and made it obvious which surfaces can be scaled and traversed with the use of some sort of road-like texture, or just made surfaces classify as either a gentle incline or a vertical wall without any of that speculative middle ground. More often than not however, many surfaces will exist in that awkward penumbra between something that gravity approves of or something it distrusts.

The Jumping Game
Looks like a ramp. Isn’t a ramp.

Being an awkward game, the Jumping Game has a high rate of failure, with just enough breakthroughs to keep you playing. The repeated failure of getting onto a ledge or something that looks like a ramp can make you scowl like a mad thing, but actually getting to a point in the virtual world that you’re not entirely convinced you’re supposed to be able to has an odd if somewhat muted thrill to it.

It’s rare that the Jumping Game is played with any major purpose beyond “because I want to get to that bit up there” although can sometimes have a purpose. I first really became aware of its existence in Morrowind, where I ended up playing it almost exclusively as a way to find short cuts to various destinations, because I sure as anything wasn’t paying for that overpriced silt strider.

The short cuts would inevitably end up becoming extremely long detours and time sinks. The amount of hours poured into trying to scale a demi-mountain could have easily been used to travel to Mount Doom and back three times, even taking into account the dodgy transport links between the island of Morrowind and Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

The Jumping Game
Looks like steps. Might be steps.

The Jumping Game can be found everywhere. I’ve played it in World of Warcraft, often instigated by particularly hard-to-reach ore nodes. I’ve played it in online first-person-shooters in an attempt to get to a decent vantage spot, giving opponents the baffling site of someone humping the wall and allowing them plenty of time to ponderously line up their crosshairs. I’ve played a particularly high altitude version of it in the Jedi Knight games with the assistance of a suped up force jump. I’ve played it in dozens of third person platformers where I’ve not quite been able to clock exactly where it is that I’m supposed to go.

In essence, whereas in games I can spend a long time looking for a way into a building before thinking to check for a door, I will spend even longer trying to climb a wall before looking for stairs. Although I was confident I wasn’t alone in playing the Jumping Game, I was still surprised to see Guild Wars 2 turn it into a core mechanic.

The first Guild Wars was an exceptionally well crafted, well balanced, carefully designed and in many ways unique game, sitting as some sort of team-based collectible card game in terms of mechanics that lent itself to a highly competitive PvP scene and an extraordinarily deep and re-playable PvE experience. However, I suspect the developers were often criticised for not letting the player jump.

As a result, in Arenanet’s sequel to the MMO, jumping is in some respect a focus of the design. Tasks affectionately known as “jumping puzzles”, otherwise known with far more expletives and best pronounced to the tune of smashing your keyboard into your desk, basically repackage the Jumping Game, giving you some sort of goal at the top of something which is not obviously reachable.

Cue a lot of loosely structured and frustrated jumping, not-quite-making-the-gapping, falling, breaking, crying and repeating. I’m annoyed with the person who introduced me to jumping puzzles, because I’m fairly certain that they knew that I’d hate them, love them, would be unable to stop playing them, and would be universally terrible at them.

The Jumping Game
That chest at the top is nice, but just getting up there is better.

The Guild Wars 2 community being what it is at the moment, if you stand looking up at a particularly hard-to-reach mountaintop long enough, someone will eventually cheerfully come along and help you find your way up, giving you a companion to fail with, which makes the bone-crunching armour-rending falls all the more bearable.

I hate the Jumping Game with a passion in all the titles I’ve found it, but I can’t stop playing it. If I were to get psycho-analytical on myself, I could suggest that maybe it all stems from a childhood fascination but ultimate incompetence in relation to climbing trees, but really, I just want to get up onto that rock because it’s there. I don’t need Guild Wars 2’s shiny treasure chests, achievements and experience boosts to make me throw my face into a not-quite-vertical wall, I am compelled to do it anyway. Sometimes ‘because I think I can do it’ is a perfectly adequate player motivation.