As a Traceur (practitioner of Parkour) and Freerunner of almost 9 years now, I am always interested to see how Parkour is represented in video games. When a ‘new’ activity especially one of the ‘extreme’ variety picks up steam in popular media, traditionally the way it is depicted is not entirely accurate. Parkour has had a shaky start over the last ten years, as debates about what it is and isn’t have raged on within the Parkour community worldwide. We as practitioners have felt misrepresented more often than not, as our discipline of humble self betterment, appreciation for manmade and natural environments, and our welcoming communities, have been depicted as criminals, trouble makers, and nuisances. In film and video games, even now we are still misrepresented on the world stage by undereducated writers and producers concerning what our discipline is and the type of people it attracts. Dying Light is an important stepping stone in the telling of stories that involve Traceurs as it’s main characters, and Parkour as one of the central focuses. Lets take a look at what it does well and how future developers and producers can continue to make better Parkour-related media.
Parkour as a discipline can be described in its most basic form as a method of efficient movement between two points. Dying Light doesn’t necessarily touch on this topic directly, but as the games core mechanics rely on player speed and efficiency of movement, one can easily understand how Parkour plays a major role. One of the main characters the leader of “The Tower,” Harris Brecken was formerly a Parkour instructor before the “Harran Virus” took hold, and it is through him that all of the Runners (the errand men/ women of the Tower) learn to move in the Parkour way. As far as I can recall, Dying Light is the first story to actually centre itself on a legitimate Traceur, rather than give a character the ability to move as a Traceur with little context as to why.
It would be very hard to truly represent the time and dedication practitioners put in to hone their Parkour skills while maintaining timely plot delivery in a video game; however, I feel discussing the speed at which the protagonist Kyle Craine is able to learn Parkour movement is still worthwhile. The tutorial for the movement controls goes a little way to showing that actually becoming proficient at movement within the game itself would be rather challenging. Although the character immediately has very good movement abilities (as some of the NPC’s will regularly comment), the upgrade system is a constant reminder that the more movement you do as a player, the better you will become especially as you “purchase” a wider range of Parkour-related abilities. In reality, there is no ‘purchasing’ of abilities, as I am sure you are all painfully aware. However, having a system that abstractly represents the learning process is very refreshing. The narrative does attempt a number of times to communicate why Craine is naturally good at Parkour, which shows some consideration in regards to video game characters’ seemingly magical abilities to learn new skills, as was common in Techlands’ prior efforts.
Most Traceurs will agree that there are a core set of movements that Parkour is built around. These are vaults, rolls, jumps and general running, balancing, and quadrupedal movement techniques. In Dying Light, there is a tendency to omit the more involved movements, such as specific types of vaults, but I am quite certain this decision would have been in consideration of tech and cost limitations. Actually, executing these movements in a firstperson perspective would be rather difficult to communicate to the player clearly. A great example of this is when players run up a wall and grab the tip (commonly referred to as a wall run), the camera can only focus on the players hands as they reach for the top of the wall. It is easy to forget exactly what the legs are doing to support the upper body during this process, as they are mostly invisible to the player due to the cameras field of view.
The players speed is not excessive, and sits just within the realm of reality when compared to the abilities of the best Traceurs. The stamina of Kyle Craine at the beginning is fairly representative of how much stamina a very good athlete would possess in real life. Considering the effects of adrenaline and the assumption that he is in peak physical form, I don’t find it too hard to imagine that the distance and rate at which he is moving is somewhat realistic. When considering the jumping distance, Dying Light departs from reality perhaps a little, but not too drastically. The impact taken from high drops does seem fairly exaggerated, but considering that it is a video game after all, and that some sensationalisation is necessary as a result, this isn’t too much of a problem.
Correct rolling technique is almost always the first movement taught to newcomers of Parkour, as it is easily the most important basic movement, playing a key part in preventing injury as the practitioner progresses. It is recommended that drops from above 6 feet in height should be broken with a swift roll upon landing, thus preventing the spreading of kinetic energy that enters the body on landing being absorbed by the joints, and rather leaving the body through points of contact with the ground during the roll (shoulder, hands, hips, and feet). In Dying Light, the ability to roll can only be ‘purchased’ with skill points after a great deal of time spent landing far too heavily to avoid bodily damage. I am sure that most individuals have a fairly good idea of the limitations of their body but for the sake of those who don’t the height at which Kyle Craine can land uninjured is not entirely representative of the heights one can land from safely in reality. Again, for the purposes of the video game, I feel the increased height drops are necessary to allow for greater player enjoyment.
The way that climbing has been represented in Dying Light is impressively accurate. Aside from a few speedy ‘dyno’s’ ( rapid twoarmed pull ups to higher ledges), the speed at which the player can climb is representative of an athlete in top physical and technical condition, sometimes even slower. The rate at which Craine tires from repeated exertion again is a reminder of the upper limitations of this kind of movement, and keeps players aware of their physical limits.
As mentioned previously, the use of firstperson perspective introduces a unique set of challenges that the developers of Dying Light would have faced. Perception of distance becomes difficult, while field of view and body awareness are also extremely hard to communicate when the player can’t see their feet 95% of the time. Games like Assassins Creed, that have adopted a thirdperson perspective (in which the whole body is in view), are able to represent the full range of Parkour movements much more accurately. This is due to the fact that the player can be aware of the characters body and their surrounds in a much greater degree. Immersion is arguably much greater in a firstperson game, however, and it is much easier for players to imagine themselves as the person executing the movements, rather than deciding the movement is that of an abstract character. I am of the opinion that one perspective is not necessarily better than the other, but each has its benefits. In terms of which is better at representing the full range of Parkour movements, for now I would argue that third person is the better perspective, purely as it captures the movements in their entirety. The firstperson Mirror’s Edge game comes very close, as more limb movement is shown within the field of view than Dying Light , yet some of these visual clues are lost in the confusion of camera effects and the speed at which the movement takes place.
The most impressive aspect of Dying Light is that David Belle the founder of Parkour was the main movement consultant on the project. Working alongside other Traceurs in motion capture and even the design stages, he helped decide upon a range of movements that would not only be representative of Parkour, but would also be technically feasible within the limitations of game technology. He describes the movement in Dying Light as encouraging players to continue moving because they feel a “desire, driven by confidence.” This is one of the key motivations behind many Traceurs movement in reality.
Techland has crafted a wonderful representation of Parkour movement and culture with Dying Light. The picture that Dying Light paints of Parkour and its practitioners is neutral and, more often than not, positive. As both a Traceur and game designer myself, I feel that Dying Light is a leap in the right direction for Parkour in interactive media. One that I hope future writers and producers can reference as a great example of what can be achieved through careful research, not to mention the consideration of what Parkour is and how its practitioners would like it to be understood by the world.