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Deconstructing the Destructoid Game "Runner"

NOTE: Normally I would not cross-post on my c-blog and on the other site I write for, but as this is something quite specific to Destructoid, I'm going to go ahead and post it. If people get really pissy then I can easily remove the watermarks and change the font used in the pictures. If you would like to support Negative Gamer, which is the site that Wardrox of Podcastle "fame" runs and I write for, then by all means read this over there (it should be up relatively shortly, and I will post a link here when it does).


Runner is a game made by Destructoids own indie game specialist Revered Anthony Burch (better known in some circles as “the indie-fag”) with some help from fellow editors Ashley Davis and Jonathan Holmes. As this game is meant as an art project to be discussed and dissected, I figured that I would throw in my own two cents about the experience I had, and put out some theories as to what it all might mean. Prior to writing this I have not looked up any explanations, guides or any other information on the game. The only thing I knew about it going in was who made it and what it was called. Anthony promised a post explaining the game a few weeks ago and I’m not sure if it exists yet or not as I have intentionally not looked for it. Before you go any further, I would definitely suggest that you play the game. It’s very short (one play-through will take you less than 5 minutes) and will make the following make a hell of a lot more sense.

For the sake of paring down this great wall ‘O text that I’ve erected, I’ve decided to sum up my major feelings into an abstract. If you’ve played the game and are just interested in hearing my baseline thoughts, that’s all you need. If you’re interested in either reading my more “in-depth” analysis, head to the end. If you want a quick reference guide of my “major” and “minor” observations for your own interest, or to save time by not playing through the game again (to, say, remember which girl has what in her “speech bubble” etc.), then check right after the abstract. Hopefully this format will be easy to understand and will let anyone reading to get at the information that he or she wants quickly and without burrowing through my verbal diarrhea (how’s that for a mental image?).

All descriptions about the various emotions depicted in the art and the musical cues are, of course, up for personal interpretation. But enough preamble...


At the end of the day I have a tough time coming up with a single, unifying storyline to tie the various women and events together. But I feel that the game is a commentary on the futile exercise of running away from ones painful memories of relationships past (as represented by the women chasing The Runner and their associated “speech bubbles”, which show specific events) and how those memories accumulate over time. I would also reason that there is a message about the use of escapism, as represented by both the typewriter and the relationship with Blondie. Both of these events give the player a brief respite, but end up simply making the problem worse in the end. With the typewriter, the game becomes more difficult as the women move up the field and the obstacles become more difficult to dodge, and the relationship with Blondie ends with more women chasing The Runner, again presumably making the game harder if it weren’t to end at that point.

Speaking of which, the abrupt ending suggests to me that there is an implication that this process will repeat, as the player is not given any indication that things are any different from the beginning of the game, except that there are now more women chasing The Runner. Again reinforcing the theme of a man trying, and failing, to escape from his ever-growing number of potentially crippling memories of botched relationships.

I also see the obstacles as various events that, if The Runner isn’t careful, end up damaging him mentally, thereby causing the unpleasant memories to move closer and his relationship with the blonde woman to fail. Finally there are the speech bubbles, which I would lean towards being moments where The Runner is recalling specific negative events, making the game harder, which is a way of communicating to the player the frustration, annoyance and possibly desperation that The Runner feels.

(The Rev Ant on the right was drawn by the super talented Mr.GrumpyTurtle!)

”Major” Observations

- The name of the game is Runner

- The game begins with the player running away from three women while avoiding walls and knee-high barriers

- A mournful piano concerto plays in the background throughout the entire game

- Every time the player hits an obstacle, the women move forward slightly

- The women chasing the player are all semi-transparent (I will refer to the individual women based on the colour of their skirts: Purple, Green and Blue. The woman that appears near the end of the game will be referred to as Blondie)

- Once the game begins, the women float up one by one and a speech bubble appears in the field of play. These obscure the players view of the player character (hereby referred to as The Runner), thereby making the game more difficult

- Each woman has her own unique series of pictures within her respective bubble. They are as follows in the order in which they are displayed if the player “completes” the game...

- Purple: the first to go airborne. Her bubble contains herself looking angry with a ninja behind her. She knocks the ninja out. There is then a picture that shows the player filming the whole thing and looking happy. Purple looks angry throughout

- Blue: the second to go airborne. Her bubble contains her kissing a blonde man while The Runner looks on in dismay). When this bubble comes up the game seems to get a bit tougher. Once the typewriter is collected, the scene changes to The Runner and Blue spooning. The Runners face is obscured and Blue looks content. (more on the typewriter after this)

- Green: the third to go airborne. Occurs after the typewriter “wears off”. This bubble is the most elaborate and contains several scenes: Green looking happy sitting on a swing next to The Runner, The Runner looking angry, possibly disappointed, and is looking at Green whom is holding two bags and a backpack while looking a little concerned maybe? Next is a shot of Greens head and over a few frames her hair grows out, then a picture of her hanging out and looking happy with two guys and another girl. The next frame is the Runner looking angry and yelling into a phone, followed by a sequence of Green holding the phone away from herself while looking a little surprised and then slamming down the receiver with some measure of determination

- For most of the game if the player falls too far behind, or the women catch up to him/her, then the game is over and one of the women will grab onto the player character (hereby referred to as The Runner) and hug him. When this happens the woman looks happy and The Runner does not. All of the women also become opaque at this point and the women that are not hugging The Runner display their respective speech bubbles
- As Blue’s bubble of her kissing a man while The Runner looks on finishes, the music increases in tempo and urgency. A typewriter then appears and it cannot be avoided. Once The Runner grabs the typewriter, he looks frantic as he begins to type away, with pages flying out behind him. At this point Blue lifts into the air and the bubble of her and The Runner spooning appears in front of her. While this is happening, The Runner also lifts into the air, and the bubble disappears from in front of Blue, suddenly appearing in front of The Runner

- While The Runner is in the air typing, all three women line up next to one another (they were staggered at the start) and advance up the field of play

- While The Runner is in the air, obstacles are still whizzing by down below

- After a minute, the bubble in front of The Runner begins to flicker, and eventually it disappears as he is lowered to the ground

- At this point Green lifts into the air and her bubble appears over top of the player. The game enters its most difficult phase as the player and the women are both obscured by the bubble and the pattern of obstacles becomes more difficult

- Once this section concludes, Blondie appears (she is opaque like The Runner at this point). She comes in from the front of the field of play and moves slowly backwards. At this point the player can either run into her, in which case the final phase of the game begins, or the player can avoid her, which causes the game to end once she is off the screen

- Assuming the player has The Runner bump into her, Blondie takes up position in front of The Runner and the other women slowly back off from the field of play off the screen. It may be worth noting that the play can no longer “lose” the game from this point on and -regardless of what he/she does- will now see the game through to completion

- The player is then beset by obstacles again, but this time The Runner cannot jump. Instead, when the spacebar is pressed The Runner and Blondie kiss, causing a large heart to appear in front of them while they are both enveloped in a rainbow effect. This heart actually causes the various obstacles to disappear when they touch it

- Over a relatively short period of time, the heart becomes smaller and the obstacles are still nullified, but are made to be semi-transparent instead of completely gone, and the rainbow effect stops happening. Eventually the heart becomes tiny and then disappears thereby forcing the player to crash into the knee-high obstacles

- After a few crashes, Blondie leaves the player and slowly leaves the field of play by going off the screen behind The Runner

- Shortly after Blondie has left, she returns with the other women, all of whom are now semi-transparent

- Blondie then floats into the air and her bubble appears displaying the following scenes
-The Runner comes up to her, they both look happy and start holding hands
- She then hits a wall, with The Runner still holding her hand

- The Runner then helps her to her feet (there is a corresponding animation earlier in the game when Blondie hits an obstacle when she is with The Runner)

- Both look happy and are holding hands again

- Blondie hits another wall. Followed by the same scene that just played out with The Runner helping her up

- A shot of Blondie running away with her eyes closed, looks like she might be about to cry

- Another shot of Blondie, looks flushed, but her eyes are now open

- Shot of The Runner, eyes closed, looking hurt possibly, running in the opposite direction from Blondie

- The game then ends abruptly

That’s pretty much it for the “major” stuff. There are quite a few obvious things in there for the sake of completeness. I’ve left out any “outside” information that I know about the people who worked on the game, the credits and the dedication to Ashley Davis on purpose in an attempt to look purely at the game itself. Let’s move on to some of the more inscrutable things that may or may not be important (which is not to suggest that my above list is guaranteed to be complete or correct).

”Minor” Observations

- The loading screen contains all the controls necessary to play the game. This is most likely just a practical design decision, but I figured I may as well mention it

- The background is extremely simple, contains no colour and is obviously urban

- The whole game takes place on one long road

- The women are staggered at the start of the game. Pink is in the back, Blue in the middle and Green at the front

- Green is the one that grabs you if you get caught. When Green is in the air, it’s Blue that grabs you

- One time Blue actually ran off the right side of the screen while The Runner was in the air with the typewriter. I was never able to recreate that, so maybe it’s a glitch, or maybe I just haven’t figured out what triggered it. During that play-through I got caught after landing by Purple, so I’m unsure as to whether Blue leaving would affect anything later on

- At the end of the game, Blondie is suspended in the air, but her bubble has disappeared and you can take The Runner off the screen by running to the right

- The obstacles shatter apart when you run into them

That’s pretty much it. I’m sure there are a bunch of small things that I’ve missed, but hopefully these two lists should give a pretty thorough accounting of what happens in the game. Let’s mosey on over to get the money shot: the analysis.

Thoughts and Interpretation

Considering the way things play out with Blondie later in the game, I believe the semi-transparent women to be embodiment of memories of past relationships. The reason is that when The Runner first meets Blondie their relationship is obviously a romantic one, and after she returns her bubble depicts what just happened within the game. In other words: the bubbles are The Runner recalling specific memories, while the semi-transparent women are memories in the background of The Runners mind.

Using the above to orient ourselves, we can start to break down the specific memories contained within the bubbles.

- Purple: She punches out a ninja and then it’s implied that The Runner is filming it. Note that the shot of The Runner filming her does not have the ninja in it anywhere, but Purple has the same stance and look on her face that she had just before and after punching the ninja. Without some more context I can’t make heads or tails of this one. Is it supposed to be that Purple is acting and a fond memory that The Runner has is of filming her? Is it a comment on a voyeuristic relationship? Maybe it’s a depiction of a real event that had some personal meaning to the designer? (which would be cool because then he knew a girl that punched out ninjas) I have no idea and it kind of flies in the face of part of my interpretation for the rest of the bubbles.

- Blue: Kissing some guy while the Runner looks on, appearing totally dismayed gets some context when Then Runner gets the typewriter and that memory is replaced by one of Blue and he spooning. I believe that the first bubble is a memory that occurred chronologically after the second one. That is to say that Blue and The Runner were in a relationship, but she ended up either leaving him for someone else, cheating on him, or he ended up seeing her get into another relationship after they broke up, and it really bothered him.

For the sake of this interpretation, my gut feeling is that she left The Runner for another man simply because he looks distraught rather than angry while he looks on. It’s also interesting that the music picks up and the game gets harder when The Runner recalls her kissing the other man. After The Runner gets the typewriter however he becomes effectively invincible by flying over obstacles and above the women chasing him as he recalls what is presumably a happy memory for him. This further suggests that the world around The Runner is a representation of The Runners mind, and his feelings of desperation followed by relief are conveyed to the player through the changes in the game, such as the music and difficulty.

Having said that, the typewriter only offers the player a brief respite, and once The Runner has landed, the women have moved up the field and the game becomes even harder. I believe that this suggests that in order to stave off a painful memory, The Runner attempts a form of escapism by frantically writing, possibly about happier times. But ultimately it’s a futile effort, and things only get worse for him when he stops writing.

- Green: of my assessments of the bubbles, I feel fairly confident in my interpretation of this one as a long distance relationship that breaks down. The establishing shot with the swing shows Green and The Runner in a happy relationship, the shot of Green with the bags is her moving away and her hair growing out represents changes in her life and or personality over time. The shot of Green hanging out with others is her enjoying her new life away from The Runner and the phone call from The Runner is him giving Green crap for not calling, or possibly accusing her of cheating. Finally, Green hangs up on The Runner, and the relationship ends.

- Blondie: the most straightforward one of them all. As I mentioned before: her bubble describes events that the player just played through, and I’ve used it to help me understand the other aspects of the game. Basically Blondie allows us to watch a relationship unfold in real time. At first their love is powerful and completely eliminates all obstacles, but over time it becomes less and less powerful, until finally there are barriers that can’t be dodged, and these cause the relationship to fall apart. Also important to note is that when The Runner joins Blondie (or is it the other way around?) the memories of the other girls disappear off screen. Between this and the destruction of the barriers leads me to believe that the relationship with Blondie is also meant to highlight how new love can push unpleasant memories away and can overcome pretty much any obstacle, but that over time the magic fades and that new love can become just another sad old memory.

As far as the obstacles themselves go, I would posit that they represent events occurring to The Runner that negatively effect his mental state. When he hits a barrier one of two things happens depending on which part of the game the player is at: he either loses some ground to the unpleasant memories, or it is implied that crashing into the barriers cause his relationship with Blondie to go sour. Keeping this in mind, I think it would make sense to say that the obstacles have a direct relationship with how The Runner thinks and behaves, both within his mind and in the “real world”, as represented by Blondie. Having said all of that, the barriers are fairly abstract, and I feel like I’m reaching a bit more than I’d like in the above explanation.

Closing Thoughts

Not much else to say really. Hope that this was at least interesting, informative or entertaining to you in some way shape or form. I’m looking forward to seeing how close/far off I was about all of my thoughts and
feelings. But regardless of how correct I am, I did like how the game conveys some of the feelings that The Runner is experiencing to the player strictly through the gameplay and some basic art. Anyways, keep on rockin’ in the free world kids!

P.S. Thank you for reading :D
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About The GHostone of us since 1:55 AM on 01.25.2008

For the basics, check out my forum intro thread.

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Now that that's done with, let's move onto the blog itself. This blog isn't going to contain any news. Like EVER. Like NEVER EVER FOREVER NEVER. I have no intention of doing anything other than posting original content (mostly just pictures that I make with my extremely limited photoshop skills along with original stories and whatnot). The bottom line is that I think that there are plenty of people doing editorial/reviewer style content already, and so instead of adding to the glut, I'll just stick to what I know:

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Now enjoy... or DON'T!

My one year anniversary: I did a bunch of traveling and met a bunch of Dtoiders whilst doing so. Here's my one year anniversary/travel summary audio c-blog.

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I've made many a card for many a Dtoider after getting the idea from a forum thread in which Atheistium posted a template and a challenge. Currently I'm a little too busy with school/work/fighting enemies of truth and justice to make more, but I'll get another batch out eventually. Here are links to all my Dtoid card posts!

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