|First Appearance: Unknown, due to sheer pervasiveness|
Also appearing in: Television shows; movies; the Internet
|Profile by Tomm Hulett? | March 6, 2011|
Children often think that images on a television or monitor are the result of “little men who live inside the TV.” This is obviously a result of the children’s tender brains not being developed enough to understand the inner workings of such a device. To an adult, of course, this idea is adorably silly. Obviously the forces at work here are less “men” and more accurately “beings.” Those beings being the Edges of the Screen.
Naturally, there are in fact four* distinct Edges involved: Top, Bottom, Left, and Right. When TVs served only to display television and movie images, or even computer monitor readouts, all four edges were content to simply exist, observing our behavior and blocking out whatever visuals or data might lie just beyond view. Not the kindest of behavior, but nonetheless benign. Soon video games were invented, however, and people took a more interactive role in their monitor-driven entertainment. Seeing this, it seems the four Edges were spurred to action, each one developing a unique approach to interacting with players.
Let’s take each Edge into consideration separately:
The top edge is perhaps the most mysterious. In general it seems the friendliest, at times (see: Mario?) concealing the player from harm or allowing him to reach the end of the stage easily. However, more often it conceals hordes of enemy threats just waiting to descend into the play area. These often take the form of boulders, lightning, or other environmental hazards—but at times include actual enemies and projectiles. In rare instances, the Top Edge has become hostile and killed players that ventured beyond it (see also: Bottom), however this appears to be a rare phenomenon.
Bottom is by far the most commonly aggressive Edge of the four. Countless heroes have met their ends plummeting into Bottom’s gaping maw (which isn’t even accounting for the times Bottom throws enemies onto the screen, or sends a torrent of lava racing toward Top). Nobody knows how Bottom grew so vindictive as to be a constant threat. Even in games where he isn’t openly aggressive, he will passively conceal passages leading further in the level or powerups just below the field of play. Bottom is so often fatal that even in games where it hasn’t killed anyone, players will proceed with caution out of instinct alone.
More recently, however, User Feedback groups have been formed to fight the spread of Bottom’s aggression. The rise of 3D has been a key factor in the war, as well. These days, most publishers have the budget to invest in anti-Bottom measures, so pits and lava traps aren’t allowed to factor into level design.
Left and Right
In the days of early gaming, Left and Right Edges served quite similar functions: subterfuge. When a player approached one, he would be transported to the other, and vice versa. Experts theorize this was a crude attempt to confuse humanity, discouraging us from interacting with games in the future. However, expert players soon found ways to use this property as an advantage, quickly darting off one Edge and to the other, avoiding enemies, fireballs, and all manner of obstacles. This development altered the approach Left and Right took quite drastically.
Right seemed to accept its fate, reverting back to simply blocking the player’s view. When approached head-on, Right simply moves away, allowing the player to dictate just how far the dance continues. Every once in a while Right again threw a character to Left, but for the most part abandoned its aggressive ways.
Left, on the other hand, wouldn’t take things lying down. Early on it simply refused to move -- following just on the player’s heels, then standing firm if he attempted to backtrack. In more modern times, it seems Left has followed right’s lead; giving the player freedom to push it around. But don’t fall for this ruse, as an angered Left can (in a horrifying and seemingly-senseless show of aggression) accelerate toward the player on its own, threatening to swallow him with a brutality normally only demonstrated by Bottom. Scientists still do not know how to predict when such an attack will take place. Those concerned are advised to avoid linear platformers at all cost.
It’s worth noting that Left and Right are quite tree-like in stature, making both Edges an ideal nesting ground for all manner of birds, bats, and Medusa? heads. When approached by a perceived threat, these creatures will launch out of the Edge to attack. The birds especially do so with alarming consistency.
Despite years of exposure to the Edges of the Screen, we still don’t know much beyond the information above. What determines their abrupt changes in behavior? What soul-rending, eldritch horrors lurk just beneath (or above, or behind) them? Answers are nigh-impossible to obtain, considering the random consequences of passing beyond an Edge’s border.
Fortunately for mankind, the invention of simulated 3D gaming seems to have mitigated the threat the Edges pose quite effectively. Their role in gaming has regressed back to that of TV and movie viewing: simple obstruction. At times the Edges conspire to hide the player character, but not to a degree that it impedes gameplay in any way.
The Edges recently released a statement, speaking to the advent of true-3D systems like the Nintendo 3DS. It seems they are redoubling their efforts to harm the player by focusing on a new target: player immersion.
Players will still be able to view onscreen action with an illusion of depth, but if they dare approach any of the four Edges, (claims the statement) their suspension of disbelief will be shattered irreparably. Only time will tell if this threat results in a new era of hostility, or if game designers will find a way to triumph over adversity once more.
* There is technically a fifth species of Edge unique to the Nintendo DS (specifically, Contra 4). For details please see “The Gap.”