Here are some off of the top of my head. There's probably a definitive list out there.
  1. Minecart level
  2. Ice level
  3. Egyptian level
  4. Underwater level
  5. Forced scrolling level - a race to escape from rising water, lava, or the deadly edge of the screen
  6. Inconsistent water - on one level you can swim, another you drown
  7. The healing power of offscreen - enemies can regenerate if you leave an area then return
  8. The dead end the end of which you can't see until it's too late - in R-Type style shooters this is a classic
  9. Weapons disappear after 3 uses
  10. The Dark World / The Light World
  11. Food heals injuries
  12. Mimic Chests - regardless of the game universe
  13. Deadly Animals - even Spiderman gets his ass kicked by bees, rats, etc. in games...
  14. Train level
  15. Red Key for Red Door
  16. Incredibly useful power, skill, spell or weapon you can only use once
  17. King kidnapped and replaced by demon imposter - one for the Square fans
  18. Guns less powerful than bare hands - see Darkstalkers, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, in fact most Capcom games!

(n.b. regarding NSA's excellent appraisal of Half-Life below : I would say that the game does feature a couple more of the cliches listed, just in slightly disguised forms : there's the occasional headcrab in a crate that serves the purpose of a "mimic chest", and I could've sworn there was something akin to a minecart level about halfway in).

The thing about videogame clichés is that, when you think about it in a certain light, almost anything about a videogame you can name could be considered a cliché. Most particularly, the division of games into genres is an often quite harmful cliché. A video or computer game (there is no real difference) is a wonderful thing in that everything is possible, given sufficient imagination, vision and ingenuity on the part of the designer and programmers. The fact that software genres exist at all is somewhat saddening. In the old days of the industry, when “computer game” meant either an arcade or a university lab, there were very, very few genres. Now, almost everything (with some very notable exceptions, such as The Sims and the upcoming Majestic) has to be lumped in with the first person shooters, or the roleplaying games, or something else. There are many reasons for this: boneheaded software marketing departments, the view of the management of software companies to view games as nothing more than a commodity, designer narrow-mindedness, and the increasing trend of the industry to move towards an ever-more-genre-laden Hollywood-like production model. The saddest result of this is that many, maybe even most, gamers these days have come to rely upon the senseless genre definitions to the extent that they think along those lines. Now, much like some guys will only choose to see action movies or space opera, some gamers will only play FPS or the like, using the genre boundaries to justify their own closed-mindedness. In this why the concepts of genres are reinforced.

But I didn’t actually write this just to whine about the state of the industry. I wrote it because I have a few clichés of my own to contribute:

  • The Metroid/Zelda Design Model: Maybe it’s a little unfair of me to pin this one on two series’ which I greatly admire. In games that follow this design school, the player is given a huge world to explore, but at the start of the game a sizable portion is locked off because a certain piece of equipment is required to pass obstacles. For example, you can only reach Zora’s Domain in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time once you have found a bomb bag, because you need bombs to destroy the boulders blocking the way. Usually, you only gain access to the last area at the very end of the game, because that area contains the final boss. Both Metroid and Zelda are chock full of this kind of thing. However, they rise above the essential arbitrariness of their play structure by giving the player a lot of places to explore anyway, by cleverly disguising the first-this-then-that nature of the play (You don’t finish level two so you can reach level three, you get the bombs so you can enter Zora’s Domain!), and sometimes by offering choices as to where to go next. To give another example from Ocarina of Time, after getting the Bow in the Forest Temple, nothing prevents the player from going on to either the Fire or Water temples and completing them first. However, all three must be finished to enter the Shadow Temple.
    To be fair, the roots of this cliché lie at the very heart of the adventure genre. The Atari 2600 game Adventure, the very first game of the type, had this type of design.
  • Zippers: This is an example of where the boundary between a cliché and a legitimate part of the emerging shared videogame language are blurred. A Zipper is a place in a kart racing game that looks kind of like a stylized arrow that, when driven over, gives the player’s vehicle a great burst of speed. Because Zippers have been in so many games, players don’t have to question them. They can be reasonably certain that this thing that makes you fast in R.C. Pro Am will do the same thing in Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, and other games too.
  • Hearts give you health: Thinking about this too long will give you that warm “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” feeling. What does Link do with those things once he picks them up?
  • Bosses: Boss enemies are used very often to give a player an exciting climax to a level or a game, but nothing says you actually have to use them. At the end of Might and Magic II, for example, the player must solve a cryptogram! Banjo-Kazooie is a recent example of a popular game that only had a boss at the very end.

Let's look at my favourite game, Half-Life, using these criteria:

1. Minecart level? NO, but see #14.
2. Ice level? YES - a walk-in freezer you must traverse quickly while solving a jumping puzzle.
3. Egyptian level? NO.
4. Underwater level? YES, many, with big nasty alien fish.
5. Forced scrolling level? NO, but this scenario occurs in a few puzzles.
6. Inconsistent water? NO.
7. Offscreen healing? NO - dead is dead, sucka.
8. Too late, dead end? NO.
9. Weapons disappear? NO (thank God!)
10. Dark/Light Worlds? SORT OF. Some very dark & scary levels, others out in the desert sun (still scary).
11. Food heals? YES - drink cans of soda for 1 health each!
12. Mimic chests? YES. Sure, I'll buy that headcrabs = mimic chests.
13. Deadly animals? YES, oh yes... Houndeyes and headcrabs for example.
14. Train level? YES - A loooong train level (ON A RAIL), with many stops (and not for ice cream either!).
15. Red key/red door? NO - a little more subtle than that. You need Barney to open some doors.
16. One-off item/power? NO.
17. King impersonated? NO.
18. Guns/Bare hands? NO, though the crowbar can be more useful than the Glock in the first level.

It has to be mentioned (SPOILER ALERT) that although the "official" Boss is defeatable by the player, there's an additional "Boss" at the very end who CANNOT be handed his own ass. Too bad, because by then you really want to.

Score: 6.5/16. I think Half-Life passes the test as a relatively non-cliched game.

One thing that everyone needs to realize when writing about Video Game "Cliches" is that many are just gameplay conventions.

Coming back "Invincible and transparent" gives you an opportunity to readjust yourself to the game and your current position.

And ammo appearing in odd places... it appears when it's helpful, usually. And I usually see it appear in places like crates and such. Or off of fallen enemies, which certainly makes sense to me. Games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein are starting to buck this trend by requiring a lieutenant to drop ammo or a medic to drop health.

Just remember, conventions and cliches are not the same thing. I work in theatre, i deal with conventions day in and day out.

Many so-called "clichés" are necessary for any game to be playable. You MUST be the only person who can save the Earth. Otherwise you could leave the game running untended for six hours, and come back to find an NPC had completed it for you, offscreen. Then there's no game, right? You must be able to take many more hits than your enemies or the game ends instantly; there must be bigger weapons later on as a reward for progress and an incentive to keep playing.

But on the other hand there are a lot of things in videogames which seem to appear simply because of precedent. An experienced gamer will automatically destroy crates/pots/boxes/rats to look for ammunition/health/magic/gold inside. If you think about this logically for a few moments, it makes no sense. But in the videogame world, this is just how we do things, and have been for years. Then there are sniper rifles. There are always sniper rifles. Ever since GoldenEye 007 there have been sniper rifles in first-person shooters, and that a time may come when there are NOT sniper rifles is inconceivable.

  • Player one is blue and player two is red
  • If it has a weak spot, it'll flash yellow when you shoot it
  • Any broken machine of any kind will work perfectly once you have found the correct spare part. Moreover there is exactly one spare part hidden in the level. It is the correct one
  • If it's covered in fur, its a good guy. If it's covered in spikes, it's a bad guy
  • The Ancient Evil returns to savage the land every thousand years on the dot. The last time it showed up was 999.9975 years ago, give or take
  • There is only one thing capable of stopping the aforementioned evil, but last time around it was split into between 2 and 10 pieces, all of which now require finding
  • Climbing a ladder is more life-threatening than engaging in a gun battle
  • All "Game Over" messages are essentially a lie

I'd like to see a games designer go straight through that list of clichés and break every last one of them. It would be refreshing to play an RPG or FPS which behaved in a totally unexpected way. It would make the player think about the solutions to puzzles instead of automatically looking for the red key to the red door. It would inject some much-needed creativity into an industry that in recent years has been slipping dangerously close to becoming evolutionary or even stale, not revolutionary as it should be. I'm telling you, back in the old days you couldn't just get by on fancy graphics, you had to make your game worth playing to make up for it. But that's another node.

I want the bad guys to win for a change. I want my character to be left-handed by default. I want to be told about an ancient prophecy and NOT have it come true by the end of the game. I want to see weapons jam and NPCs that trip over branches occasionally. I'd like to see an explosive crate that isn't.

I'd like to BE a bad guy, and have it left up to my morals alone whether I enslave the globe or eventually turn my back on evil. I'd like to start with a rocket launcher and a grenade launcher and gradually be stripped of my weapons, so the final encounter is a terrifying affair fought with fist and knife. I'd like to see a fat woman in a game.

Dang it, I want to go behind a waterfall and NOT find a hidden cave.

Break clichés! Make the gamer think!

Two words: Ghost Ship.

I admit to not being the most well-versed video gamer in the world (I couldn't land a guest spot on Beat the Geeks or anything), but I've played my fair share of RPGs and have noticed that one crucial element to developing an RPG is to be sure to include a ghost ship. It's right up there with say, the princess who hides her identity, or the amulet that seems like a regular family heirloom but somehow holds great power. I mean, come on, what's an RPG without a ghost ship? You and your party of brave adventurers come to some distressed fishing town whose ships have mysteriously gone missing... GHOST SHIP TIME! Or, you finally get your own ship and set sail for some other continent, but suddenly while you're travelling, the air gets misty... GHOST SHIP TIME!

I haven't played a lot of RPGs lately, what with having a life and all, so if anyone has any additions to my limited list then let me know. Also, I know that the ghost ship cliche bleeds far into other game genres that I neglect, so again, be sure to let me know. This is just from my memory and the input of a few fellow ship-watcher friends of mine.

Video games with a ghost ship:

Lots of other games have almost-ghost-ships, like Final Fantasy VI's phantom train, but I guess those don't count. I think it's funny how the response from the characters is always the same... complete surprise. Well, I know that if I ever go on a quest to save the world, the ghost ship sure as hell isn't going to catch me off guard.
There are several computer games that I can think of that the player is supposed to be evil:

The Dungeon Keeper series has the player capturing heroes and torturing them as either entertainment or to convert them to your cause. Can't say I've gotten around to playing this one yet, though.

Black & White is half real-time strategy and digital pet simulator. Albeit your pet is a huge bipedal animal and humans are but tiny insects in comparison. But there is the potential to be an evil god and therefore have an evil animal avatar. The look of your pet, your temple and evil the land inside your influence reflects how good or evil you play.

Grand Theft Auto series has you playing a car thief, hit man, drug runner, and gang member, if you so please. In fact, stealing cars and/or murdering their former owners is par for the course. There are very few redeeming moral actions, besides saving one of your own cartel members.

One of the No One Lives Forever games has you playing as a member of H.A.R.M.. Can't say I've played this one either, but it's true. It's not a very long game, more of an expansion pack, from what I've heard.

The Aliens Versus Predator series casts the player in the role of the Predator, Alien, or Marine. Obvious, the human is the 'good' character and doesn't have do anything immoral, just survive. The Predator and Alien are debatable evil characters, since the each do only as their biology suggests. In the case of AvP2, the Predator has an even worse human nemesis to go after. Any Marines that get in the way are incidental. Aliens are mindless killing machines in own right and have few objectives. Kill, reproduce, and protect the Hive. So, barring a discussion of morality, the Predator and Alien characters are evil in that they kill human beings for sport and food, respectively. They only look out for their own species.

The two Postal games cast the player as a psychopath mass murderer. Go figure. The first game had wonderfully painted backgrounds, but the gameplay and the horror quickly became repeditive. The second game, however, despite being entirely politically incorrect, had many original ideas and conform to very few of the above cliches. So you're on fire? Pee on yourself. Want more health than you would normally? Smoke some crack. The player just wants to finish his seemingly mundane tasks (get milk, go to the bank) but the game world goes out of its way to goad the player into reacting violently. Sure, you're killing innocents, but they were annoying to begin with. It's probably the only game series that puts the company that produced the game into the game itself as a plot device. It's certainly not my favorite game, but it does things (albeit in a very offensive manner) in an original and never-before-seen fashion.

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