Games

The Platformer as Typography Teacher

You’re not just interacting with a particular font, but everything that contributed to the history of that font as well.

Type:Rider is an iOS platformer that doubles as a history lesson of the written word. You play as the symbol for the colon, which in this case acts as a pair of wheels. You tilt your device to roll the colon and press a single on-screen button to jump.

The environment is your teacher, as most of the levels are made out of letters. Each level in Type:Rider focuses on a different font. That typeface is tilted and slanted in ways that make movement possible. This kind of level design is particularly clever because there’s really no better way to understand the little difference between fonts than when you’re jumping over and around and through them.

The pointed tips of the Gothic type become speed bumps and ramps when you’re riding over them, while the straight sides act as slides. With Garamond, the letters are floating in water to emphasize the “fluidity” of the text; there are no pointed tips, so the curved and smooth surfaces give you a lot of speed.

Some fonts are so thin that their serifs can fit between your colon, allowing you to hang off an edge. Other fonts are so thick that you’ll just bounce off of them if you try that trick, but then that makes it easier to wall jump between characters.

There are several fonts that the game highlights, spanning centuries of typographical evolution. That’s what makes Type:Rider a genuine teacher and not just a neat platformer: It doesn’t just want you to notice the differences between fonts. It wants you to understand what those differences mean -- why they exist.

Collectible asterisks unlock encyclopedia entries that describe to you the state of the world around the time a given font was created. These provide context for how the font came to be. Through them, we’re shown how these shapes evolved from styles that mimic handwriting to styles that embrace mechanical use and are designed to be exact, easily reproducible, and readable. We see the push and pull of aesthetics versus practicality, and then practicality as an aesthetic. We see how various artistic movements and advances in printing affected typography and how it was used in political and social movements.

Thankfully the game doesn’t just tell us this history. It lets us platform through that history as well. Movable type printing was invented around the time the Gothic font was created, so in addition to riding over letters you’re also jumping over ink stamps and avoiding being crushing by a printing press. At other points, with other fonts, you’re platforming over typewriters, telegraphs, linotypes, currency, advertisements, and more. You’re not just interacting with a particular font, but everything that contributed to the history of that font as well.

Type:Rider takes something we all take for granted -- that daunting selection of fonts in any version of Microsoft Word, most of which you’ll never use -- and explains why they’re there. There’s a reason that they exist, and there’s a complex history behind even the simplest of things, proving them to be simple in appearance only.

Type:Rider is a fine platformer, with its share of clever tricks and frustrating jumps, but it’s the history lesson behind the jumps that make it special.

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