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written by Sam Greenspan

No matter what game you play from what era, there are certain constants you can always rely on.

My iPad-game-that’s-affecting-my-sleep-cycle-du-jour is Plants vs. Zombies. Over the weekend, I was playing a level where it helps to use a weapon to destroy tombstones (it keeps zombies from popping out of them, and you get a coin). That made me think back to playing The Legend of Zelda 20-some years ago and pushing tombstones around in the graveyard portion of Hyrule in order to find items like the Magical Sword.

That all led to this list of consistencies that have been an eternal part of video games (I cover this one in point #2 below (“Always desecrate graves”). Here are 11 tricks (and, in a way, cliches) that have worked in every video game through the history of time.

1 | When a bad guy briefly exposes one body part, that’s his weakness

This is the universal hint for beating “big boss”-type characters. Squaring off against one who only opens his eye briefly then quickly shuts it again? That eye’s the weakness. Same with an open mouth. Or exposed belly button with a taped “X” over it. Or even a groin. Seriously. If the character only occasionally reveals his groin, do unspeakable things to that groin.

2 | Always desecrate graves

Never really stopped to think about this before — but video games really encourage you to be a grave robber. Every time you’re in a graveyard yes, you will have to fight off the usual graveyard population (zombies, ghosts, vampires, angry ditch diggers, dead outlaws who want to rob the poor and shoot the money) — but once you get past them, destroy some headstones and disrespect some dead bodies, endless bounty and treasure await.

3 | Look for the one off-colored brick or stone

Through the history of video games, no mason has ever compiled a brick wall using a variety of colored bricks. All the bricks are the same color — except the brick that contains a secret. And we know the masons always have the best secrets.

4 | There’s always something behind the waterfall

Much like there’s money in the banana stand. Video game characters always like to stash extremely valuable items or secret rooms behind waterfalls. They aren’t concerned with the onslaught of mildew or the impracticality.

5 | Books always contain passwords and spells

Video game characters don’t read for pleasure — as we all know, video games and reading for pleasure don’t mix. So when you find a book in a game and open it, you’re never going to be ambushed by Wuthering Heights. It’s going to teach you a new spell, reveal a new password, or, ideally, not even be a functional book at all and just be one that was once hollowed out to contain a valuable item.

6 | Blue water always heals, non-blue water always hurts

Having grown up mere minutes away from the shores of murky green Lake Erie, I always resented how all non-blue water in video games immediately starts zapping your life — or sometimes kills you on contact. When I was a kid I would swim in Lake Erie and even open my eyes underwater. And sure, around age 16 I started needing glasses and these days I can barely see a foot in front of me without them, but correlation does not equal causation. Right?

7 | Crates and barrels are always breakable and should be broken

Don’t try this at a real life Crate & Barrel, though. Frowned upon.

8 | If a barrel is glowing red, it’s an exploding barrel

And this concludes the barrel portion of our morning.

9 | Levers and switches are always in the wrong on/off position

Every time you encounter a lever or switch, it’s in the wrong position. If it’s off, it should be on. If it’s not pressed, it should be pressed. This, of course, completely goes against human nature. You’re telling me the proprietor of a castle is going to leave all his switches in the wrong position just in case an intruder shows up even though it’s so inconvenient? Like when he needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he’s going to want to bother pushing a box onto a switch so his conveyor belt floors (that cost him a fortune, by the way) are moving in the correct direction? Come on. I sometimes leave kitchen cabinets open just to save myself the 0.2 seconds the next time I want a glass or some almonds.

10 | Your computer AI opponent doesn’t know it’s playing a video game

There’s a difference between conventional wisdom in real sports and video game sports. And that’s never more apparent than in football. In a football video game, has any human player EVER punted on 4th-and-1? Even deep in their own territory? Or taken a knee to end the half without trying one Hail Mary first? Absolutely not.

The computer doesn’t know this, though. It’s programmed to do things a real (cowardly, job preserving) football coach would do. So expect punts, field goals to cut into leads, illogical running plays, prevent defenses and so much more. It’s why the computer is easier to beat than another person. Computers follow the unwritten rules of football. Humans do not.

11 | All food is edible and has curative powers

Find some meat on a bone in an abandoned warehouse? When you eat it, it heals you — it does not do what logic would suggest and send you straight to the hospital with every illness from mad cow disease to E. coli to listeria to hysterical pregnancy.

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