Summary: Should games be realistic? Why or why not? In some ways, games are getting more life-like every year, but in other ways, not so much. In this week's Firing Points, Vandy shares his thoughts on realism vs. accessibility and what might happen if games one day become indistinguishable from real life.
Realism is awesome. There’s no greater thrill than killing the enemy with only one or two well-placed shots, knowing full well that you could have been gunned down just as easily. Even the most mundane task can be that much more rewarding when the game doesn’t hold your hand (“Report to Caius Cosades in Balmora”). Of course, it has to make sense in the context of the game’s design and be implemented in a way that strikes a balance between true-to-life and fun-to-play. A lot of first-person shooters, role-playing games, and anything that attempts to immerse the player can benefit from being more realistic, especially if they have a non-fantasy setting. It’s not restricted to elements of gameplay, either; graphics and animation technologies are nearing photorealism, sound effects and their delivery are getting better all the time, and artificial intelligence is improving to the point where you have a living, breathing game world that carries on even when the player isn’t around. These advancements enhance the overall experience, but they don’t necessarily result in more realistic gameplay.
I’m not saying every game should be super-realistic, but I wish more developers would be willing to accommodate the players looking for something more unique and/or challenging. Unfortunately, realism is almost always directly at odds with the popular trend of “accessible” design, so it’s become harder to come by these days. At least some games dabble a bit, allowing the community to pick it up and take it further. If you thought hardcore mode in Fallout: New Vegas was tough (it wasn’t), you should check out some of the modifications people have come up with. There are mods that adjust weapon stats and item weights to better reflect reality, rework radiation into a genuine threat rather than an inconvenience, tone down the abundant availability of guns, ammo, food, water, and other supplies, make combat much more deadly, and overall increase the difficulty of surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Since a good mod will also subject the AI to the same conditions, doing these things doesn’t ruin the balance of the game.
Most games these days have been “streamlined” for mass consumption, and I don’t like it. One of the major results of this is the regenerating health epidemic -- yes, it is simpler to not have to worry about healing yourself, but where’s the fun in that? You have to run and hide every 10 seconds anyway, which I think is just as distracting as having to be aware of where the nearest health pickup is. Only difference is that, instead of running to go get it, you have to sit there and wait for your health to recharge. Needing to manually initiate healing is a better solution (as far as being realistic), but having to equip a health kit and then take time to use it is best. I will say that I’m happy to see “hardcore mode” becoming a staple of mainstream shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. Nothing fundamental in the game is changed, but removing the HUD (including minimap and ammo counter), increasing weapon damage, forcing friendly fire, and disabling the killcam goes a long way in promoting realism.
I wonder if we’ll ever get to the point where games are too realistic… Obviously there are people who dislike realism in video games, so they think that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Fallout have taken it too far already. But would you be interested in a game that was so life-like, you actually spoke to NPCs instead of choosing a line of pre-written dialogue? Where you had to actually learn how to hack a computer, pick locks, or repair weapons before you could do that stuff in the game? I think I would. What about virtual reality? Eventually, technology will reach the point where a game will be visually, aurally, and perhaps even tactilely indistinguishable from the real world. Oh, man, if people are addicted to them already, imagine how many would lose themselves in World of Warcraft VII and spend every waking moment living a fantasy. I foresee a scenario like that movie Surrogates, except instead of androids, we’re all avatars in a global computer simulation. Somebody would invent a sophisticated personal habitat that allows you to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom without leaving the game, so everyone would end up all shriveled and frail like Mr. House. Scary shit!
Firing Points is a weekly editorial that explores popular, pressing, or otherwise provocative topics in the world of gaming. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the FiringSquad team, or anyone else for that matter.
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