The trend in gaming as of late has been a push towards “reality”. Games like COD, Battlefield, and SOCOM all boast military advisors on staff, with a focus on making the game experience as “realistic” as possible.

The obsession with reality doesn’t end there, and its relation to a game’s overall fun factor, got me thinking — just how real do we want things, and at what point does reality cause a game to no longer be fun?

I must admit, I’m one of the people that really enjoyed playing the franchise mode of Madden and dynasty mode NCAA Football on the PS2 and Xbox. I really got into the scouting, drafting, and player progression aspects of the games.

Therefore, I should have been the perfect target audience for their NFL Head Coach game, right? Well, I bit and bought it for my PC, but after about an hour or so of spinning around in my virtual office chair, attending virtual staff meetings, and discussing the fate of virtual players, I decided that I wanted to be paid real money before giving the game anymore of my time.

The realization that I came to was that, I really just wanted to build powerhouses, rack up a billion trophies, dominate anything that gets in my way, and call it a career. I was willing to do this via some basic number crunching and mindless virtual drafts. I was even willing to run a few drills to improve the stats of my key players, but the other stuff, which I originally thought might be fun, was the furthest thing from it.

What about MMO’s? How long are people willing to endure the daily grind before they scream uncle? Never playing one before, I decided to give World of Warcraft a shot. I spent a few months playing the game as a manly man Warrior who put food on his table by mining ore and blacksmithing.

It was fun at first, because my rudimentary goal was to hit the highest level possible, be the greatest warrior in the game, and have all the best stuff, but as I learned more about how things worked, I realized what it would take, and it began to lose its appeal.

Running around as a solo madman trying to break through the barriers of WoW middle class had just about taken its toll on me. Right as I was about to quit the game for good, I got invited into a mature raiding guild full of really nice people.

The social aspect of the game that I discovered, as a part of a well run guild, made the quest to attain the “best stuff” bearable, because it served as a distraction from the fact that I was slaying the same creature five million times to complete a given quest. Upon hitting level 70 though, I quickly found that I was willing to settle for having stuff that was close to the best without actually being the best.

No longer armed with the goal of having the best stuff, I began to lose interest in logging in on a daily basis to perform tasks like farming materials and running daily quests to earn gold. Unfortunately, raiding (an aspect which I did enjoy) is very expensive, and requires lots of grinding to support.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that World of Warcraft had become more of a job, and less of a fun experience. The daily grind required to support the things I did like in the game became too time consuming and felt too much like work. The people I was exposed to were nice, and I will stay in touch with them via the interwebs, but having a second job that doesn’t pay just wasn’t something I could afford to do.

Reality in games, is not limited to simulated worlds or experiences that occupy large quantities of our time. It can also be used as a measuring stick to make less committal games, such as First Person Shooters, seem more like the real thing.

The other day, Dan stumbled on a YouTube video that showed a .50 caliber bullet ricocheting back towards the head of the person who fired it. He shared it with me and it lead to a discussion regarding the concussive force of a fired .50 caliber round. Dan had spent four years in the military prior to joining our amazing site, and it was his understanding based on a conversation with a .50 cal gunner, that a .50 cal bullet could in fact do fatal damage to its target without ever hitting it.

I found this information interesting and decided to shoot an email over to one of the producers at Infinity Ward. What I wanted to know was two fold. First, had they ever heard of such a thing via one of their advisors, and secondly, would they consider implementing such a thing in one of their games if possible.

I was informed that Infinity Ward spent a great deal of time with the Marines and that they shot everything in “real steel”. In addition, he stated that the aforementioned characteristic of a .50 cal round “wouldn’t translate well into gameplay” and would be “hard to convey”. I described a weapon capable of missing its target completely and still killing it as “cheesy”, and he agreed.

This video below shows the power of a .50 cal sniper rifle (sort of).

This is not to say that Infinity Ward does not implement aspects of reality into their game. Firing the M203 grenade launcher in Call of Duty 4 less than the required distance it must travel before detonating (15 to 30 yards) will cause it to not explode on impact.

However, one aspect of its COD4 implementation that’s not rooted in reality, is that you can still kill someone with it if you hit them pretty much anywhere without it actually exploding. This was likely done in an effort to not frustrate gamers who hit their target.

This video below shows the force at which the M203 is actually fired.

How fun would it be if you killed one cop in GTA4 and they relentlessly hunted you down from that point forward in the game? What if by alerting one guard in MGS4 they never resumed their normal unassuming rounds?

World of Warcraft eventually realized that the grind associated with their game was too much and made it easier for people to level. They’re taking it a step further with their latest expansion by allowing smaller groups to access end game content, and as you read above, even Infinity Ward, who strives for realism understands the value of balance.

We are all guilty, at one point or another, of demanding a more realistic gaming experience, but in the end, it seems that less realism equals more fun, and isn’t that what we really want?


  1. I want it to be so real that I can feel blue alien boobs in Mass Effect, but I don’t want any of the associated danger of world-saving and heat stroke.

  2. I think realism is best suited to certain genres of gaming. Gran Turismo, for example, is very realistic, and praised for it, because the realism there doesn’t particularly affect the experience. Sports sims sometimes do realism well, too.

    Still, games are about escapism and this is reflected in just about every top-rated game there is. Half-Life, Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto. Besides the fact that they all involve killing, they are games to escape the real world in.

  3. I agree with greeneggsnsam that the level of realism in a game to a achieve a balance really depends on the genre and even the target audience of that particular game. Even Gran Turismo has a certain amount of unrealism, I mean, I’ve slammed into walls time and time again without it effecting my car at all, but that may have changed, I stopped playing that after GT2. I don’t think a game like CoD can afford to be too realistic with regard to weapons functions and ballistic characteristics and the like, but that’s not to say that if someone did make a game that took the things you mentioned in your article wouldn’t be fun. It might not be fun to the same people that like CoD, just like CoD might not be fun to people who prefer a Halo or Unreal style shooter, which is even further removed from reality.

    Even fantastical games can have realism in there too. Mechwarrior games of the past were sims and took a lot of things into consideration with regard to heat, power, and systems damage. Some people like more reality in their games, others don’t.

    As far as Warcrafting goes, it’s the same thing. Some people hate the grind that’s involved in getting the higher level epic lootz, others can’t stand it. WoW, though, is mid level when it comes to reality in MMOs. In EVE Online, if you die, you potentially lose all your stuff. Pirating is a real thing players can partake in if that’s what they want to do, making money by killing other players and taking their stuff. In a game like WoW, that just wouldn’t fly. Imagine getting ganked by some bullshit ass rogue and them being able to steal all the shit you happened to be carrying with you. To some, that sounds more interesting than the super safe World of Warcraft. Just look at the different servers for WoW. There are some people that enjoy the idea that they can be attacked by another player at any time, and others… not so much; so they have different servers with different PvP rules.

    Even CoD has a more realistic mode that takes away the HUD and other things to make the game more realistic, so you know there are people out there that want ultra realism… to them, that’s more fun than the fun that comes from “balance.”

    Of course, making games for niche audiences doesn’t make money these days, and I think that’s one of the biggest problems with the gaming industry these days… but that’s another complaint for another time.

  4. Thing is, the only games that can be truly realistic are driving games. Controllers can never emulate the real thing, but the steering wheel peripherals may develop and be able to.

  5. One thing that always bugged me was the way many games leave health / ammo in completely absurd places. Yea, it makes sense from a game play stand point, but what army fights against a lone hero by leaving first aid kits all over for him to use?

    But of course, games – like theater – requires the willing suspension of disbelief. You know its not realistic, but you ignore that because otherwise it would be no fun.