Realism Versus Fun
Oh man, this new FIFA game that all the cool kids are playing sure is realistic! Look at how Michael Carrick gives up possession at least five times a match, just like he does in real life! I’m so glad EA Sports elected to cut out that pesky middleman known to the cynics as “fun.” That guy was such a downer; with Fun around, how can I ever simulate Steven Gerrard pulling his hamstring five minutes before full time? See, look, Gerrard’s out for the rest of the season! Look at what we’ve accomplished! Look at what we’ve–
Woah, hold on. What was all that about? My vision glazed over for a minute there. What’s this, then? Oh, it’s FIFA 14, I think I’ll have a quick game, actually…What the hell, Fabio?! You have the touch of a donkey’s hind leg! Screw this, where’s my copy of Sensible Soccer?
A Real Pain
So in my review of FIFA 14 on current-gen systems, I argued that the degree of realism EA elected to add to the game finally tipped the balance between those added tweaks and fun. While indeed a competent sports game, I felt the slower pace and overall more realistic feel distilled what made FIFA such a great series, in both single and multiplayer. That got me thinking, is realism all that important, or necessary, in the wake of straight-up fun?
Firstly, let’s have a look at my personal pick for 2013′s game of the year: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a game so fun that I’d happily play through it’s 5-6 hour campaign in one sitting. The game barely ever stops for breath, constantly throwing creative areas, enemies and scenarios at you with the ferocity of a baboon with a temper tantrum. A lot of the game’s appeal comes with Raiden’s ability to slice people into cocktail sausages with his sword; when prompted, all it takes is one swipe to carve your enemies clean in two (or twenty), whether they be humanoid, a robot, or even a Metal Gear.
the fact that developers discard realism in favour of delivering the most awesome experience possible.
Of course, this isn’t particularly realistic; you’d need the strength of a hundred to cut a human with cybernetic augments into jigsaw pieces, and while Raiden has just that, he’d surely get tired after just the first few dudes. There’s also a sequence where he bounds across a barrage of missiles like the Skipping Stones from Takeshi’s Castle, before he sprints down a clock tower and cleanly slices Metal Gear RAY in half. I believe this to be one of the most awesome sequences (and introductory boss fights) in gaming history, and it came from the expense of throwing logic and reasoning out the window. This is of course what makes a lot of games amazing experiences: the fact that developers discard realism in favour of delivering the most awesome experience possible. In this sense, limiting Raiden’s abilities, in my opinion, would have bogged down the joy of Rising significantly.
Reel Big Fishing
An interesting hybrid that has once more proven popular amongst indie developers is the concept of taking a mundane or fairly high-risk activity and making it stress-free and fun. Take Ampu-Tea, a game where you have to make a cup of tea… as a man with a barely functioning robot arm. Chaos soon abounds as you knock over the shelf of mugs and scatter your luscious teabags all over the floor. The same goes for the infamous Surgeon Simulator 2013, where demolishing the patient’s insides is considered a fast-track to a win state.
Sega were revered for this back on the Dreamcast, with games like Crazy Taxi, Space Channel 5 and, everybody’s favourite, Sega Bass Fishing, where they achieved the impossible: making fishing fun. Anyone who’s played Sega’s game of goldfish will attest how awesome it makes you feel when you catch your first fish. When you get a bite, a Japanese man screams “FISH!!!” at you while a dude busts out a guitar solo somewhere off screen. Once caught, that same Japanese man will evaluate your tackle, ranging from the nonchalant “Small One…” to the ecstatic “Wow! A Big One!” Fishing should not be this intense! Yet Sega thought “screw that! We want to make our fishing game worth playing,” and thus, the craziest freshwater simulator ever was born.
What I’m getting at is when developers are allowed to run wild creatively, is when the most fun experiences are brought to life. Look at Platinum Games, a company infamous for monochrome bloodbaths, rocket-powered battle suits and witches with guns on their shoes; a company who have also formed a very loyal fanbase as a result of their dedication to all things fun. Of course I’m not saying anything new here; the praises of developers like Platinum need not be sung so profoundly when the evidence is already so clearly there. I do feel that it’s this creativity the industry is rapidly losing; I think were it not for the explosion in interest of independent game developers, the industry as a whole would be dangerously close to creative bankruptcy. Well, the triple-A industry is certainly at that point, which is why I’m thankful for such developers.
Where Realism Succeeds…
realism in games can allow us to experience harsher environments, or challenge us in various ways from the comfort of our couches.
Totalbiscuit once said Skyrim was like “an ocean with the depth of a paddling pool,” and I’d have to agree: the base version of the latest Elder Scrolls title is, in honesty, rather half-arsed when you don’t factor in the land of Skyrim or established series lore. This is where the community swoops in to save the day, modding the base game into a more interesting experience. Frostfall, for example, is a mod that acknowledges the harsh climate of Skyrim, and encourages you to change armour accordingly, whether that be wrapping up warm in a blizzard, wearing a hood and waterproof armour in the rain, and avoiding the frigid waters surrounding the continent. The mod also includes campfires and stat changes based on your exposure to the weather and body temperature. It sounds like a hassle, but it makes sense within Skyrim’s environment and adds to the overall immersion. It’s certainly more convincing than having your character hop over mountains in their undergarments.
Let’s also look at Fallout: New Vegas’s awesome Hardcore Mode, which has you eating, drinking and sleeping in order to survive, while also taking into account the weight of your ammo and having to actually see a doctor to repair crippled limbs. New Vegas is already an incredible game, but Obsidian’s inclusion of this mode again adds to the game’s immersion and replayability. Basically, realism in games can allow us to experience harsher environments, or challenge us in various ways from the comfort of our couches.
I’ve been playing Metal Gear Solid 4 recently, and there are some superbly smart design decisions that add to the game’s challenge. Most obviously, Snake is old, so he’s prone to back pain, stress, and farting in steel barrels; all of which can give away his position in a heartbeat. Another interesting mechanic is the Psyche meter, which takes a hit whenever Snake realises he’s not as nimble as he used to be, whenever someone notes his age, or when his stress levels become unhealthily high. Low Psyche in turn destroys Snake’s confidence, negatively affecting his combat abilities.
To round off, realism can be as much of a boon to gaming as it can be a subtraction. When applied intuitively, it can lead to some interesting (and often incredibly immersive and intense) scenarios. While I will say that some developers’ dedication to the realms of reality are slightly worrying, those that employ realism intelligently are certainly to be commended. If they can merge that well enough with a sense of fun, a more perfect combination is certainly difficult to come by.