The Top 7... Things in games that will never be realistic

Because some things can't be faked

5. Injuries

Games would have us believe that the human body is near enough indestructible. That we're all blessed with the self-healing powers of Wolverine (but not the retractable fisty claws). Wounds, gashes, bullet holes, stabby marks... everything can be sorted with nothing more than a rest. A quick breather. Rocket-propelled grenade to the head? Don't panic, just loiter about behind this wall for a bit and you'll be as right as rain in no time.


Above: It's nothing a salubrious sit-down can't fix

We know that a game like Mortal Kombat isn't exactly trying to be a realistic fighting simulation. But the amount of punishment the fighters can take in that game with barely a flinch is beyond unreal. It's insane. Look at these brutal X-ray attacks:

That last guy. Knifed in both legs and his skull smashed into tiny little pieces like a poppadom. But he's still got more than half his health remaining. Not only can he continue fighting, he can actually still win. Realism would dictate that he would need serious medical attention, hospitalization, surgery, therapy... this would take months. And then what? First fight after convalescing and Sub-Zero turns your spleen to ice and its back to the treatment room for an emergency transplant.

Games will never do realistic injuries because it would be stupid.

4. Sleep

For an utterly passive and frequently uneventful experience, the old temporary snore-death appears quite frequently in games. Its depiction though, probably for the reasons listed above, is usually a load of old cobblers compared to the real version. Which is good, because if it was realistic, it would be so boring as to actually send you to sleep, creating an ultra-realistic meta-simulation that operated over two levels of reality. So sleep could possibly be the most realistic of all things in games, to hitherto unexplored proportions. But it isn’t, because it would be rubbish.


Above: Only one man has ever recuperated to a video game degree after a lie down, and he had far more than a local innkeeper on his side

Instead, video game sleep takes two different approaches. First there’s RPG-style sleep. This lasts about three seconds and heals all your wounds. This proves that all RPG worlds have a day/night cycle that moves really bloody quickly once the sun goes down. Seriously, those medieval fantasy planets must have really strangely shaped orbits, and highly variable rotation speeds. Oh, and all sheets must be soaked with morphine and experimental military-grade sci-fi steroids. It’s bollocks.

Above: An extract from Andy Warhol's avant garde film 'Sleep'. Just as boring as the real thing, and very nearly as long. You don't want to play this

Second, there’s the approach some games take of making sleep an actual gameplay bit. Usually using the “It’s like a dream!” excuse to throw together a load of old random level design elements without having to worry about visual or structural coherence, these levels have actually thrown up some of the most memorable bits in gaming over the years. Max Payne’s nightmare hallucination sequence is a particularly good example, as is the opening of Silent Hill 3. But that doesn’t stop them being a load of old balls in terms of simulation.

Real dreams aren’t just a series of weird lens filters and self-conciously wacky talking cheeseburgers and unicycling marmosets called Floyd. They’re subtler and weirder than that, and unbelievably hard to capture the essence of in a narrative or gameplay structure. So games don’t. And they probably never will. Unfortunately.

3. Consequences

A lot of games have a flimsy pretence of morality. That there's somehow a right and wrong way to behave within the world. But good or bad is nothing more than different ways of playing. Should you save the baby seals or should you kill them with an assault rifle? A lot of gamers would choose the assault rifle option. And why not? What's the game going to do about it - send our personal details to PETA? No. It'll give us -10 for animal welfare. Which isn't much of a deterrent for not killing baby seals in a video game.


Above: What would you do?

Also, gambling, drinking, sexing - all things in the real-world that can come with some pretty heavy consequences. The kinds of consequences that influence a person's judgement on whether they should gamble or drink or sex. In lovely glorious games you can blow your in-game currency on virtual booze and hookers and it doesn't matter. You can even rob some of the pretend money back off the prostitute when the shagging-in-the-car animation has finished.


Above: Don't feel bad. God can't see what happens in video games

Games can't do consequences that actually mean a shit, so players - thankfully - don't have any moral responsibility to behave like good little citizens. Like GTA. The punishment for a typical, 5-star wanted level rampage is a small cash fine and the confiscation of all your weapons. A more realistic consequence might be your criminalised avatar spending the rest of the game in a prison cell, making matchstick cathedrals and wanking into a tin cup. But who wants that?

We recommend