The power to destroy worlds
"DO NOT PRESS THE RED BUTTON. REPEAT: DO NOT PRESS THE RED BUTTON. Seriously, don't press it"
Yeah, of course you did. Because we humans are petulant and sometimes a bit self-destructive, and so the fastest way to guarantee that we do anything is to make it The Wrong Thing To Do. And what is true in life is also true in video games. Whatever the game, whatever the genre, however intricate and immersive the experience, at some point, gamers are going to try to break it. Because that's just what we do. Whether we're bending the rules, searching for exploits, or just giving the whole damn thing a big technical work-out to test its limits, we just love doing The Opposite of The Right Thing. It might make the developers weep, but it's all in the name of scientific research. Really.
Going the wrong way
It's the start of a 2D platformer. An entire world of gymnastic escapades and gravity-mocking hijinxs is ahead of you. All ahead. Not behind. Ahead. And ahead always lies to the right. Naturally you go left. Hey, sometimes developers leave secret things just 'behind' the start of a game. It's both a cool little post-modern deconstruction of the established tropes of the platform genre, and a friendly nod to you, the more informed gamer, for having played games before and knowing words like 'deconstruction'. Even if you're not entirely sure how to use them properly.
You find nothing. The developer hasn't hidden anything, and your character simply winds up running endlessly into the invisible wall that marks the boundary between the world ahead and the unseen, unknowable space behind. Who can imagine what he can see? It could be a mind-searing, soul-destroying nightmare of unholy, unformed non-reality back there. But you'll never know. Because the developer won't show you. You spend the next 30 hours of inventive wonderment with an underlying sense of deflation.
And speaking of invisible walls...
Finding (and attempting to defeat) the invisible walls
Fallout 3? Awesome. Capital Wasteland? Good stuff. Giant, post-apocalyptic open-world? Yum! Can't wait to get out there and explore me some of that. But what's this? There's a collapsed building blocking my path? And my objective is just behind it? And the route around is ridiculously contrived and full of danger? Why, this isn't an open-world at all, Bethesda! But by the heavens, I'm bloody well going to make it one. Because of principles!
And so you sprint at that concrete slope, and charge up it for all you're worth. And then you slide back down, because the game naively assumed that you'd see a giant collapsed building as an obstacle, and so used it 'hide' some invisible walls. Undeterred, you try a different angle. And then you start sprint-jumping between angles, stubbornly performing some sort of investigative, drunken parkour. You keep sliding down, but you know--you just know--that if you can find and navigate the correct sequence of invisible cracks in structures design, you'll be up and over in no time.*
See also: Walking up a sheer cliff-face in Skyrim.
*You never make it up and over, and no time translates into 40 minutes.
Testing the water realism
Yay! The new-gen iteration of Popular Action-Adventure Series (tm) has arrived! What amazing, immersive little touches have been added to the game world this time? Exactly how have the developers used the new tech to go above and beyond the call of duty, and make the experience just so scintillatingly real for us? Let's kick the tyres and find out! This is going to be amazing!
Ooh, that water looks beautiful! It shimmers incandescently in the balmy, late morning sun, and ripples in exactly the way that real-life video game water does! Let's put some bullets in it to see what happens! Oh, that bitmapped splash animation is a bit crap. Let's try a grenade. Oh, slightly bigger bitmap. How about if we kick an enemy into it? The same. Drive a car into it? Bah. And now we're all out of ammo, have drowned every vehicle and useful item in the area, and are largely buggered. But at least we know that the water's rubbish, and can now legitimately moan about how disappointing Popular Action-Adventure Series (tm) is on new-gen.
Shooting the friendly NPCs
Oh hey, NPC buddy. Look how believable and well-realised you are. How life-like your facial expressions and natural your voice acting. And by God, you move with all the mechanical fluidity of a real damn person. Look at your limbs, all doing stuff just like real people's limbs do. You're a miracle of artistry and technology. Now could you just stand still for me for a moment so that I can shoot you in the face? Cheers.
Oh. Oh, you're still alive. I appreciate that you gushed blood from your head for a bit. That was a nice touch. But could you maybe, er... try to be, I don't know, maybe a bit more dead? Look, I get that you're vital to the plot and integral to my progression through the game, but it's not every realistic, is it? Could you maybe make just a bit more effort?
Abusing the hell out of the AI
Okay, so your AI companions won't die. But if they're going to stay alive, then you can certainly make those lives a living hell of torment and confusion.
LAUGH! As they dutifully continue speaking to you, long after you've walked away and turned your back on them. SCOFF! As you circle-strafe around them fast enough to spin a power generator, knowing that they're getting closer to puking each and every time they rotate to match your gaze. CHORTLE VINDICTIVELY TO YOURSELF! As you 'accidentally' jostle and melee them in tight corridors, mocking their spineless passive-aggression as you tally their pitifully weak selection of limited, tetchy responses. MAKE YOURSELF THEIR TRUE OVERLORD AND MASTER! By jumping on their head and using their skull as a springboard from which to make a failed attempt to reach a bit of level architecture that isn't supposed to be a platform and therefore has no clipping whatsoever. Ha! Stupid AI minion. What are you going to do about it? Your passive complicity in this abuse makes me sick.
Testing the realism of the bullet damage
So you're playing a new, immersive-sim, stealth masterpiece. You've been promised unparalleled freedom of tactics and traversal. You've been told that if you can imagine a plan of attack or escape, you can probably execute it. So you immediately start by shooting out the windows in order to bail out of a building.
But they don't break. Because if you had total freedom, that would entirely break the level design, and turn the game's cerebral, Machiavellian strategy into little more than an explosive rampage. Okay, so you bought the game for the cerebral, Machiavellian strategy, but that's not the point. You want to at least know you could ruin it if you wanted to. But congratulations anyway, because while you might have now demolished your sense of immersion for the duration of your playtime, you now know a thing, and have something to moan about. Christ, just look at those windows. The reflections aren't even 100% real-time.
Sabotaging the frame-rate
So a game has furnished you with a world of glorious destruction. In fact that's the game's primary MO. It wants you to blow up what you want, when you want, and have a great time doing it. What a lovely, benevolent game. Better get to the exploding, you lucky, lucky pup.
You blow up a barrel, and it feels just great, the blast illuminating your surroundings with the warm, loving glow of a Christmas fireplace, as it rips a chunk out of the nearby wall. But natural escalation is not for you. You're not interested in using this freeform devastation for its intended purpose, as a boon to the gameplay of the actual game. No, you're too busy collecting every barrel in the level, stacking them meticulously around the petrol station, and then surrounding them with every vehicle found within a five mile radius. Then you dowse it all with petrol for good measure. The process takes you an hour. You throw in a pipe-bomb and run. Naturally, you secretly know that your labours are not really in the cause of a pyrotechnic spectacular, but to see how badly you can make the frame-rate chug when everything goes off. It really chugs. You have succeeded.
Breaking the scripting
Quick! The Generistan splinter-insurgent shadow-faction have armed the Dramatic Tension Bomb. We've only got 60 seconds until an end-of-level cutscene explodes all over this mother. We've secured the MacGuffintron, now let's get the hell out! There's probably a helicopter to jump onto.
Great theory, but what if I don't want to? What if, despite the effort that's clearly been put into crafting this immersive, dramatic set-piece which--if I fully commit to the presented situation--will afford me no small amount of thrilling, seat-of-the-pants, action-movie, rollercoaster fun, I petulantly decide that I can't be bothered? What if, instead of enjoying the tightly-paced, precisely-timed sequence of bombastic escalation you've honed for me, I deliberately lag behind to see when the explosions are scripted to go off, and at what point the AI will trigger the various collapsing doorways? Oh, I'll die? Well no matter. I will not be oppressed. I will be no willing participant in your deceitful dance of bogus cofunction.
So there's what I reckon are the most irresistible transgressions against video game integrity. But are there any you think I've missed? Any rule-breaking, fourth-wall smashing, rebellious little acts against the good people of the game development community that you just can't help committing in every new game you play? Let me know.
And then why not check out some of our related features? There's no reason in the world why not. So have a look at Top 7 Major game features you didn't know were originally glitches (opens in new tab), and then The secrets in games you were never meant to see (opens in new tab).