In video games
or Tabletop Games
, an element of the gameplay that is supposed to make the game realistic, but eventually makes it laughably unrealistic.
This generally occurs in one (or in some cases more than one together) of three ways:
- An effect is included for "realism", but the effect's magnitude or immediacy is grossly exaggerated.
- A tactic is included for "realism", but real-life considerations that limit the tactic's effectiveness (such as logistical problems, possible countermeasures, or the difficulty of pulling it off) are downplayed, making the tactic unrealistically effective or dominant.
- "Realism" is strongly enforced with respect to one aspect of the game, but not to other, closely related aspects, leading to unrealistic play dynamics and silly situations.
The reason why Acceptable Breaks from Reality
exist. Some tropes that commonly create this effect are Ten-Second Flashlight
, Inventory Management Puzzle
, and Grappling with Grappling Rules
. Contrast Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay
, where the mechanic genuinely makes things realistic.
Examples of exaggerated magnitude:
- In the Metal Gear series, the cigarettes Snake smokes are bad for his health, which is understandable. What is not understandable is how they kill him in two minutes.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has the Cure system, where Naked Snake could be injured by various means (such as an animal bite, gunshot, or other trauma) and he would have to break out medical supplies to treat his wounds. While it can provide more immersion, it also leads to the situation where Naked Snake can set broken limbs dozens of times, carve any number of bullets out of his flesh, and other sorts of field expedient medical procedures, even when by rights such things should leave him laid up.
- Deus Ex: many of your portable items, such as tech goggles, have battery life. Considering that tech goggles are military equipment, it sure is strange that they can only be used for about thirty seconds before completely crapping out.
- Denton's superhuman inability to hold his liquor seems like Misaimed Realism, but is justified as a consequence of his nanite-enhanced metabolism. They help to pass intoxicants through his system more quickly, but in doing so exaggerate the effects for a brief period.
- Similar to the Metal Gear example above, cigarettes in Deus Ex are also ridiculously toxic, with each pack delivering 10% damage when consumed.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has NPCs react quickly and decisively if they spot the player pilfering - in the interest of making the game more realistic, obviously. Instead, however, the result is that a horde of guards descend on you like flies on honey, if you so much as touch an item that doesn't belong to you. The classic example is that of first-time players entering a store for the first time, accidentally jostling an object off a table, and politely lifting it back up to the table... only to be instantly mobbed by overzealous guards. This is particularly egregious if you try to interact with a Quest Giver and accidentally take something instead. Sometimes they'll scream for the guards to come and take you away, then politely wait for you to interact with them as if nothing ever happened. ...Yet, strangely, people have no problem with you walking into their store, pulling out a sword, and knocking everything off the countertop with it. Later instalments have thankfully tweaked the behaviour to them attempting to take back what you stole and calling for the guards only if they can't.
- In GURPS, when you fire buckshot the weapon you're using has zero recoil. This is because listing proper recoil for buckshot would screw up the accuracy of the hit roll.
- Thief: Deadly Shadows had a Ragdoll Physics version of this. The much-hyped but imperfect ragdolls (a new and exciting concept in 2004) were supposed to increase the realism of falling bodies. What they ended up doing in practice was making bodies bend into unusual shapes, completely ruining any sense of realism in the silliest way possible. The backwards U, as though the body's spine was reversed, was a particularly common posture.
- In Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, the game does not simply drain your life bar when you're hit and kills you as soon as it's empty. Rather your character can suffer injuries in specific body parts, and the effects vary depending on what type of injury it is; e.g. a broken leg slows down your movement while a flesh wound will cause you to slowly die from blood loss. Likewise, the game also requires different types of treatment for the different injuries, namely either bandaging, suturing, or setting the bones with splints. The treatments also happen in real time, meaning your enemies can still stab your character while he's trying to stitch up that gash on his chest. The unrealistic part of this is that the treated wounds heal so quickly that there are no lasting effects from any particular injury; the end result is your character breaking and fixing his arms and legs or stitching himself up so frequently that he should look like Frankenstein's monster by the end of the game.
- In the newer Mario Kart games, in an effort to make the computer drivers seem more human, they will be affected when Blooper ink hits their "screen". Inexperienced players will probably be barely fazed (if at all), computer drivers swerve all over the screen as if someone blindfolded them and turned their controller or DS upside down.
- The Last of Us: Melee weapons are also Breakable Weapons. While it makes sense that random two-by-fours and pipes might not be so strong after a few decades exposed to the elements, actual tools like machetes will fall apart even faster than the random wood and piping, even if they were actually being used as tools before Joel got his hands on them. This is presumably due to game balance, since they're much stronger weapons.
- This is presumably also why Joel, a man with literally decades of survival experience, doesn't seem to have figured out how to make a decent knife, which isn't hard.
- Due to the odd crafting system, you can increase the durability of your weapons, which can boil down to taping a pair of scissors to a machete.
- If you try to fire an empty gun near enemies, they'll realistically hear the click & try to kill you while you're vulnerable. It stops being realistic when you keep tricking the same group of enemies by pulling the trigger on an empty gun & using a different gun to kill anyone who tries to exploit your perceived vulnerability.
- Grand Theft Auto IV aimed to have more realistic vehicle handling than its predecessors and had a fairly detailed physics system, but not a realistic one, leading to modern day cars handling worse than vehicles from the 1940s. San Andreas had very little body roll, but IV had enough to make cars flip over in relatively benign corners. Traction from tires was excessively low as well.
- In San Andreas, overeating makes you gain weight, and eating too much in one sitting will make you throw up. The limits at which these two effects set in, though, are ridiculous: you can eat about ten super-size Burger Shot meals in one sitting before hurling, but when you walk out the door you'll have conspicuously gained about fifty pounds.
- The PlayStation Simulation Game Tail of the Sun attempted to impose limits on how much the player could work the cavemen by giving them sleep cycles, which functioned by making the cavemen instantly fall asleep, no matter where they were at the time.
- Bloodline has a rather ludicrous example in one of the quests. After unlocking a door, the protagonist just keeps saying "It's just to turn the doorknob, and I'm in" as the player tries to use the door and open it. The solution is to point the cursor right on the doorknob and use it, not the door. The misaimed part is that it never happens with any door in the game again.
- When shooter games not designed to be realistic attempt for a more realistic mode with "realistic" bullet damage, they tend to do it by simply turning you into a One-Hit-Point Wonder. They never bother to completely model bullet effects such as the differing effects from where the bullet hits, the effectiveness of modern body armor, and so on.
- The Short-Range Shotgun. While real-life shotguns do lose accuracy and stopping power at longer ranges, the drop-off is nowhere near as extreme as portrayed in most games.
- Similarly, any game which implements things like bullet or arrow drop will have them start to drop at far shorter ranges than they would in real life.
- Almost every survival game ever created, which feature a hunger, thirst, or similar meter. Your characters have to eat and drink every couple of minutes of real time or they die. Even in game time, you will often starve to death within a single day if you don't eat. You can happily explore or do some work, realize your hunger meter is getting close to starving, start running in the direction of your food store, then die of hunger a few steps before reaching it.
- Most of the weapons in Breath of the Wild are Breakable Weapons. They generally break in only a few hits. This turns really good weapons into Too Awesome to Use.
- In Fable I, they tried to make a realistic economy based on supply and demand, except it turned out really half-baked: any player with a decent amount of gold could go to a merchant, buy their entire supply of a certain item, then after the prices increase, sell it all back to them for a net profit. And then you could buy them back for a lower price since prices drop when supply is high. Rinse and repeat, and you eventually have a majority stake on all of Albion.
- From the Depths models fluid drag on vehicles with pretty surprising accuracy given its artstyle, but the viscosity of air and water is so great that the air behaves like water and the water behaves like Jello; a boat that would take kilometers to come to a stop can do so in about 20 meters, and aircraft cannot glide because they slow down so fast once the engines are shut down. Even the most extreme aircraft (such as a 200 meter long turbojet with a 12 meter nosecone) can barely approach the speed of sound because the drag forces become so extreme. The same applies to its ballistics, which are modeled to pretty heavy detail (shells fragment, ricochet, over-penetrate, etc), but armor is comically thick, to the point where 1 meter thick wood armor can survive a 100mm high-velocity shell; in real life, a 12.7mm bullet can go straight through it.
Examples of Downplayed limits:
- Forget center mass, shoot 'em in the face.
- Snipers are well-known for their ability to find a decent spot, observe a target, and kill them with a single bullet from a great distance. But even disregarding the training necessary to be that effective, there are multiple factors such as gravity and wind that must be taken into account, and it takes a good deal of time to properly line up a shot, especially against a moving target... and more so if there are multiple targets. This is why snipers usually work in pairs: one pulls the trigger, and one does all the calculation and measuring to ensure pulling the trigger has any appreciable effect. Basically, you would not be able to easily aim at and kill anyone who comes into your field of view with one shot each, and certainly not with the effectiveness often abused in an FPS deathmatch.
- A discussion on a Dungeons & Dragons fan forum referred to this as the "bag of flour problem". The issue was that providing bonuses to certain tactics because of "realism" (e.g. in a battle in a kitchen, grabbing a bag of flour and throwing it in an opponent's face to distract him) would lead to players performing unrealistic stunts in order to get that bonus all the time (e.g. walking around carrying bags of flour all over the place to use in every fight). Part of the DM's job is to roll with such ideas, rewarding player ingenuity (perhaps offering a one-time bonus for improvising) while discouraging silly abuses of mechanics (by ruling in subsequent flour throws that the opponent dodges the bag, starts throwing their own bags, or is experienced enough to ignore the distraction).
- Attacks of Opportunity/Opportunity Attacks started out like this in Third Edition D&D, so each successive edition of the game has mostly scaled them back. The basic principle behind them was simple and understandable: In a game that uses turns for simplicity instead of real-time, there should be some kind of restriction against a character abusing the turn-based rules to simply bypass a whole group of defenders to take out a weaker target, steal an object, etc. The problems occurred with both confusing terminology and an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach as more situations were added to what could trigger an Opportunity Attack. The former described this as a situation where the trigger creature lowers their defenses, but a more accurate description would be a situation where the trigger creature lowers their counter-attack offense: i.e., you can take a free swing at them because you're not worried about leaving an opening for them to swing back at you. The latter issue combines with the first issue confusion to where using an action triggers an attack even though the condition where the action was made isn't changing regardless of the action. To explain, why does attempting to stand up from prone trigger a free attack but simply lying helplessly prone does not, or attacking someone without a melee weapon in hand (e.g., crossbow or punching) triggers an Attack of Opportunity but simply standing there unarmed doesn't?
- Fourth Edition reduced the circumstances to just attempting to move past a creature or use a ranged attack next to them, although oddly giving the defender supposedly unlimited attacks as long as it was against a new target, and Fifth Edition reduced this even further to just moving past the defending creature completely, as you can still circle around an opponent. No edition has brought up the concept of removing your ability to use Attack of Opportunity if other enemies are engaging you (e.g. if you have five creatures engaging you, how can you possibly get a free swing at a different one?), but most likely is due to the rules getting just too complex at that point.
- The Fable series might as well be the posterboy, from its wonky physics engines (the horribly proportioned characters make the ragdoll physics look like actual toys being thrown) to its shaky hand mechanic while shooting (your marker goes in circles... and it just keeps spinning, which is both hilarious and horribly frustrating, or at least it would be if bullets weren't unlimited).
Examples of Partial enforcement:
- The LARPs Dagorhir and Belegarth have rules that state that if two of your limbs have been disabled by hits, you are dead, to represent blood loss. But since "realistically" piercing attacks cause less blood loss than slashing or crushing attacks, pierced limbs don't count toward this limit. This often leads to players looking silly as they hop around like the Black Knight.
- In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, your character can faint if he doesn't eat enough. However, he can stay for weeks if not months without eating or drinking anything before he even feels hungry. Also, the lack of food doesn't prevent him from running, jumping and fighting like an athlete, and workouts will make him look buff even if he's starving.
- In Condemned: Criminal Origins, some doors can be broken with an axe. The key word is "some"; why doesn't it work on all of them, considering most of them are made of wood? Also, locks can be smashed, but only by sledgehammers. All other weapons, no matter how heavy and/or strong, can't do that (though these examples are closer to Fridge Logic than this trope).
- Firearms used as melee weapons break after hitting people with them maybe ten times. This works both from a gameplay standpoint (firearms are meant to be hard to conserve, considering most enemies go down in one or two bullets) and a realism standpoint (using a gun to smash things won't do its ability to actually fire any favors), but melee weapons do not have any such restriction; you could take out an entire level's worth of enemies with the first thing you pick up in it if you want. Condemned 2: Bloodshot allows melee weapons to break as well, with the exception of the punch-dagger you can unlock (the game doesn't count it as one because it's an upgrade to your Good Old Fisticuffs).
- FATAL has this all over the place, with most of the examples doing more to illustrate the... prurient interests of the game's writers than actually build realism. In one specific (work-safe) example, there's a massive table of organs that can be struck by a critical hit. Two problems: the table seems to assume that you hit nothing else on the way there (such as striking the liver but missing all the organs in front of it), and the fact that there are no correction for organs people don't have (meaning you can hit a man right in the ovaries).
- Dwarf Fortress had basically the same problem at one time; it was entirely possible to find a crossbow bolt had hit a goblin in the left kidney and the right ear prior to v0.31, which drastically overhauled the combat mechanics and started simulating a proper body plan. (It wasn't until v0.40 a year and a half later that the new mechanics actually worked properly, but that's another trope.)
- Among 4X RTS games, Star Ruler is fairly realistic, with Newtonian motion, no Space Friction, instantaneous continuous-beam Frickin' Laser Beams rather than the painfully slow bolts normally used, and with "speed" effectively being "how fast you can accelerate", like on a real spacecraft. However, relativity is not implemented, which results in the game having, once you research enough, lasers that travel faster than the speed of light, and it being possible to exceed the speed of light by simply accelerating long enough.
- The Battlefield series tries to create realism by averting certain tropes like Crew of One or No "Arc" in "Archery", but depending on the game, plays other unrealistic ones like One Bullet Clips or Regenerating Health straight.
- Red Faction allows you to blow up walls in the way... but only some walls, making it very obvious when you abruptly can't.
- The Call of Duty series allows your bullets to penetrate some cover, but not all. This is especially odd with the addition of the "Full Metal Jacket" attachment to increase your weapon's ability to penetrate cover, even though all military weapons already use FMJ rounds.
- As with Battlefield above, CoD tries to create some realism with reloads by making a reload from empty take longer, as your character will have to charge the weapon to load the first round of the new magazine, but otherwise plays One Bullet Clips as straight as an arrow (mid-mag reloads don't give you an extra bullet, etc).
- The games also famously allow trained military spec-ops soldiers to sprint for only about fifteen seconds, even if they're carrying nothing but a pistol or a knife. This was finally averted for Advanced Warfare, where the player is in powered armor.
- In Max Payne 3, the Laser Sight realistically jumps around when you try to aim with it. Interesting, but in a Heroic Bloodshed-inspired work where the Made of Iron One-Man Army liberally uses Leap and Fire with Guns Akimbo, it looks rather out of place.
- The three-gun system, for much of the same reasons. In the first two games, Max could stuff an entire armory into his trenchcoat with no problems. In 3, he's limited to carrying two one-handed guns and one two-handed gun, and if he goes akimbo, he has to drop the two-handed gun. Again, interesting, but in a game where half the fun is killing your enemies as stylishly as possible in Bullet Time with Cool Guns, it doesn't fit and severely limits your arsenal.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The second edition had the Potion Miscibility Rules. The idea was that if you drank multiple magical potions that you found in a dungeon, they might have unintended side effects. The problem was that the side effects were determined by a random table and had nothing to do with the potions themselves, so there was no way to learn which potions were compatible through trial and error or through study. It was also impossible to replicate beneficial side effects. On the whole, it became a frustrating mess that left the game even less realistic than it was before.
- The "fumble" optional rules, which cause a character to become stunned or hurt themselves whenever they roll poorly. Because your number of attack rolls per turn increases in proportion to your fighting ability, this results in supposed Master Swordsmen frequently Stun Locking themselves or cutting off their own limbs. Also, most spells require the defender to make all the rolls required in determining its effect, meaning that this rule makes wizards stronger while hurting everyone else.
- In an effort to avoid Bag of Spilling, Metroid: Other M restricts Samus from using all her abilities by saying she has them, she just isn't using them to cooperate with the military's investigation of a spaceship that suffered some crew-killing disaster. Given she's a walking nuclear tank and some of her weapons could indeed cause a lot of damage to sensitive areas and survivors, this is all well and good... until it comes up that she's also apparently been ordered to disable completely defensive abilities, too, such as the ability to not take damage from heat.
- In Deadly Premonition, the game plays out in real time if you let it (i.e. it takes one hour for the time to go from 2300 to 2400), but you can skip ahead by sleeping or smoking cigarettes. This isn't a bad thing, as there are plenty of sidequests and trading cards to collect, which makes that extra time come in handy.
- A less convenient example is your car. Unlike most open-world games, your car can actually run out of gas and you have to go to the gas station to fill it back up, and if you run out of fuel far away from any other cars, then you have to use a road flare to restore your car's damage and fuel. What makes this especially glaring is that during certain areas (chapter 5) and in checkpoint races, your car cannot take any damage and has unlimited fuel.
- There's also the weapons system, like the Condemned series, melee weapons will gradually wear out from use until they break, forcing you to get new ones... or just use your starting pistol which has unlimited ammo, or unlock unlimited ammo for the other firearms as well, or unlock special melee weapons which are unbreakable.
- In BattleTech, the Square/Cube Law exists, but with a significantly reduced magnitude to make the series signature Real Robot Humongous Mecha possible. 100 tons (roughly 18 meters tall) is the upper limit for an Assault BattleMech; while one can build them bigger ("Superheavy"), the mechs can barely move under their own weight despite possessing a fusion reactor that weighs as much as a smaller mech. Only 3 designs for superheavies exist, and only 2 were functional. The designers of the 110 ton Matar were executed for "treasonous incompetence" in response to the mech being incapable of keeping up with a lawnmower.
- In No One Lives Forever, the tutorial notes that the player character, Cate Archer, would not have much luck hauling dead bodies out of sight while in the field, due to her slight frame and relatively low upper-body strength (as an alternative, they devise a powder which dissolves bodies altogether). All well and good, but they provide no explanation for how she is able to carry around a dozen weapons and numerous gadgets on her person.
- Elite: Dangerous is obsessively detailed in its modeling of faster-than-light space travel, taking account of gravitational lensing and providing a 1:1 scale galaxy to explore. Which makes it particularly jarring that space combat is done with weapons that have an effective range of only two kilometers.
- In The Last of Us, enemies who notice your gun will yell "He/She's got a gun!" & the whole group will be more cautious as a result. Weirdly, this sometimes happens after you've loudly killed several enemies with a shotgun in the same room.
- The Grounded difficulty tries to make the game more realistic by removing your HUD which leads to the unrealistic scenario of not being able to tell that you're on the verge of bleeding out or drowning.
- Realism Mode in Left 4 Dead 2 is supposed to make the game more realistic by removing the outline that normally appears around your allies to help you find them. A common consequence is that players will be unable to find their screaming ally nearby because a small object was blocking their view in the darkness even though, realistically your ears would tell you where the sound is coming from. Made even sillier by the fact that zombie players can still see the outlines of the humans & the given explanation is that they have good hearing.
- The developer of Killing Floor 2 who added the rocket launcher to the game clearly thought about what they were doing, but could have done with a little bit more consideration. The weapon has back-blast - dangerous exhaust from the rockets is expelled from the back of the weapon, and the rockets take time to arm - they can't explode immediately after being fired, which are both features of real life anti-tank weapons. However, since friendly fire isn't part of the game, and the Demolitions class is resistant to explosives, all the back-blast does is clear the area around the user instead of making the weapon really dangerous to use indoors. And due to Wreaking Havok physics, dead or stunned Zeds don't have quite as much weight or inertia as they should, so all the arming time feature does is comically launch enemies into the air before they explode, especially ones that jump in front of the player when they fire.
- In a combination of Reality Is Unrealistic and Cowboy BeBop at His Computer, reviewers reported that the weapon was deliberately coded as being unreliable, claming that the rockets could be duds or launch backwards. This is a pretty fair assumption to make, since these features are more common in games more realistic than ones about zombies, which they might not have played.