In Real Life, reloading a gun is a moderately complex, multistep process. At the very least, reloading any magazine-fed gun involves removing and replacing the mag, during which you'd have trouble firing more than an already-chambered bullet. However, this is not the case in video games.
Your average video game will treat reloading a firearm as one continuous process represented by a single animation. Oftentimes, you'll only see any effect on your remaining ammunition if the animation is able to complete, regardless of what it shows you doing to your gun. This can lead to some obvious inconsistencies.
Stop reloading after throwing away your old magazine? Doesn't matter, you'll still have those discarded bullets ready to fire. Get knocked down by an explosion after inserting a new mag, but before the Dramatic Gun Cock? Too bad for you, the old mag has mysteriously teleported into your gun and you'll have to restart the entire process. It's almost like the physical act of reloading is merely a formality that's completely divorced from actually being able to shoot more.
Some games will take this a step further, and make it so you can't stop reloading no matter how inconvenient it is. Get caught reloading while an alien-Nazi-zombie-terrorist is eating your face? Your character will refuse to stop and switch to his sidearm no matter what. This is particularly egregious when reloading also makes you move more slowly or imparts some other penalty; apparently, the act is so sacred that it's impossible to run lest it be interrupted! Also note that this doesn't even avert some of the above inconsistencies if enemies can prevent you from reloading (by knocking you down, for example).
The reason for this usually lies somewhere between Rule of Fun and developer laziness. Making a "realistic" reload cycle is extra effort for what would probably be minimal gain. Furthermore, in more actiony shooters, the extra attention to detail may just distract from the action and arouse player ire over lost rounds.
Note that guns that load bullet-by-bullet, such as some shotguns, often avert this trope (or at least come close to averting it). Compare One Bullet Clips for other video game reloading oddities.
- Almost every FPS that features reloading features this trope. As above, there are exceptions in cases where the gun is loaded one round at a time.
- Handled interestingly in the more recent Call of Duty games. Most guns actually finish reloading a bit before the animation ends, meaning it's possible to interrupt the animation early to reload slightly faster - some guns in particular are considered reloaded before the animation even actually puts in a new magazine, like Modern Warfare's G3 and M14, or Black Ops II's SCAR-H. It's still subject to other issues regarding this trope, though. Later games make the actual reload and the animation finish closer to each other, though it's still possible to shave noticeable amounts of time off of from-empty reloads, particularly ones for higher-powered weapons like revolvers that are artificially lengthened for game balance (e.g. spinning the cylinder and very slowly flicking it back into place instead of just quickly pushing it in).
- It was done more realistically in Call of Duty 2 and World at War, at least with bolt action rifles. If you fire a shot or insert a clip and then melee attack or switch weapons before cycling the bolt, you'll have to cycle it the next time you ready that weapon again before you can actually fire. Unlike most games, you won't have to start the reload over from the beginning, but it strangely only applies to the manual bolt action weapons and not to other weapons that require bolt cycling after reloading - shotguns, for instance, could skip pumping between shells in this manner for several games.
- Call of Duty: Ghosts applies this to its FP6 shotgun, being the only one in the game whose reloading animations can't be skipped. It's apparently a trade-off for the hard-coding involved in an attempt at averting One Bullet Clips (moreso than usual for a Call of Duty shotgun, at least), since the animation shows your character grabbing exactly as many shells as are needed to top it off in one hand.
- When you reloaded the Assault Rifle in Halo: Combat Evolved, you could use it for a melee attack as soon as you set the mag in, and it counted as completing the reload, as if you unlocked the bolt with inertia from the sudden stop on the enemy's face.
- The first Killing Floor uses the "can't stop reloading" variation, with most weapons having animations that preclude switching away from them until they've reached a specific frame, though the lever-action rifle, the MGL Mk 1s grenade launcher, and the pump and combat shotguns avert this as they all reload one round at a time and can be cancelled at any point during. Killing Floor 2 averts this, as reloads can be interrupted at any point with Quick Melee or switching weapons, the former of which can then itself be cancelled by firing a bullet. This sometimes lets you save time on reloads, or simply back out of an inconveniently-timed one.
- This happens in Counter-Strike, where the gun does not have its ammo replenished until the animation is completely finished, even if it shows that you already put in the new magazine. The shotguns are the exception, as they reload one round at a time.
- Averted in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, where the ammo is replenished as soon as the new magazine is inserted. That said, it's very rare to be able to actually take advantage of this to hasten a reload (in the same manner that the infamous AWP in earlier games can slightly increase its rate of fire by switching from and then back to it rather than letting the bolt-cycle animation play out), as most weapons have a Dramatic Gun Cock when drawn that takes just as long as the one from the end of a reload.
- America's Army 3 at least breaks it into halves. Reloads can be interrupted, but if you made it far enough to unload the old magazine, it doesn't magically return into the gun and have to be removed again on the next try. This is also how a round begins, with everyone loading an empty gun.
- Left 4 Dead:
- Both games avert this, at least with shove attacks. While shoving, your character is still reloading, and can in fact complete the process of reloading any weapon while also repeatedly smashing a zombie's face with it, although the process is slowed down by fractions of a second per shove. Also, the moment you hit the Reload button, most weapons' ammo count is dropped to zero, with all the ammo left in the mag put back in the reserve. You can still swap to other weapons, but when you swap back, that weapon will still be at 0 ammunition and you'll need to start the reloading process over in order to fire it. The shotguns, however, are firmly of the "load one fire one" variety, and can be fired at any point in the reloading process, though in the first game there needs to be a shell in the chamber first (which attempting to interrupt by firing does). The pistols, meanwhile, will still have as many bullets as they had in them if you start a reload, switch to another weapon/item, then switch back to them. Done especially oddly with one of the weapons ported from Counter-Strike: Source in the German version of Left 4 Dead 2 — the reload animation for the SG 552 actually finishes a full second before the bullet count is updated.
- Because shoving did not interrupt the reload, the most common tactic in the first game when out of ammo was to back into a corner and just endlessly shove the zombies until you're finished reloading. In 2 shoving still doesn't stop the reload, but has a cooldown to discourage this, making it good to do while you're running and just need to knock down the occasional zombie that catches up, but not to make yourself invincible when backed into a corner with an empty gun. For those situations they added Melee weapons, which does interrupt the reloading process.
- Weapons in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas have a fairly quick, if complicated reloading process. This becomes more problematic if the weapon is damaged, whereupon it'll also take an extra step to unjam the first round after reloading.
- Played straight in Fallout 4, where it is made more egregious by the fact that the game features the ability to bash with your weapon - something you are very likely to want to do to hold off an enemy that gets close while you are reloading - which completely resets the reloading animation and makes it to play again from the start. The worst offender is the Lever-Action Rifle from the Far Harbor DLC: it has an internal magazine that's manually reloaded, and the gun holds five shots. You must wait until you've loaded all five shots every time you reload, even if you've only fired one or two shots.
- Later Resident Evil games have a rather strange version of this. You generally can't even walk during a reload; however, the ammo count is also updated as soon as you start the reload. So start a reload then punch a zombie in the face? Your gun now is fully loaded. Even if your character hasn't even taken the old mag out yet.
- Half-Life plays this straight excepting the shotgun, though at least for the default pistol the animation would change whether the player reloaded partway through a mag or completely emptied it.
- Customizable Weaponry for Garry's Mod features a realistic aversion: you spend additional time to chamber a bullet after emptying a magazine and less time "super loading" one. Should you interrupt it and switch weapons, you'll be left with at best one (or maybe even two) bullet left in the chamber.
- The original Red Orchestra suffered from this with any stripper-clip fed rifles, where you had to expend all shots in the magazine before you were able to load a clip, or at least 5 shots in the case of the G41 which would accept up to two 5 round stripper clips, despite there being nothing physically preventing you from removing individual rounds from the clip and feeding them one by one into the rifle. The sniper versions of the weapons averted this since they were incapable of accepting the stripper clips due to the scope blocking the area over the bolt. The sequel thankfully addressed this and has some ability to remember individual rounds being inserted one-by-one while reloading being canceled from other actions overriding it (though full stripper-clip reloads follow this trope and being interrupted at any point requires the entire process to be repeated exactly the same way).
- The slapped-together-in-seven-days, high-firearm-realism indie game Receiver averts this entirely, with one key designated to each action that you can take with your gun. To properly reload your weapon, you must first unload your weapon, then either drop or store the magazine that was in it, each of these actions taking a keypress. After that you have to either switch to a different magazine or put the gun away and add bullets back into the current mag. Once you have a loaded magazine, (or loaded an empty magazine and then unholstered your gun), press a key to insert it into the gun. Lastly, if you're reloading from a completely empty weapon (without a bullet in the chamber), you must finally pull the slide or release the slide lock with yet another keypress. You are now ready to fire. Needless to say, a big part of the game is learning to perform these steps quickly.
- The S&W Victory revolver added as the third weapon, much like the real life reason people like revolvers, makes this process much simpler: pop out the cylinder, hit the ejector rod (usually a few times to remove all the shells, since they tend to not come out on the first try or two), then just insert fresh rounds in and swing the cylinder back. The only downside (other than the low capacity) is that unfired cartridges go with the spent casings when you hit the ejector rod, forcing you to pick them back up.
- Battlefield 4 has a variation similar to America's Army 3 above, where the reload animation is split into segments. If you switch to another weapon before you finish reloading a gun, when you switch back to that gun the animation picks up at the last "checkpoint" to where you left off. For example, if you had already dropped the old magazine out of the gun but hadn't yet inserted a fresh one, the animation will start off with your character putting a new magazine into your gun. This only seems to work when you've completely emptied your gun's magazine though, and trying it with a "tactical reload" (where there are still bullets in the mag you're replacing) will net you a restarted animation.
- In PlanetSide 2, weapons' reload times can be momentarily shaved off in the last stages of the animation by switching to another weapon, which is particularly useful for the slow-to-load single-shot rocket launchers. Weapons that load individual shots like the shotguns can be canceled out after the current shell is loaded by firing, but if you empty your magazine before reloading, you'll have to re-cock the gun even if you switch weapons before the reload is finished.
- Played with in Mercenary Kings. If youve run out of all bullets from your current weapon, you will eventually reload automatically. However, its also possible to reload at any time with a minigame where a tri-colored bar scrolls above your head and you need to stop it at the right moment. Stopping at yellow simply reloads it, stopping at grey inflicts a reloading cooldown, while stopping at green makes the reloaded bullets inflict 10% more damage. The game also allows the player to move freely and even use their knife while reloading.
- Averted in Westerado, as revolvers have to be reloaded bullet by bullet, and each bullet reload requires a separate button press. To ensure that you never get confused and forget how many bullets are loaded, a stylised representation of your revolver's chamber is portrayed in the top-left corner of the screen, with the loaded bullets drawn in.
- Killer7 plays with this a bit. All of the Smiths' reload animations are extremely fast and stylistic to cut down on the amount of time you have to spend defenseless, with the exception of KAEDE, who has the only realistic reload of the group and thus takes the longest, possibly to balance out the fact that she's the designated sniper of the group. It takes even longer if you're reloading while in aiming mode, as KAEDE fumbles with the new magazine as she sticks it in. When the killer7 have their Mirror Match showdown against the Handsome Men, KAEDE is defeated when her opponent reloads a little bit faster and shoots her as she's still reloading.
- PAYDAY: The Heist and PAYDAY 2 play this straight, with just about any action not involving normal movement interrupting a reload. The Ghost skill "Parkour"note in the sequel does allow the player to continue reloading while sprinting if the skill is aced.
- Played nice and straight in Warframe. Earlier weapons zig-zagged around, making the ammunition count change after a certain percentage of the reload animation had finished (even if this point was completely divorced from the actual animation), allowing you to cancel your reload early with a roll-dodge or melee swing. This has never been patched out of the older weapons, but newer weapons will always insist that you wait for the animation to finish 100% before the ammunition count updates.
- Project Zomboid actually offers three settings so that you can choose how fiddly and realistic you want your reloads to be. See One Bullet Clips. In all cases, this trope is averted, as you can always cancel your ammunition-related activity by sprinting, and pick up again later exactly where you left off.
- Warcraft III: Some units have long spellcasting animations that continue for a few seconds after the spell has been fired off. While they do get back to attacking after it completes, it's better to make them attack manually to save time.
- The Long Dark: Averted. The Lee-Enfield can be loaded with stripper clips when 5 shots can be inserted all at the same time, otherwise the Player Character feeds it one round at a time.
- Subverted in Mass Effect 3. When reloading, if you performed another action (like making a melee attack, dodging, or using a power) at the right time during the reload animation, you'd end the animation prematurely but still have the gun fully loaded. This was initially thought to be a glitch when first discovered, but Word of God confirmed that it was intentionally part of the game. Exploiting Reload Canceling became an important skill to master for playing on high difficulty levels.