Projectiles, like all matter, are subject to gravity.
Therefore, while it makes sense to shoot horizontally at point blank range (which is the literal meaning of "point blank"), the shooter usually needs to fire above the target. Likewise, archers will shoot at an angle, somewhat upwards. In Real Life, group archers would fire massive volleys of arrows which functioned as a form of indirect fire, much like modern artillery.
This is often portrayed on screen incorrectly: the angle often stays the same regardless of the distance. On one hand, we have bullets and arrows that are shot straight across the battlefield and still don't fall on the ground halfway through, and scopes with the sole purpose of compensating for the screen's inferior resolution, while on the other hand, if a video game does try to portray archery realistically, often the angle stays the same regardless of the distance, so we have archers shooting upwards to hit targets right in front of them, so the arrows should really fly over them.
If the arrow is shown in a close up or slow-motion, it will always travel straight as, well, an arrow. Real arrows don't: they bend back and forth and also spin, the direction determined by the angle of the fletching (the feathers at the end of the arrow, though most are now plastic). This is often also ignored because the trope tends to occur when trying to emphasize the archer ideal; wobbles and arcs that make the Arrow Cam face up at the blank sky don't help that. Contrast that with Rain of Arrows where this trope will be averted with gusto when fired by a large faceless military unit and where it is now cool to obey the laws of physics.
Just as other tropes have transferred from the archer to the Cold Sniper, we find this can happen for firearms. For firearms, the sight is calibrated for a specific distance, 200 meters for an assault rifle, for instance. At distances up to this (ammunition-specific) limit, the deviation of the bullets path from the straight scope-line-of-sight is less than about 5 cm/2 in., so it can be ignored. Going beyond this limit, however, will cause in increasingly rapid drop of the bullet's path. If the enemy is 400 meters away, one needs already to aim way above the head. Sniper scopes have a knob to adjust the distance (among other things). This is arguably their main feature as anyone can aim for a head at 400 meters through a good scope; estimating the distance, and hence the drop, is the tricky bit. Even then one must also take the difference in altitude into account, not to mention the wind. Grenades, including those fired from Grenade Launchers, seem to be the one kind of projectile that near-universally avert this, even in video games that use Hitscan for most firearms.
Like firearms, arrows suffer from dispersion, which is to say that the exact same weapon firing the same ammunition with the same aim will land the arrow in a slightly different place. Dispersion is often much greater in archery (especially the preindustrial kind), due to greater variation from shot to shot in the bow, the arrow, the bowstring, and the draw of the bow.
This trope is often used in video games due to technical and/or resource limitations. Keeping track of proper physics for projectiles like arrows is CPU intensive. It's only since around the Seventh Generation that consoles have gotten powerful enough to do this consistently without affecting gameplay (wasting all of the CPU power on physics and leaving none for the actual GAME wouldn't be a good thing). And even if the consoles are powerful enough, depending on the design of the game this sometimes isn't incorporated if it detracts from the enjoyment of the game - after all, it's a game, not a physics simulation. For games that do incorporate this, the technique of arcing is often used as a skill challenge and to make the player feel personally competent. See Wreaking Havok for more on how video games avert this.
Not to be confused with The Straight and Arrow Path.
- Played completely straight with the Quincy. Their arrows aren't physical and therefore don't follow the rules that mundane arrows follow.
- During the Hollow Bait competition after Uryu first shows up: his arrows arc at only 30 degrees when launched most of the way across Karakura, so they aren't likely to arc noticeable at thirty feet or so.
- Green Arrow, while sometimes following the laws of physics, has a way of making an arrow with a standard-issue boxing glove for a head follow the same trajectory of a normal arrow with a much lighter point. It's explained at some point that the glove pops out of the previously-pointed arrowhead at the last second, allowing it to fly like a normal arrow but hit like, well, an arrow with a boxing glove attached to it.
- Reversed in a Punisher comic. Frank Castle is targeted by a Skrull sniper using a laser weapon to shoot at him from over a kilometer away. Although a laser would be capable of moving in a straight line, the artist draws the beams striking at a severe angle. Grade-school geometry demonstrates the angle of the beams is not consistent with the distances described. If drawn accurately, the beams would appear almost parallel to the ground.
- Consistently Averted in Tex Willer, with arrows being shown arching. This is precisely the reason some Indians with access to firearms still carry them, as guns can't hit a target behind cover.
- Brave doesn't have any shots at a great enough distance to require this, but still shows its work in the way arrows fire; the three champions of the other clans show errors in their technique that novices often make, and this would be noticed by any experienced archers in the audience. Also, the slow-motion close-up of Merida firing her third arrow clearly shows the arrow bending and flexing as it accelerates, as it would in real life.
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: the Arrow Cam shot goes straight forward without an arc.
- The Lord of the Rings: There's a classic example in The Fellowship of the Ring with an Arrow Cam shot by Legolas in which the arrow travels straight from bow to target, with the arrowhead staying dead on as though attached to a line while the back end wobbles around like a normal arrow. The cast and crew (and IMDB) have acknowledged this. They said that if they were to move the arrow in a realistic fashion, it would have required a lot more re-shoots and effects editing, and could have potentially confused the audience, or caused motion sickness. On the other hand, most of the arrows in the movies otherwise arc; for example, when the Fellowship are firing shots at the orc archers on ledges, their arrows are shown arcing upwards and just starting to fall when they hit the orcs.
- Rat Race showed that you can do this with a bullet. Two characters were in a supersonic vehicle designed to break the land speed record and a bullet is fired right next to them. The bullet stays next to the vehicle for several seconds without falling (or slowing down) in the slightest.
- The DVD commentary for Shooter notes that the film's assassination scene is inaccurate. From the distance the shot was taken, the bullet would be traveling steeply downward through the body. The director found this too gruesome and apparently unrealistic to depict.
- King Arthur (2004) Both averted and played straight, sometimes within seconds of each other in the same scene.
- Jennifer Garner's titular Elektra throws a sai over an extraordinary distance in defiance of gravity. Although this is not an arrow the physics involved are much the same. Throwing an object this distance would have required her to pitch it upward in an arc.
- Wanted: Inverted to the other extreme; the Fraternity's assassins are able to make bullets curve in paths far more severely than gravity and windage would cause.
- In The Avengers, every one of Hawkeye's long-range shots shows some notable arc, which he is shown compensating for almost automatically (and in one case, without even looking at the target). One of his most impressive shots involves using the wind and the movement of the aircraft he's riding to arc an arrow into an engine of the Helicarrier from the opposite side of the airship. A close-up of an arrow flying also shows it spinning as it should be.
- In The Odyssey, Odysseus shoots an arrow through twelve axes (a specific kind of axe that had holes or rings in them, or something like that; the translation varies on this). It's implied that all twelve axes are of the same length and set up at the same height, and therefore in a straight line, though it's never stated how far apart they are. Since the axes are set up in a hall, it's presumably a short total distance. The bigger part of the test was being able to string the bow (which had the massive draw strength required for this feat) to begin with.
- The vast majority of gun-using First-Person Shooters play the trope straight, treating anything that shoots bullets as a Hitscan weapon. This is generally an Acceptable Break from Reality; since most of the time players would be shooting targets that aren't far away enough that compensating for gravity is needed.
- Averted and played straight at the same time in Distorted Travesty 3. As you can see in the video clip, the player's bombs and arrows have arcs, however many enemies fire gravity-defying projectiles. Later in the game the player gains throwing knives and missiles which do not arc, thus giving players the ability to use or ignore this trope at their pleasure.
- Largely played straight in Bladestorm The Hundred Years War. They do arc if you fire from an extremely long distance, but most fights take place up close so you may not notice it. Averted with one ability longbowmen receive, where their shots do arc and can be fired from a much farther distance than a regular straight shot.
- Early first person shooters with fantasy weapons, such as Heretic and Hexen, avoided gravity effects entirely; the fights took place at such close range that the computations involved were generally not worth the processing time. Besides, you were firing magic arrows.
- In Dark Messiah the arrows DO have arcs, though it's not as pronounced as in real life. However, one rarely notices this because if they're using the bow and arrow at all, most of the time they're sniping or otherwise close enough that the arc never comes into play. If you try to fire from a reasonable distance, you will become aware that your arrows do not travel in a straight line - often at the same time you realize that you missed and your arrow attracted the guard's attention. Ouch.
- Grenade Launchers in Destiny 2 have a realistic arc, and have to be carefully aimed...with the exception of The Mountaintop which acts more like a miniature rocket launcher than anything else.
- The bows added in the game's year two expansion, however, play the trope completely straight.
- Bows in Dragon Project avert this trope at first, but an update after the Heat Bow's release pulls this trope straight, aside from Normal Bow. Now aiming with any non-normal Bow (Heat, Soul, and Burst) will create a perfectly straight line, making it easier for Hunters to hit the Bow markers on the Behemoth's body. That being said, sometimes aiming at the Behemoth's Bow markers may not hit them despite being directly aimed at.
- A somewhat smallish plot point in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, where Rolf (and then Shinon, when he chickens out) has to mimic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and shoot the rope to prevent someone's hanging with an arrow (which is even more implausible with an arrow), and when he shoots the arrow, it goes completely straight. Though the angle he was at was above the target, he was aiming down at it, so the arrow would effectively hit the person being hanged rather than the rope.
- Justified in Fire Emblem Fates by Takumi's Fujin Yumi, an Energy Bow that shoots laser arrows. Similarly, the Skadi also shoots laser arrows and is a justified example.
- In The Legend of Zelda titles, Link always fires straight. Interestingly enough, the arrows are subject to gravity in Super Smash Bros. yet he still fires parallel to the ground. Ocarina of Time, the first 3D title and thus the first to which realistic physics can apply, justified this by it being a "fairy bow", thus implicitly magical. In Twilight Princess, arrows fired by Bulblins and Link's Bomb Arrows do arc, but Link's regular arrows travel in a perfectly straight line for a considerable distance before suddenly arcing straight down toward the ground. They do arc in Skyward Sword. In Breath of the Wild, thanks to its extensive physics system, each bow has its own range, which determines how far an arrow fired will travel before it arcs. However, there is one bow, the Ancient Bow, that forces all arrows to travel without arcing, but it requires rare materials to obtain one to compensate.
- Super Smash Bros.: the series has both cases covered as well, although the straight arrow variety tends to be magical (Pit's arrows, Zelda's Final Smash). The Cracker Launcher item from Brawl lets you adjust the angle freely. Diddy's Peanut Popgun also functions like Link's arrow in that regard, and items are all thrown at plausible angles.
- Both used straight and averted in Suikoden. In regular combat, party members with bows fire straight shots. In army battles, however, your archers will fire in volleys. Which makes sense, really, since regular combat is fought at short range, so the arrows don't need to travel farther than a few feet. In war, they're shooting from long range.
- Thief: Most arrows in the game avert this, and the player will have to take their arc into account when firing, but gas and fire arrows fly perfectly straight. The former can be seen as justified since it's an air-elemental arrow, while the latter is basically a medieval missile.
- Played straight in Fable: The Lost Chapters'', where arrows fly on a flat path, then inexplicably plant themselves in the ground once they get out so far.
- In BioShock, the crossbow item is essentially a stand-in for a sniper rifle, complete with zoom functionality. Its bolts fly perfectly straight, although there is a small time delay before they hit their targets, so it's necessary to aim slightly ahead of moving enemies. Possibly justified in that a crossbow fires its bolts with more force than just a regular bow. Frequently done with missiles as well as arrows.
- In most Tales Series games, archers seem to shoot directly forward, unless that is, it's a technique. The 2D Tales games, especially Destiny and Phantasia don't arc at all but they probably weren't able to program it like that. However, in Tales of Vesperia, Raven shoots his arrows at angles - rather weird angles, at that.
- It's played straight in the first four Heroes of Might and Magic games, but then, the graphics in those games are so stylized it hardly matters.
- Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern: Although you never see the actual projectile, the variables are taken into account. All ranged weapons are done from a first-person point of view when everything else is 3rd person. Your aim wavers just like a normal person's would and what you fire does not go exactly where you aim it, although with the game mechanics it's usually hard to tell in which direction you missed it. Since the ranged weapon in the game consists of a hand-crossbow with either bug darts or mini-bolts, this is believable.
- In World of Warcraft, ranged weapon users don't have to actually aim, and so don't tend to change their angle of shot, but many of the siege weapons introduced in Wrath of the Lich King have projectiles that follow very distinct arcs.
- There are also several boss abilities that arc, but this is more of a visual effect.
- Dynasty Warriors archers always shoot straight and level. Then again, they only shoot at point-blank range. Except in cut scenes, where the arc is usually quite visible.
- In Dwarf Fortress arrows and bolts travel in straight lines. Parabolic flight paths are in development, but put on hold because of difficulty in how the player character in Adventure mode must aim.
- Team Fortress 2 zig-zags this trope:
- Weapons that travel in a straight line - all guns (they're hitscan weapons) and rockets.
- Weapons that travel in a realistic arc - the Demoman's grenades, the Medic's various syringe-shooting devices, the Pyro's flares, the Scout's baseballs, and the Sniper's Huntsman arrows (a bow).
- In Vantage Master, the Blexe fires straight shots, although it uses a powerful crossbow and has fairly short range
- From Monster Hunter Freedom 2 onwards (when the Bow weapon class was introduced) the arrows of the bow do arc slightly, although the monsters you are fighting are generally so large as to make little difference to aiming. Similarly the Bowgun shots also dip with distance.
- Mount & Blade: When your character's archery skill is high enough, the arrows fly in almost a straight line. This could be partially justified by the character being able to handle a bow with a heavier draw weight, but the difference is really too dramatic for that. This isn't as noticeable if your character is built as a horse archer.
- The Elder Scrolls: Goes from being played straight to heavily downplayed over the course of the series, in large part thanks to technological improvements. To note:
- Played straight in Arena and Daggerfall.
- Also played straight in Morrowind, at least for full strength pulls. If you fire an arrow before the bow is fully drawn, the arrow will noticeably tumble in the air.
- Oblivion is the first game in the series to include a physics engine, and as such, has arrows drop the farther they fly. However, it is heavily downplayed instead of being fully averted because the arrows still fly unrealistically far before dropping.
- Skyrim is much the same as Oblivion, but also has the arrows arc up slightly in relation to the crosshair. If your target is fairly close, aiming straight on for a headshot will actually cause the arrow to sail over the targets head. It is also possible to hit stationary targets with arrows fired into the sky with an extreme arc, but understandably very difficult to pull off.
- Chrome Hounds: Every single projectile obeys the laws of gravity. From the most basic machine gun bullets to long range sniper cannons. However if you are using kinetic rounds(as opposed to chemical rounds), the damage decreases dramatically beyond their effective range, as does the rate of drop. It is, however, possible to destroy enemy HOUND's from halfway across the map with a shotgun!
- Arrows and crossbow bolts do this in Dark Souls. They fly perfectly straight until they hit their maximum range and plummet to the ground.
- Played painfully straight in all the ARMA games: all rockets and recoilless projectiles travel in a perfectly straight line until they explode. It's especially puzzling given both that ARMA's predecessor, Operation Flashpoint, handled the same weapons perfectly, and that bullet-firing weapons still are affected by gravity.
- Secret of Mana: arrows shot from the bow (and thrown javelins) travel in an arc and are one of the few weapons that can hit flying enemies.
- Legend of Mana: while regular attacks fired from the bow travel in a straight line, they are shown to curve (and even home in on the enemy) in some of the Limit Break special attacks.
- Pretty much every Metal Gear game played this straight until Ground Zeroes arrived and added a liberal dose of realism in the form of "effective range". Every gun in the game has a preset range limit (marked by red crosshairs), after which the projectile from said gun quickly loses altitude. The crosshair shape helps in determining how the bullets drop, but it still mostly comes down to trial and error.
- The first Magic and Mayhem game had an elf unit that would play this trope straight and avert it with every alternate shot. A particularly ridiculous example, since in practice it meant that they would be shooting their melee allies in the back with every other arrow.
- After a long while of playing the trope straight, Unturned now averts it: bullets and arrows all drop after a distance, sometimes (surprisingly for an FPS so far into the "simulation" end of the Fackler scale) far more than the caliber is known for IRL.
- NightFire plays with this. The crossbow's arrows travel at such impressive velocity that the arc only becomes apparent at great distance. That being said, you're not supposed to use it at long range: It's a silent, One-Hit Kill weapon, extremely potent at almost any range.
- Warframe subverts this and plays it straight: projectiles fired from most bows and throwing weapons will have an arc after a fair distance, which can be extended with projectile flight speed mods. The lone exception is the Daikyu bow, which plays the trope straight on account of it being a massive longbow with a fair charge time that cannot be fired early.
- Gunnerkrigg Court used a variant — while the distance the arrow traveled wasn't enough to create significant arc, hitting another arrow in flight along the way should definitely have changed its direction.
- The Order of the Stick uses this most of the time, occasionally with motion lines demonstrating a straight flight path. Though they are often at ranges where the arc would be negligible anyway.
- Justified in Worm, in which Flechette has a superpower that explicitly allows her to imbue projectiles with an effect that lets them ignore gravity, as well as several other laws of physics.
- Older Than Feudalism: Aristotle in his Physics claimed that arrows would move in a straight line until their momentum had been used up, and then fall straight down; rather than an arc, the path traveled would be a triangle. Despite being easily refuted by observation (try tossing a rock) it stood as canon for about two millennia—until a group of 15th-to-16th-century Italians trying to figure out (among other things) how to aim cannons took an interest in the subject...
Well, you could spell it that way, but it would be "hery".