You know when you have a couple of friends over to play some games and you're having a blast, but then there's that one friend who completely ruins it because they feel the need to conduct a running commentary on what you're playing? They're great people aren't they? We all have that one friend who feels the necessity to comment on every single thing that happens when you're playing a game, and one of the most common phrases they always seem to utter is, "That's not realistic! That would never happen in real life," after which you just groan and then attempt to ignore them so they don't completely ruin the game for you.
Now this isn't just something that happens when you're playing games with some friends. You come across people like this all the time on the internet too. You see people in the comments section of a video saying "This is dumb. The guns aren't even realistic," except filled with spelling errors because it's a YouTube comment. The more I started thinking about why people say this, the more I look at how games are designed and why I play games, and then I realised something: why do people care if a game isn't realistic? Seriously, why do people care?
Don't get me wrong, I think it's great when some games try to go for the ultra realistic feel like ARMA and Insurgency have. This gives people more options for what they want in a gaming experience, which is always great. I can definitely see why people may want to have a super realistic, hardcore gaming experience. By all means, play those games. At the end of your day, it's your choice, but when people act as though that should be the only option and consider any game which doesn't strive to do this to be automatically obsolete, it truly blows my mind. The main reason why is not only because I disagree with this viewpoint. It's because if the deciding factor for someone on what game they should acquire is whether or not it's realistic, you've essentially eliminated 99% of games from your list of choices since I'm pretty sure we don't live in Hyrule and I know that I don't go to work with Goombas.
I often hear people argue that only realistic games can be immersive. That games which don't resemble reality cannot enable players to feel as though they are part of that world, to which I would disagree. I will admit that games which strive for authenticity can be very immersive, but I thought the whole point about playing video games was to immerse yourself in unknown worlds; to enable a sense of adventure as opposed to realistic worlds because, let's face it, if you want to see a realistic world, open a window.
I consider it a much more difficult feat for developers to create an original universe that is rich enough and detailed enough to allow players to immerse themselves in the world than it is to replicate the real world, and honestly, I find those worlds much more compelling despite the fact that they aren't real. A game like Mass Effect is a great example. It is in no way relatable to the real world, yet players are still able to immerse themselves, not because it looks realistic, but because the world is richly detailed. This ties into the whole graphics argument, but that's a discussion for another day. My point is that authenticity isn't always directly proportional to immersion. Look back on some of your favourite gaming universes and think about how realistic they were.
When people are talking about the aesthetics of a game, that's fine, because a lot of that comes down to personal preference, but when these observations bleed into gameplay, then we have a real problem. Games are supposed to be fun and, often, making games more realistic removes that aspect purely because reality isn't very fun. It can work for some games, but it shouldn't be implemented into all games like some people say it should. In reality, you can't just jog off bullet wounds. I've heard people suggest that game developers should make games where fall damage actually hinders your movement or where a well placed bullet can actually immobilize you. Can you imagine playing Battlefield and seeing some dude hobble towards the objective because he didn't deploy his parachute early enough? How tedious would that be? I stand by the idea that no aspect of the presentation should detriment gameplay unless that is what the game is designed around. For ARMA, it makes sense because that's more of a simulator, but for a game like Call of Duty, no way. When realism starts to hurt the gameplay experience for a recreational game, that's when it starts to cross the line.
Ultimately, it comes down to this for me: I like games because they're crazy and different to the real world. In real life, I can't fight an alliance of alien races hell bent on eradicating humanity from the galaxy. In real life, I can't knock down skyscrapers. In real life, I can't fight orcs while embarking on an epic quest to save the world, and that's where the beauty of gaming lies for me. Games allow you to tear through enemies or present challenges to make you feel fulfilled. They allow you to escape from the real world and feel like you actually have an impact on a virtual world. They have the ability to create a feeling of adventure when you're traversing unknown worlds, and who cares if it isn't realistic as long as you're having fun? Games are about having fun, and as long as that core element of a game resonates throughout the experience, it's fine by me.