Today I found myself really inspired by our gameplay of Verdun to talk about this topic. I specifically remember playing games with my friends, particularly Call of Duty in this case, and passing off some of the gameplay mechanics we didn’t like for the developers needing to still be able to make it fun. “There’s a limit to how realistic games can be because they still need to be fun.” What did I mean when I said this? Sometimes I was referring to physics, sometimes it was those (ridiculous) one-shot knife/tomahawk kills. The thing is, while they were absurd and made no sense, they were fun.
So a couple years down the line, I had my first experience with a Battlefield game in Battlefield 3. I absolutely loved the game because it had huge maps, destructible environments, and a unique skill function– bullet drop. It was unique and felt like it made the game more realistic, even if it may not have been scientifically accurate. Of course, Battlefield by no means entirely realistic, but the flexibility to do something crazy and unrealistic is still fun. I specifically remember riding a C4-packed “quad-bike” (ATV) into an enemy base, waiting to hear my buddy’s signal (“CA-CAAAWWW!!!”) to jump off the bike so we could use it as a rolling, high-powered bomb.
Enter Verdun. To be honest, it was pretty awe-striking. Whereas COD and BF make you feel like a gun-toting, steroid-infused, bandanna wearing, Rambo-type, one-man-army badass, watching Verdun made me feel the exact opposite. The cold, muddy trenches, the explosions, the pools of the no man’s land, the sudden, instant death after the snap of a marksman’s rifle…they don’t make you feel strong. They make you feel afraid. For the first time, I experienced something akin to the reality of war and it was surprising. It felt like I was seeing something that couldn’t really be conveyed by video games, yet there I was.
What does this mean for me as a gamer and for developers? As a gamer, I don’t think I’d ever pick up Verdun. It seems to be an excellent game and serves its purpose well, but the reality of it gives it a steep learning curve and a difficulty that Battlefield and COD don’t really touch. For me, the perfect “realistic” shooter is Battlefield. It’s a great mix of fun and realism and offers more flexibility than COD in terms of what you can do. That said, I recognize Verdun as a real achievement in terms of gameplay and development, both in terms of realism.
This brings us to the ultimate question: what does this mean for developers? When it comes to making a game, what is the level of realistic accuracy a game should exhibit? Or is there a responsibility for this at all? There’s many ways one could look at this. Who is the target audience? What kind of game is it? Are you trying to make something realistic, or pure fantasy?
To be honest, it doesn’t matter all that much. Video games are supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to present the player with a way to be part of a different reality and that reality should be enjoyable. Whether it’s the notorious challenge of Dark Souls, the jubilant glee of jumping around in Mario Odyssey, or the ultra-realistic gameplay of a true simulator, the point of the game is for the player to have fun. That said, I’d like to conclude in saying that the developer’s responsibility is not necessarily just to fun or just to accuracy/realism, but to the player. Developers usually know what kind of game they want to make and who it’s for. If you’re making a simulator game, then people who like sims will play it. If it’s a shooter, then people who like FPS action will play it, etc etc. With that in mind, developers need to know their audience, know what kind of experience they want to deliver, and do it while making the games as fun as possible, whatever that may mean for the individual game in question.
There are millions of people who play games, all of them with different tastes and preferences. It’s up to the developer to make sure an experience the player wants is what’s being delivered, whether that’s an ultra-realistic war sim or a colorful hero FPS.