12 Mistakes in Video Games That Make Them Unrealistic

Video games are awesome. We all (should) know that. At their best, they tell us a compelling story, present us with astounding art, and suck us into a world that makes us feel like we’re really there. When we finish up a long day of work or school, most of us want to find a way to take our minds off the rigmarole and stress therein. Becoming a cat-like Khajiit sneaking through a dungeon filled with undead Draugr in Skyrim or jumping into the crossfire of opposing military forces in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield – these are extremely great ways to get your mind off the worse parts of your day or just get a change of pace.

The introduction of rumble controllers and Nintendo’s recent use of motion controllers have begun to make us connect even more with what’s happening on the screen. Pursuits like Sony’s PlayStation VR, Microsoft’s HoloLens, and the Oculus Rift aim to make the gaming experience that much more immersive. But for all the magic working together to thrust us into a different world, there are a number of things games can do to totally kick us right back out and damage that engrossing gaming experience. Here, we’ll look at some of the worst offenders.

1. Idiotic NPCs

Non-player characters (NPCs) are an essential element of most games, as they give us something life-like to interact with. But the fact of the matter is that NPCs are often a very good indicator of how far away computers are from achieving sentience — or at least they make us feel that way. A good NPC will do something very simple that’s pre-programmed, and hopefully won’t have to do anything else, as sometimes even the simplest tasks prove too daunting for them to perform if they have to actually think about it.

Maybe you’ll be guiding around an NPC through a big open field, and after you’ve walked a mile, you realize they ran into a tree and couldn’t figure out how to walk around it, so you have to go all the way back to guide them around it. Maybe you’ll be wondering where that last enemy is because you can’t move on until all enemies are defeated, and a long search later you could find it running straight into a wall like it thinks it will eventually warp through and catch you off guard.

And maybe it’s just your trusty Skyrim companion rushing pell-mell into battle with an ogre you had intended to carefully and quietly sneak away from. Whatever the case, idiotic NPCs can sourly remind you that you’re not in a fantasy world, but inside of a computer world, and computers aren’t very bright. WatchMojo put together a great compilation of NPCs with bad AI. Check it out above if you haven’t already.

2. Invincible NPCs

Continuing on the theme of NPCs, nothing screams “this isn’t real” quite like an NPC who doesn’t respond realistically to its own mortality, or lack thereof. Let’s face it: We’ve all gone up to an NPC once and, weilding whatever uber-weapon we had at the time, we swung or fired right into its face (probably because it upset us by getting lost behind a tree). Some games do the right thing and send that character flying headlong across the room to collapse in a corner, dead. Halo let you kill Captain Keyes when you first met, and punished you by having the whole marine force turn on you. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind let you murder mission-critical characters and just warned you that you may have doomed the world.

Other games let you go ahead and try to take a swing at its god-like NPCs, but your weapon will only ever effect a resounding, impotent thud on their brows, no matter how many hundreds of times you swing. If you’re lucky, those invincible NPCs won’t go on to crush you with their might.

Other times it won’t even be your doing. You might just be in the middle of a fire fight, taking cover, when you look over to see an ally staring dumbly at you as they take bullet after bullet to the head because they can’t think of anywhere to take cover with their non-existent brain. The video up top shows a great example of not only an invincible NPC, but also an idiotic one.

3. So many people, one face

This one can include NPCs, but isn’t specifically about them. Everyone who’s played enough games has probably come across this issue. You might be wandering around, enjoying all the rich detail of the game world you’re in, when you happen upon a group of characters — maybe NPCs, maybe other players online — when they all turn to face you. Something seems odd but you can’t place it. You look from person to person, and that’s when it hits you. They all have the same face.

Some games have figured out ways to drastically reduce this by creating an insane variety of faces. Others might have a lot of masked characters. But some games just don’t bother with loads of character models, and instead treat you to the nightmare of turning a corner to find yourself face to face to face to face with three identical terrorists all pointing their AK-47s and beady eyes at you (looking at you, Counter-Strike. Click the above images to enlarge.).

4. Giant inventory, empty pockets

Source: Rockstar

Source: Rockstar

This issue can come in many forms and appears in an overwhelming amount of games. Some games strive for realism by finding a space on your character model for whatever items you might be carrying, or at least for some of the bigger, more obvious items, but other games know there’s no hope.

When you’re hiking around a fantasy world carrying 13 battle axes you looted from a bunch of bandits in a cave, it kind of ruins the absorbing nature of the game to see your character empty-handed and even lacking a backpack. Even some games that limit you to two guns and a few grenades, like the original Halo, wouldn’t show those items anywhere on your player model. You’d just magically pull the items out of thin air, which is kind of cool in its own way. In Grand Theft Auto games, you can often carry dozens of guns without a single one appearing on you.

5. Unrealistic interactions with the physical world


Source: Valve

Video games do a lot to simulate reality — at least, a lot of video games do. Some try to incorporate realistic physics and bullets that respond to gravity and wind, others will have objects actually move around when you bump into them. The ways games try to be realistic are innumerable, but the ways games fail to be realistic are countless as well. A serious fault is often found in how characters interact with their environment, or don’t.

Most of the ways video games fail in this way end up looking like magic. In Half-Life (and many other games), players can pick up loose objects, but not with their hands. No, the loose object floats out in front of them as if by telekinesis. Loads of other games continue the theme of not using limbs to interact with the world by having players climb ladders with neither hand nor leg (as pictured above). In still other instances, a player will have a chance to stand on the edge of an object, or perhaps another character’s head, but it will appear as though the player’s feet are resting only on thin air — magic levitation.

Finally, there’s the matter of walls and other such tangible objects that parts of players sometimes will phase through, as if they weren’t there at all — anyone who has played enough first-person shooters has likely had the opportunity to spot or even shoot an opponent hiding behind a wall thanks to the gun and hand sticking through it.

6. The billion bullet man

Call of Duty

Source: Activision

OK, so this one isn’t super annoying, because it’s almost necessary to games. Many modern games have eschewed the health bar of old for a simpler dynamic. If you get shot too much, you die — makes sense. If you don’t get shot too much at once, you can run off and take cover and not die — kind of makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that after you escape the deluge of bullets, standing around for a while heals you completely.

When you storm the overwhelmingly guarded enemy base, you can get shot to within an inch of your life only to narrowly escape behind a barrel where you’ll shrug off 10 or 100 bullets like they were spit wads. Once you’re fully recovered, you’re ready to go right back out to take another 100. And because your enemies have unlimited ammo, naturally, you can theoretically jump in front of the crosshairs and take a billion bullets without dying or even facing any lasting injuries — never mind the fact that no number of bullets to your legs will give you so much as a limp.

7. Good legs, no jumping


Source: Nintendo

Characters in video games have been jumping from very early on. Mario’s been jumping since the days when console controllers only had six buttons. Sometimes characters who’ve taken 100 bullets to the leg can still jump like a jack rabbit. But then there are those games that decide jumping isn’t a worthwhile endeavor and players shouldn’t jump, skip, or play hopscotch.

Now, it’s not always a big deal when games don’t allow jumping, as it’s not always necessary. But that minor disappointment can turn into a true “wtf” moment when you’re forced to wander all over the place to find a route to a platform that’s only a few feet higher (as pictured above in Pokémon), or even lower, than you are in the level. You know you’ve got perfectly good legs. You’re carrying 300 pounds worth of battle axes, can climb ladders without even touching them, and shrugged off at least a thousand bullets, all while sprinting everywhere you go. The only way to make those legs more unrealistic was to make it impossible to jump, and plenty of game developers have done it. Adding insult to injury, some games also won’t let you use your perfectly good arms to climb up the very same place that you can’t jump up. Tut-tut, game developers.

8. Baffling physics and reactions

There are too many examples of this to get into them all. Games aren’t the real world, no matter how much they try to simulate it. Some games go to great lengths. Rag-doll physics in games like Half-Life make killed characters behave somewhat like dead bodies. Games in the Red Faction series tried to make levels respond to destruction like they ought to in real life. Chivalry even made sure a good, clean slash with a battle ax to an enemy’s joints would sever the limb, and from there, the body would behave like a rag doll. That’s all good, but some games don’t go this extra mile.

Probably the most blatant example of this problem comes from the use of scripted death animations. You know, when every enemy you kill flips over and dies in the exact same way, sprawling out on the ground in the same position. Whether you shoot an enemy in the toe or blow them up with a grenade, you can’t help but be reminded you’re only playing a video game when they simply keel over and die, as if it was your intention that killed them and not the attack. One awful case of this appeared in Grand Theft Auto 3, when hitting a person with your car would send them flying into the air, where they’d spread out perfectly flat, as though lying on the ground, and then soar until finally landing perfectly still on the pavement.

9. Poorly timed loading sequences

Fallout 3

Source: Bethesda Softworks

Good games do a great job of pulling us in. The action is engrossing and has you sitting on the edge of your seat. Maybe you’ve just fought through a grueling horde of enemies so you could kick down the double doors you know lead into a giant chamber of doom, where you’ll finally face the evil boss the whole game has been building up to. Your heart is pounding. Fingers and palms sweating. You can’t tell whether you have restless leg syndrome or your legs are just trying to jump because your character can’t. When you kick down that door, you’re faced with your worst enemy: a loading screen that immediately brings the excitement to a screeching halt.

Sometimes it can’t be helped. Games have a lot of assets to load and render before you can play a level. If a boss is truly epic, it probably will require a little bit of load time, no matter how much it ruins the experience. What’s worse is when almost every door you walk through requires a loading sequence. Enough loading screens or very poorly timed ones, and you’re sure to remember you’re just staring at a screen and are not actually a powerful mage.

10. Too many cutscenes and scripted sequences

Loading screens aren’t the only thing that disconnect gamers from the game. To really feel like you’re in the game, you generally need to be playing. There has to be something to do, even if it’s little. Metal Gear Solid games have been incredibly guilty of having long and numerous scripted sequences (Metal Gear Solid had over 194 minutes worth of cutscenes, and Metal Gear Solid 4 topped 500 minutes.), but to keep you engaged, many allow you to control the camera a bit, occasionally to comedic effect. Other games didn’t take the lesson.

Some of the Assassin’s Creed titles have had this problem. You might go into a building, have a scripted sequence, exit the building and run down the street to face another scripted sequence. If there’s ever a section of gameplay that’s shorter than the scripted sequences it’s jammed between, it’s likely to ruin the magic of gaming. The above clip from Battlefield 4 sees the player gaining, losing, gaining, and losing control again as scripted sequences jam themselves into the action.

11. Cutscenes with discontinuities

Still on the point of these scripted sequences, there are ways to get them right and ways to get them wrong. As mentioned, Metal Gear Solid games have found ways to keep some of them interesting. But many games have one very noticeable error in these cutscenes, and that’s making them misaligned with what’s actually in the game.

You know that level you just played, where you used a pistol and a shotgun from beginning to end? You know how you couldn’t conceivably be carrying any other weapons? Odds are that you know these things, but the video game cutscenes don’t. Many is the time that a pre-rendered sequence in a game will show your character in one, and only one, way.

Halo has done this. Splinter-cell: Black List has done it, too. It may be most obvious with your gun in shooters, as you spend so much time looking at it throughout a level, you can’t help but notice that the sequence has your character holding an entirely different gun, never mind the 14 dead enemies that were just at your feet. Watch in the first 12 seconds of the clip above, how Master Chief goes from carrying a needler in the game to the standard assault rifle in the cutscene. Sometimes it can be at least amusing, as in cooperative play in Halo when the cutscenes completely ignore the fact there are multiple Master Chiefs.

12. Doors of insanity!

Zelda ocarina of time

Source: Nintendo

Lastly, doors. In the real world, doors tend to be very simple things. They swing open, they let us walk through them, and they swing shut. Sometimes they do it automatically, and sometimes we’re forced to open and close them ourselves. However, video games often remind us we’re not in the real world by having absurd things happen in and around doorways.

Plenty of games will have doorways that will shut for eternity once you walk through them. Plain, wooden doors. Why? Because. Other doors have a magic resetting ability that can sometimes come in handy and other times be perilous. In many games, you can run through a door while being chased by hordes of enemies, and if it requires a loading screen, odds are you won’t find those same enemies waiting for you when you go back through. Other times you might go back through a door into a space where you’d previously vanquished some enemies, and when you do, you find them respawned, waiting to get their revenge. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time faced these faults in many places.

Although many of these little foibles don’t actually ruin a game’s entertainment, and some can actually prove quite useful, they still do remind us that we’re just ordinary people playing a video game.

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