Extra Punctuation

Humor and Realism Don’t Mix


Gaming humor? Pff. Easiest thing in the world. Probably why there’re so many bloody webcomics on the subject. All you have to do is find ways in which videogame logic differs from the way reality works, point at it, then wait for the accolades. Where is Niko Bellic storing all those guns he’s carrying around? Does he have Tardis pockets? Is he stuffing them all up his todger? L, O, and furthermore, L.

A fairly common target for this treatment is Hitman. I don’t think there’s a single gaming webcomic that hasn’t pointed out the hilarious reality fart that Hitman routinely features. The one in which non-player characters totally accept your presence just because you’re wearing the local uniform, even if there’s only one or two people around there who usually wear that uniform and they don’t look like a huge frowny man with a barcode where his hair’s supposed to be. Har, har, har, derision. Hitman will never be able to show its face around here again after this mockery cuts like a scalpel. So much for trying to be grim and realistic in this videogame where you can strangle people while dressed as a giant parrot.

And the best thing about this school of humor is that there are so many big laughs everywhere you look. Oh no, I’ve been shot fifty times but now I’ve picked up a first aid kit and am perfectly alright. How does that work, did I put band-aids over the bullet holes? Splint my shattered bones with the little travel bottles of TCP? The game should have stopped immediately while my character spent several months in intensive care. And while we’re on the subject, whoever heard of getting to reload your life from a point before you got killed? What a silly concept. The console should delete your save and fire the disk out of the drive so hard it slices cleanly through your neck. And it’s not just videogames. Real battles aren’t the slightest bit like chess. The opposing armies don’t take turns and bishops do not resemble tiny wooden circumcised willies. Arf arf arf.

Hitman‘s usual reality fart is wafting slightly differently in Hitman Absolution, and I’ve seen quite a few posts and reviews complaining about it. How it used to work is that there are disguises, and they’re allowed in some areas but not in others, full stop. No one gets suspicious as long as 47 stays in the designated area and doesn’t murder anything in full view. But now there’s been a subtle change to that: characters are now also suspicious of you if you’re wearing the same outfit as them, since presumably they know best who should and who shouldn’t be wearing it.

This creates unlikely scenarios, true. In the very first mission you’re in a mansion crawling with guards, so wearing the same suit as the guards makes sneaking around difficult. But there’s one chef who also has the run of the place, and having his outfit on ensures that the guards don’t look at you twice. Even though, there being only one chef, everyone should know what he looks like, while someone in the same uniform one sees everywhere should realistically have an easier time blending in.

So no, it doesn’t make sense in the context. Have your big laugh, ha ha ha. But the thing is, it does make perfect sense as a game mechanic. The more inconspicuous the outfit, the more enemies you can nonchalantly walk past without alarm, the easier the game gets, so to balance that out, the best disguises have to be harder to acquire. They have to be rare, and the people wearing them have to be rare. You shouldn’t be able to get precisely the same results from a disguise that can be acquired from pretty much anywhere, say from the guards the place is fucking crawling with.


Suspension of disbelief has a slightly different meaning with regards to videogames. In your standard story it means accepting that for, the sake of keeping the story interesting, certain things will go unexplained. For videogames, it means we accept a few lurching differences to how things work in reality as long as it keeps the game entertaining. As long as it’s fun, flowing and functional. The three F’s. Six F’s if you precede each one with “fucking”. Obviously our character isn’t going to have to spend weeks in traction to get his health back, because that’s not fun. He or she is just going to squat in the corner, eat some bandages, poo out some blood and get back into the fray.

You’re no doubt thinking – at least I hope so – that this is all very obvious. But what I’ve noticed in my experience with people pitching new game concepts is that everyone’s got at least one big idea for a game mechanic that will add realism. I’ve had a few in my time. Like when I said that shooters should replace the health bar with a luck bar, so that bullets that would have hit miss by an inch until the luck bar runs out, the protagonist finally gets shot and the adventure ends. But in practice that would be detrimental to gameplay, because the thud of a bullet hitting flesh, a splatter of blood and the character saying ‘ow’ all convey much more efficiently the fact that the player is doing something wrong, and needs to stop doing it or they’re going to get shot some more.

And sometimes these ideas for added realism in gameplay get as far as the finished product. I’m thinking of the health system in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. In which your body is divided into sections and there are various different kinds of injuries each section can undergo, each of which requires different medical supplies to fix. Yes, more realistic, disregarding the fact that injuries heal instantly, but it doesn’t add shit as a gameplay mechanic. You refill all the different kinds of medicine simultaneously whenever you pick up a first aid kit, and there’s a hotkey that automatically fixes whatever needs to be fixed in the same awkwardly long healing animation as always. So in the end it was all a waste. They might as well have had the main character heal by injecting fairy dust into his eyeball and used the effort to make everything after the Innsmouth chase sequence not crap.

When designing a game, the decision that comes up over and over again is whether to favor realism or gameplay, and if you’ve got sense, you’ll go for gameplay every time. Which is not to say realism doesn’t have its place. Realism adds weight, it adds immersion, a shooter wouldn’t have the same impact if everyone bled glitter glue instead of blood, but beyond that it is the awkward twat at a social gathering who doesn’t say anything except to flatly say that they’re offended every time someone tells a racy joke.

I don’t want to seem like I’m getting all up in webcomics’ faces for going for the easy laughs, because glass houses and all that, but if you ever find yourself about to seriously complain about a gameplay mechanic because it’s not realistic (or indeed praise one just because it is) then maybe have a think. Would the game still be entertaining if this issue was fixed? Is a car with a hosepipe attached to the exhaust a good place to take a little nap?

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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