Realism in MMOs OR My Sister’s Virtual toothbrush


Hi folks! Urfang here.

While looking through the various topics on the Age of Conan forums, I’ve noticed a reoccuring theme: Realism. I’m sure you’ve seen the topics on the Age of Conan forums: It would be more “realistic” to have different attributes and different NPC reactions to male and female toons. It would be more realistic to have long travel times between areas. It’d be realistic to have shield blocking, (and various other combat features). It’d be realistic to have penalties for player killing.

I’m sure you’ve seen many other topics as well where someone plays the “reality” card. The game would be more “realistic” if it were done THIS way instead of THAT way.

Well let’s face it folks, realism blows.

Realistic is working 8 hours (if you’re lucky) daily.
Non-realistic is looting coin from the bodies of your slain foes!

Realistic is arguing with your spouse about how you stared at that hottie at the office.
Non-realistic is rescuing a (grateful) wench from a slavering demon!

Realistic is working for years and years in the hope of a small promotion.
Non-realistic is becoming king by the strength of your sword arm!

No…realism is not a strong arguement in MMO design…

However, I think most people that argue for realism might be missing the mark. What most people really want when they talk about “realism” is for a game to be immersive. And there’s a big difference.

For a game to be immersive, it has to be internally consistant and to have as few things as possible jar the player out of the sense of “being there”. (That was a great movie, btw…)

So let’s look at some of the issues where people have argued for “realism” and look at them in a somewhat different light.

In real life women face a lot of different kinds of discrimination. Further, they are, on average, not as strong as men. But in a game, played for entertainment, would it add anything to the game to hobble female characters in this way? Not really. Equal men and women don’t make a game any less immersive, only less realistic. Personally, I’m fine with that.

As for travel between regions, certainly it’d be more realistic if it took weeks to go from Stygia to Cimmeria. But if it were implemented that way Funcom would lose customers in droves. Fast travel doesn’t harm the immersiveness of the game.

So the trick then, is not to ask if a feature is realistic, but rather, does it work with the rest of the game? Does it stand out as “not belonging”? Does it make you take a step back and remember that you’re just playing a game? If so, it’s a bad feature. If not, then it works. Basically, as long as a game feature doesn’t make it less immersive, it really doesn’t matter at all if it’s not “realistic”. In fact, as often as not it’s more fun if it’s NOT realistic.

Still, different people like different levels of detail (again, often mistaken for realism) in a game…but detail can added with role play, if the player wants to. My sister, for example: When we used to play pen and paper D&D, she would actually make notes of the underwear, soap, toothbrush or two in her adventuring backpack. It would have bored the rest of us to death except that it was so funny. But hey, it made the game more fun for her and it didn’t hurt us any.

So, to sum up, when you’re reading a post about how something would make Age of Conan more “realistic”, or if you are about to make such a post…stop for a moment. As yourself if realism is really what you mean. Most likely it’s not because people don’t play video games for realism.

So Sayeth Urfang
Bear Shaman of the Snowhawk Clan

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