Off the Top of My Head: Media Realism and Doom

Off The Top of My Head

There has been an odd move in video media to make things more “realistic.”  I’m not sure where this trend originated but having grown up in the 80s and 90s I find it more than a little troubling.  I have spotted a few trends that cross various kinds of media but I’ll use some specific examples to try and make the broad points.  There will be a few of these but I’ll start with one that’s been nagging me the most.  Realism in First Person Shooters.

DOOM.  Yes.  When I think 1st person shooters I still think of Doom.  In Doom you could about 8 weapons, you moved like you were wearing roller skates on a conveyor belt, and the rocket launcher fired out of the middle of your character’s chest.  But while playing Doom I don’t recall ever thinking, “You know what this game needs?  More realism.”  If I played Doom II and I could only carry a shotgun and a plasma rifle I’d be pretty pissed…  Likewise, to heal yourself all you have to do is run over various sizes of health power ups.  I’m not sure how much the game would have been improved by making me stop and actually treat my wounds realistically.

Yep firing a rocket out of the middle of my chest. What?

Fast forward to the modern FPS.  You are usually restricted to carrying a limited number of weapons, running makes the camera (and I use the word CAMERA) bob around like mad and healing somehow takes place just by hiding and not taking damage for a while.  It’s like people forgot how to video game…  All of this was done in the name of realism. Without getting into the fact that for some reason hiding behind a building and breathing until you regain color to the screen is a more realistic way of healing gunshot wounds than running over health packs, why did the industry feel this was necessary?  How does limiting the number of weapons I can carry improve the gaming experience?  How does making the movement look more like “actual” movement help the game play?  I never thought the movement in Doom, or even Wolfenstein, felt bad.  It felt like a video game and since that’s what I was playing it was a-ok.

The addition of seeing a characters hands filling part of the screen has greatly improved my gaming experience. Having NPCs do all the work helps too.

Even stranger is the idea that you can make something like this realistic, but not too realistic as that would be crazy.  How about one-hit kills?  I don’t know too many guys who can take a half dozen gunhits before crouching behind a wall and shaking it off.  How about completely limited ammo?  You have your primary weapon and a couple reloads.  Your secondary weapon and a couple of reloads.  You can’t interchange ammo and when you run out you’re SOL unless a realistic supply depot is nearby.  Or powder burns.  Or misfires.  We don’t see our characters eat very often.  Or go to the bathroom.  (unless it’s the Sims) but no one is clamoring for those additions.  Of course no one really clamored for the others either.

To me an FPS is essentially watching a wheeled humanoid, nearly impervious to wounds, with a Go-Pro on its head and a weapon for its right arm navigate an environment, shoot the other humanoids and make them dead.  There’s no adding realism to that really…  Or if realism MUST be added it shouldn’t be done so at the cost of fun.  I can’t remember having fun with an FPS made after 2006.  Of course the new generation of Modern Military Shooter fans will rend their garments and tell me why Call of Duty is far superior to Quake; and just looking at the shiny their case looks sound.  But when it comes to fun there’s no competition.  Give me the brown castles and 2D sprite enemies of Quake any day…  At least its level of “realism” makes sense!

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