Features// When Realism and Video Games Collide

Posted 5 Mar 2014 12:20 by
You're playing the latest incarnation of Thief. Things are going great. You've skulked across a rooftop, flitting between shadows so as not to be illuminated by the light cast out of nearby windows...

You lobbed a bottle to momentarily distract some guards while you snuck past, you removed another with a stealthy takedown and now you're hanging on that rope that's dangling a little inexplicably from a beam jutting from a nearby building.

Those guards you distracted are, admittedly, in a heightened state of arousal now because of that random sound of breaking glass they heard, but if you can just make it up the rope and onto that beam, you'll be away across the rooftops.

Except... you're at the top. You're at the top and you're pushing and pushing to get Garrett to climb that last metre onto the beam, but he's just not having it.

He's hanging there. And now… crap, those guards are yelling at you. And… yup, one of them just shot you with an arrow. And… WHY CAN'T YOU GET UP ONTO THAT BLOODY BEAM? It doesn't matter. You're dead. Dead, dead, dead…

You're yelling, you're throwing the controller at the screen, you're strangling the cat... OK, you're not. You're quietly smouldering and having a bit of a sulk. But it's not that you're dead. You're a gamer. It happens. It's that you should have been able to get up that rope.

The Uncanny Valley is a hypothesis that when a replica of a human has features that are almost but not exactly the same as those of a natural human, the reaction it provokes is revulsion.

The term was coined in 1970 by robotics professor Masahiro Mori in relation to animatronics. It has also been applied to medical fields such as burn reconstruction and, of course, computer generated imagery.

We've all played games characters with freakish, juddering lips, straw-like hair and eerie, cold dead eyes. That's not, however, precisely what I want to discuss in relation to Thief. Rather, I'm going to argue that Thief shows well how, as games creep closer to simulating 'real life', their flaws become more frustrating.

The rope is a prime example. Garrett can easily climb the things. He's lean, muscular and obviously pretty agile. Yes, the strange leather stuff he likes wearing doesn't look super-practical for rooftop acrobatics, but his slightly gothy androgenous look seems to be important to him and he gets by. And yet, he can't make that extra foot or so of ascent to climb on top of the beam. And now you're dead.

It's not that you find it unreasonable that you can't, in a game, do everything that you could in real life if you'd just had years of training with Steven Seagal.

It's that the game was operating at a level close enough to 'real life' up until that moment to fool you into thinking you could.

It wasn't an issue if you couldn't get all the way up a rope in Jack the Nipper 2 because it was a Spectrum game about an albino baby with a strange fixed expression and, possibly, black goggles on. It's so obviously game-y that you just accept the limitations on what you can do.

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Companies:
Games: Thief

Comments

config 5 Mar 2014 16:56
1/2
The limits on "things with which to distract" really hacked me off in Last of Us.

Here I am, surrounded by detritus most of which could be suitably lobbed, yet the game enforced this fanciful rule that only brick and bottles can serve to distract. It wasn't even like there was a massive scarcity of bricky bottleness, but when I was caught short, the inability to hoist anything luggable shattered the immersion.
PreciousRoi 17 Mar 2014 14:37
2/2
I think gamers have, and are entitled to a sense we should be abandoning some of the tropes and crutches game developers have used in the past, invisible walls, using hordes of braindead, impotent enemies in place of intelligent AI, forcing players to start in the back of the pack in racing games, "monster closets", doors and windows which cannot be interacted with for no apparent reason...these are all things that had their day and were accepted without comment in the past, but we expect better now. Take some time out from making sure that you have the latest high definition texture maps, and think about what you're doing with them...
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