Gaming, Story, Realism

After reading a couple of posts, I found myself having an internal debate on how realism affects a good story and, in turn, the enjoyability of a role-playing game (such as choice of games). By realism, I don’t mean that realistic stories shouldn’t have wizards, or dragons, or planet-eating blob monsters. Certainly, in certain settings, a degree of suspension of disbelief is required for proper enjoyment of the story. What I mean by realism, then, is that sometimes, I see events or actions by certain characters, which, after consideration, seem a little incredible. For example, in many role-playing games, the raw, untested, protagonist, is thrust into the world and eventually becomes a master of many different skills. The in-game time for the quest may be several days, months, or years, but the reality of the situation is that if it is that easy to master these skills, then almost everyone in the game’s world will have done so. Mechanics aside, many times, I also see our main antagonist being brought down primarily by the works of our protagonist, often minimally involving other npc’s. Sometimes, this is even done in the expense of neglecting to consider a realistic reaction from the villain. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I often get a rush from having maxed-out all of my character’s stats and seeing the main villain brought down by the sole effort of my hero does give me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. But what do you think?

I feel like a balance between the importance of the protagonist, or playable character if you will, has to be struck with the antagonist as well. A protagonist’s actions should have effect, but it shouldn’t cancel out the purpose of an antagonist. But I admit playing God has its own appeal. I think realism is most always an unnoticable sacrifice if well written, because the player character (from my knowledge) usually comes out on top, not the antagonist; in that respect, unless the antagonist has a further role, the antagonist’s job is to merely (eventually) boost up the protagonist in some form or fashion.

Going with that, I don’t think realism would be too much of a problem because most antagonists are secondary, while the protagonist is primary to conveying whatever story is trying to be told.

In my opinion, realism isn’t as a big deal as how well you tell the story. What I mean by that is almost anybody can try and write a realistic story, but if they aren’t a sufficiently skilled story teller then it’ll just come across as bland and uninteresting. But a skilled story teller can take a tale and make it engaging regardless of how realistic it is.

@fantom Ideally a story teller would tailor his story to his audience, but when the audience consists of millions of readers, it becomes impossible to tailor the tale to all of them equally. What one person finds fascinatingly detailed, another person may find dull and overly wordy. One person adores heart-stopping romance, and yawns “at boys waving around their phallic symbols” at each other. Another loves heroic sword fights, but rolls his eyes at the thought of “stupid love triangles”. Some people love placing themselves in the shoes of a Mary Sue, others (especially realists) despise Mary Sue’s. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to understand that writing success all too often isn’t just about the quality of the story, but about scratching itches that are common to a very large number of prospective readers. People will often forgive bad writing as long as their personal itches are scratched. This is why movies and books both so often work by formulas. Good writing is always a plus, but it isn’t necessarily enough by itself if it doesn’t scratch any common itches, and badly written books all too often do manage to make the best seller lists. *cough*LKH*cough*

Realism is one such itch. If you’re arguing against it than it’s not likely an itch that you have. In fact, for those arguing most strenuously against realism, it’s very likely that they have another itch that is far more important to them personally that conflicts with realism. So to them realism is an impediment to getting more of what they want. On the other hand, for those for whom it is important, like myself, it is a required element of any -serious- story that hopes to appeal to us. It’s thus impossible to please everyone equally no matter how good a writer someone is.

@P_Tigras First, I have no idea what LKH is, so that’s lost on me. Second, as you said it’s impossible to please everyone regardless of where on the realism/pure fantasy scale your story lies. For this reason I prefer to just write what I personally would enjoy reading.

@fantom The letters LKH are the initials of one very successful author whose works regularly hit the best sellers lists.

I write a distopic cyberpunk universe so is sci Fi.
but is realist in the political moral aspect you aren’t a hero and don’t use magic you are another citizen of Pangea with a prototype chip inside you but you can die if do a stupid thinks and authorities going kill you if you infringe the law I try to be realist with the universe laws because I love the realism.

Realism can either suit a game perfectly or make it boring. Most interesting thing for me though is realism with gender and back-round. (Choice of vampire for example) It gives it a great re-playability and gives it that unique flavour.

@P_Tigras I think that pretty much sums up the essentials of what a person needs to know about realism in stories to be a popular, if not necessarily a good writer.

@MaraJade True, there are many different scales of realism. For Sci-Fi you have Technological Realism and Social Realism deciding what kind of Sci-Fi you’re writing, but in every genre you have a number of different factors of realism. However, in general, the two main ones are Internal Consistency and Believability.

Internal consistency is, I think, important to most every story. Internal consistency keeps the reader from getting lost and putting down the story in frustration of not knowing what’s going on, so more is better (for the most part).

The importance of Believability (how well a story helps its reader to suspend disbelief, which is what I think we normally talk about when considering ‘realism’), however, is much more debatable. I’m far into the camp of heavy believability. Other people are much quicker to suspend their disbelief. So, coming back to the original point, I find that the more a story feels like it’s made a person work for what they have, that is, the less the characters feel like they are ‘hyper-competent’ and more ‘regular-competent’, the more I find myself immersed in the story. Other people put the concept of feeling competent as more important, and so the closer they are to ‘hyper-competent’ without breaking disbelief, the better. That is because I have a very low threshold for where I give up on the suspension of disbelief, while other people have higher thresholds for it. So, I think, the closer you can get to that point of ‘everyone can suspend their disbelief because the story is so realistic’ the better. However, to be their perfectly, you’d have to only write biographies. So, it’s more about ‘what is important and what can I add without alienating too much of my potential audience’. Or, at least, that’s my take.

Hm, I don’t think that for a story to 100% realistic, it has to be a biography. I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes, writers seem to forget to consider or purposefully neglect actions or reactions of the world in regards to the protagonist’s actions. Sometimes, this is almost necessary to advance the plot. It’s almost like when we’re imagining a fight in our minds between ourselves and that-one-guy-who-always-boasts-about-throwing-you-on-the-ground-during-every-one-of-your-sparring-matches. Sure we can think in our heads that if we fake to the right and then spin to grab his collar, we should be able to take him to the ground. But often, we forget that the opponent is also thinking of a clever plan to reassert his dominance on the mat. The point is, realistically, the evil empire doesn’t just sit around and wait for the protagonist and his allies grows strong enough to challenge it. However, it is often required of the evil empire to do just that if we were to write that kind of a story. Obviously, stories of this kind have less believability, but does it - should it - affect the enjoyability of these types of stories overall? In games, I think this has a bigger impact. Since readers don’t expect control over the main protagonist’s actions, story-tellers such as novelists doesn’t have to worry too much about the reader’s feelings toward the the situations facing the protagonist. In fact, many plots are actually designed to bring out such feelings as fear, anger, sadness, etc. In a game, however, control over the protagonist makes players much more demanding and if the world is overly reactive, or if we set too many limits on the player in the interest of realism (or sometimes gaming-system limitations), we make the player feel confined and frustrated. Obviously, frustration on the game itself is not very desirable, but at what point does compromises on realism interfere with the immersion of our story?

In AotC, Augustina effortlessly picking up my male character off a balcony and setting him on the ground was a believability issue for me that immediately dispelled my suspension of disbelief. Heroes Rise was especially filled with lots of believability issues that ruined my enjoyment of the game. Your character was continually forced to act stupidly, as I saw it, in order to create the scenarios the author desired.

In another game I recently played by a different publisher I was placed in the role of a highly gifted magical healer who temporarily forgot she could heal her own twisted ankle so that a shirtless male romance interest could act all manly and carry her back to camp in his strong arms while pressed to his bare chest. I rolled my eyes the entire time. I’d have been more accepting of the scene had she purposely played the wounded doe to get his attention, but she didn’t. She actively resisted his offers of help until he gave her no choice in the matter. So her sudden inexplicable inability to remember that she was a healer was just plain silly. This was a consistency issue that turned into a believability issue. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the game, but it made me lose interest in that particular romance.

At the end of the final novel in a lengthy series I read several years ago, an extremely intelligent, but selfish and somewhat evil wizard who had repeatedly been warned that he was going to be betrayed by his even more evil allies uncharacteristically and inexplicably gave his all to altruistically defend those very allies. This left him weak and vulnerable so that those same untrustworthy allies could easily dispose of him, which they did. His inexplicable out-of-character stupidity was one of several issues that made me detest the writing in that particular series where otherwise intelligent characters went brain dead at key moments so the story would advance in the way the authors desired.

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Realism can be handy, it can be educational but it also needs to be matched with the tone of the story. A comedy doesn’t need realism and believability as much as a grittier darker story.

In my work so far, I’ve researched medieval period armours and their strengths and weaknesses and I’ve also researched among other things; long-sword fighting stances, the effectiveness of the bow and arrow (surprisingly weak) and the actual mechanics of the famous slow-kill method of vertical impalement…

That allows me as a writer to get more of the details in, perhaps contrary to what the reader may assume from the typical Hollywood representations I guess.

Much more important to me is believability and I guess and some of the above posts have already summed that up. :slight_smile:

@P_Tigras @Reaperoa Very well written, thoughtful posts. =D>

My personal feeling is that it’s not so much realism as consistency. Working within the established bounds of a story. I have no problem imagining myself as a one man army, but too often the story will restrict it in order to advance, and that’s what brings about the little twitch in my gut.
I’ll slaughter hordes of enemies, and then that magic character will come along and instantly defeat me because the story requires it. Just sloppy writing.
Of course, sometimes they are inevitable, but few things ruin a game as quickly as errors like these.
It’s similar to a puzzle. All the pieces must fit together, but otherwise it matters little what shape they’re in.

@Trywm I think most people would not mind being an all-powerful bringer of death. However, it is often the case that most games with a story necessitates that the hero is not all-powerful (or else where’s the challenge?). The problem is that in games, unlike novels, the hero’s abilities are also based on the player’s skill. As such, it is very possible for a skilled player to defeat a powerful enemy with a much weaker character. If the writers of the story wish to establish then, that your character is not all-powerful and that there are foes in the game that are currently capable of stopping you, then they must insert these magical characters and magical abilities. Like I said before, the more limits we set on the player, the more restrictive the game feels and that often leads to frustration. For example, why can’t my Sheppard take out Kai Leng and prevent him from stealing the Prothean VI on Thessia? If the game hadn’t cut to a cut-scene, I would have killed him. However, the story is still engaging enough for me to continue with the game even after this.

Actually, this brings up another point. After a certain point in a story or a game, I can imagine the player being so invested into the story that he or she will forgive minor breaks in consistency or believability. If so, does this present a cop out for game writers to be able to push the plot along when no other options are available? Or will it more consistently produce the fiasco that was the Mass Effect 3 ending?

_> There was nothing wrong with the ending of Mass Effect 3… I really don’t want to get started on that issue again…


I’m a BIG Mass Effect fan (over 100 hours in ME, over 80 in ME2 and ME3)

The last 5 minutes was nowhere near as good as the rest of the game. Though the EC was better (loved the interaction with Tali as my LI).

ME3 was a good game. Sure the ending was bad, but that doesn’t mean the WHOLE game sucked. Garrus <3


that’s how I feel. I love all 3 games :slight_smile:

@Nocturnal_Stillness I just wished all those ‘Fans’ didn’t flip about it. And the extended cut kind of ruined it for me. I don’t know why it just did.

As I said I disagree that the ending was a ‘fiasco’. I’m a regular (or I was) over at Bioware’s own forums and a total Mass Effect fan and lore digger.

The ‘ending’ was blown way out of proportion, it garners a 4.3 metacritic fan reviews (last I checked), and when casted side by side as individual games for pure storytelling 3 blows the more bare and skeletal 2nd game out of the water. Not only that but theoretically, 3 improved on squad dynamic, story interaction AND the actual gameplay. It baffled me that a very ‘streamlined’ and skeletal linear game like 2 can be praised to high heaven as amazing and then the third is pooped on by so called fans based on the ending and ‘choices not mattering’.

In fact…the three common complaints that I stonewall for various reasons yet I hear are;

  1. Choices don’t matter for the ending
  2. There wasn’t enough closure (this was what the EC was released for and can be translated as ‘please sir, spoon feed me more.’)
  3. A complete lack of comprehension of the ending anyway.

Boiling down to comments like “pick a colour, same ending anyway” which, comically misses the point. Every meme that spawned out of the ME3 ending is a sterling example of fandumb and to be honest I hate talking about this kinda thing anymore because having to deal with the masses of morons over at the bio-forums including but not limited to, an idiot claiming the synthesis ending is like being ‘raped’ and having your ‘free will’ destroyed, a complete misunderstanding of how the crucible is meant to work, a complete misunderstanding of the Reapers and their objectives and goals and so on and so forth.

It gets to the point that these types of players whom make so many factual, gameplay and LORE errors will argue with anyone who is an expert in those matters. I gave up arguing with them because, it’s not worth it. Last I checked so have many of those well versed in the lore and universe of the game across all three games and various media.

That being said, I do recognise that ME3 has flaws, there are some sticking points, the ending wasn’t particularly amazing in contrast to the rest of the game but some of the stuff shovelled into the ending by the EC was completely not needed, it just screamed that the new generation of gamers need to be spoon fed every single little detail before they can accept anything.

When you look at the Mass Effect trilogy there was only ever going to be one conclusion particularly because they were going to taper the storyline to one point anyway. To me, I think it was a very good way to conclude the trilogy, finish Shepard’s storyline and give them room for future games in the universe.

The reaction to ME3’s last five minutes was a joke, it was on the same level as reaction to Dragon Age 2 and in my view Dragon Age 2 absolutely nuked an establishing franchise game so much so, that 3 looks like being a mere courtesy game (and I’m one of those who advocates that DA2 deserved to bomb so much that was just sickening for fans of DA everywhere)

Anyway yeah, I’m gonna stop now. >> Otherwise we’ll be here alllllllllll night… just like what happens when people try labelling Ashley as a racist… @@