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When people talk about realism in video games, they are almost always referring to how real the games look. However, we talk far less about how realistically a game plays, mainly because realistic gameplay doesn't exist. Oh, we might pretend it does, gushing about features like "bullet physics" while overlooking the fact that it takes seven or eight of those bullets to bring an enemy soldier down. Ultimately, most attempts at creating "realistic" gameplay backfire as soon as the developer is forced to choose between keeping the game realistic and making a game that is fun to play.

Final Fantasy VIII Pays You a Salary (After You Kill Your Boss)

Square Enix

You earn money in RPGs by committing mass monstercide, cracking open the occasional abandoned treasure chest full of gold standard currency to break up the monotony. Obviously, this is not how people earn money in real life. If you run over a squirrel with your car, its body doesn't spit out cash like a busted ATM. And if you start swinging a giant sword around in public, any foes you fell won't drop nearly enough money to cover the considerable legal fees you are likely to incur.

Square Enix
Notice how the villains are "ex-soldiers," meaning our hero is using that mystical battle saber to kill veterans.

No, if you want money in the real world, you have to get a job. Final Fantasy VIII attempted to address this conundrum by making your character a professional mercenary working for a group called SeeD, which pays you a regular salary throughout the course of the game. Theoretically, this would keep your character's source of income a little more grounded in reality.

Square Enix
Pictured: A giant floating city from Final Fantasy VIII, part of a series known for its realism.

However, at one point in the game, SeeD's financial backer (a robe-wearing mole-thing called NORG) goes crazy and tries to kill you, leaving you no choice but to beat it mercilessly until it shrivels up into a cocoon and dies. This puts you in the unfavorable position of having just straight-up murdered the billionaire space muppet who paid your salary. There's no way you can continue to draw paychecks from SeeD when you've just slain the source of all their money.

But that's exactly what happens. Despite assassinating SeeD's primary benefactor and leaving the organization in financial shambles, you STILL get your money on time, without so much as a bounced check for the sake of dramatic tension. You even continue to get raises, which suggests a horrible oversight somewhere in the organization's performance evaluation department. Wandering through the forest hacking giant slime monsters with a sword until they turn into piles of money suddenly doesn't seem so kooky.

Bushido Blade Makes Fighting Games Realistic (By Giving You Magic Bandages)

Square Enix

The problem with trying to make a realistic fighting game is that it's impossible for a human body to withstand the amount of punishment doled out in a single round of Mortal Kombat. Two people cannot beat each other to the point of crippling physical injury and then be totally fine to begin Round 2 after a rest period of three or four seconds, and you can't catch a haymaker directly in the face without suffering a dramatically immediate disadvantage beyond merely losing a block of your health meter.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
In real life, this would be a freaking Fatality.

That's where the makers of Bushido Blade attempted to stand out. You see, in Bushido Blade, the characters are engaged in realistic weapon-based combat. One well-placed sword slice is enough to end the fight immediately -- much like if you were fighting someone with giant swords in your backyard, if you stab your opponent in the head in Bushido Blade, you win.

And it doesn't end there. If you manage to hit your opponent in a non-lethal area, like the arm or the leg, that appendage cannot be used anymore. It's entirely possible to have your opponent hobbling around like a maniac or dangling their arm uselessly by their side within the first few seconds of a match, making it pretty easy to move in for that head stab we talked about earlier. For a game about pirates fighting ninjas in industrial parks, it's a fairly authentic fighting system.

Square Enix
"'Tis a flesh wound."

Unless, of course, you win the fight, in which case any and all injuries you sustained are immediately healed. It doesn't matter if both legs and one arm were paralyzed during your previous bout, the game just slaps a bandage on the affected area and your character is suddenly back to 100 percent. It's every bit as realistic as the time Hulk Hogan wrapped a thin sheet of gauze around his supposedly shattered ribs and was then totally OK to fight King Kong Bundy.

And your battles in Bushido Blade aren't separated by long months of training and recovery -- the game is one continuous story, and your character goes directly from one fight to the next without so much as a bathroom break. This kind of takes the wind out of the whole "realistic injury" thing. Why couldn't you wrap a bandage around your head and recover from a sword through the brain? Or stick a Band-Aid over a bleeding chest hole that used to be a vital internal organ? If you're going to chuck your own realism out the window, you might as well do it from the 200th floor.

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Mary-Kate and Ashley Sweet 16: Licensed to Drive Gives You Tickets (For Killing People With Your Car)

Anthony Harvey/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Mary-Kate and Ashley Sweet 16: Licensed to Drive puts you in control of the Olsen twins, spending your days doing Olsen-twinny things such as driving around making deliveries and escorting your friends wherever they want to go. We can already tell that this game has a tenuous grasp on realism, because the Olsen twins have likely never driven themselves anywhere, let alone run errands for other people.

Cindy Ord/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
"We don't even own cars. We travel everywhere on the backs of diamond unicorns."

However, in order to inject a little reality into a game based solely on ultra-rich celebrities driving around in a car, S16LTD (as it's known to us die-hard O-twins fans) set up a system wherein you get penalized for bad driving, just like in the real world. If you ever speed or go off-road, a cop will magically appear and write you a ticket, like some civil service genie. Receive three tickets in one level and your license gets revoked, and we can all agree that there's nothing worse than having to rely on your personal chauffeur to drive you to Nicole Richie's grotesquely expensive birthday party. So embarrassing.

Throwback Entertainment
"Just leave it in the street. The peons will move it for you."

But to be fair, this is how the rules of the road work. Drive like shit and you pay the penalty. As much fun as it would have been to send Mary-Kate and Ashley careening into a Grand Theft Auto-style orgy of vehicular destruction, this game clearly wanted to teach impressionable Olsen twins fans about safe driving. And we can't really get pissed off at them for that.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Wait, we changed our minds. We totally can.

However, in their attempts to recreate the authentic world of teen driving, they stumbled upon a few roadblocks and didn't bother to swerve past them. You know those tickets you get? The ones that signify how much you suck behind the wheel? Well, you never have to actually pay any of them. Which is a fair representation of the Olsen twins' experience, I'm sure, but not of the general "behind the wheel" experience this game is aiming to teach. There should at least be a little animation of angry parents cursing your name as they mail a check to the city. But unless you collect enough tickets to lose the game, there is absolutely no punishment associated with getting one. We're essentially teaching kids that tickets just kind of hang around your backseat, like a best friend sleeping off 10 tequilas.

Also, if you hit somebody with your car, callously running an innocent person down in the street like a maniac, you get the exact same punishment you do for everything else. There's no arrest and no official investigation. The cop just hands you a ticket and sends you on your merry way. We would have at least made the accident look horrible to scare players straight.

Better Than Rob Liefeld
Artist's rendition.

If that's not enough, any tickets you earn on one level don't carry over to the next, so you could conceivably get two tickets (which range in severity from speeding to vehicular homicide) on every single level and still win the game. We don't deny that this teaches players a powerful lesson, but it probably isn't the one Olsen Twins Sweet 16 had in mind.

The Last of Us Has Blind Enemies That Hear You (And Only You, No Matter How Loud Everyone Else Is)


Stealth games like Metal Gear Solid have a difficult relationship with reality. While the idea of quietly sneaking up behind your enemies and dispatching them sounds great, it would be exceedingly hard to pull off more than, say, one time before everyone in the secret military installation goes on high alert and combs the area with search lights and helicopters. If you were a soldier on patrol and one of your buddies mysteriously turned up with a broken neck, you would never let your guard down ever again, much less 30 seconds after discovering his dead body.

"Boy, I haven't seen the enemy in three minutes. He must have died horribly or otherwise moved on from here, so I can resume scratching my nuts for the rest of this shift."

That's where The Last of Us differs from traditional stealth games. Instead of a highly trained military force, the enemies are blind mutants and murderous highwaymen with the organizational infrastructure of a bunch of preschoolers on an Easter egg hunt. Your character, Joel, would be a fool to try to fight all of them at once, but quietly picking them off one by one is completely doable, because they don't have the wherewithal to mount an orchestrated counter-offensive.

Unless, of course, you make noise, because those blind mutants have the super hearing of Ben Affleck's Daredevil. These situations become particularly harrowing, because if you so much as kick a tomato can while you're trying to sneak up on one of them, you'll alert every single killer mutant within a 200-yard radius to the fact that you are creeping around in their territory and that you are delicious. Seems like a refreshingly realistic take, right? Except for one problem:


That's Ellie, the 14-year-old girl The Last of Us tasks you with escorting across the country. Have you ever met a 14-year-old good at staying quiet unless they're in Angsty Pout Mode? Of course you haven't; they don't exist. God literally forgot to create them.

And Ellie, ever the team player, starts running around all willy-nilly, shooting her weapon at the wall and uttering a series of stupid jokes while you're trying desperately not to make one solitary sound lest you alert six psychotic monsters to your presence. Ellie will even start fucking humming, because watching you fight for your life is apparently the most boring thing in the entire universe.

Please note that the game does not allow you to shoot Ellie yourself at any point.

But it doesn't make a difference if Ellie starts doing a soft-shoe and spinning plates on sticks, because the enemies can't hear her. Or any other character, for that matter. They only ever react to sounds that Joel makes. Ellie could be standing directly in front of a bloodthirsty monster, blasting a tuba into its face, and it wouldn't flinch. But Lord help you if Joel accidentally farts or kicks the side of a desk, because every enemy in the area will bear down on you like a flood of hungry teeth.

Jason Iannone is a columnist, a Facebookist, a Twitterist, a Tumblrist, and most hatedist by English majors thanks to this byline.

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