5 Ways Video Games Lie To You To Make You Feel Badass
Video games might have long loading screens, disappointing loot boxes, unskippable cutscenes, toxic communities, and whatever who cares. They also let you escape to a world in which you're a badass space wizard instead of a disappointment to the Arby's that barely employs you. Video games might be the one place in your life where you feel unstoppable, capable of smashing through any problem and conquering any enemy. Or at least they used to be, before you learned about all of these lies.
Games Intentionally Dumb Down Their AI To Make You Feel Better
When you're playing games with a child, you have two goals. One is to keep them away from a life of drugs and street violence. The other is to let them win. Kids hate losing, but they're also good at figuring out when you're letting them win, and they also hate that. So a good caretaker has to learn a bunch of little tricks to keep them from finding out. This section is about that, except in this scenario you're the kid and the developers of every game are the ones pretending to lose.
Is there anything in the entire world more clueless than an enemy in a stealth game? They are professional guards whose lives and careers depend on detecting things, but not a single one of them has ever considered looking behind them every now and then. For example, the thugs in the Batman Arkham games are programmed to never make 180-degree turns, despite the fact that Batman is fucking stalking them. A normal person would be shooting a steady stream of bullets in every direction and a steady stream of urine down their pants. Arkham villains don't even turn their heads to cough while they incessantly patrol the same 30 feet of hallway directly beneath both an air duct and a gargoyle.
When you're tearing through crowds in Devil May Cry, you're probably most focused on maintaining your 300-hit combo. But if you were to really look at those enemies you're so casually carving in half, you might notice they fight like extras in a bad Chuck Norris movie. They stand perfectly still, as if hot whirling death is a line at the DMV.
We're not saying you're not a killing machine. You might be. But all those Himalayan gunmen you executed in Far Cry 4 were programmed to forget how to aim when they got close to you. And the monsters you were dealing with in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories lost one of their senses every time you died. Also, only two of them were ever chasing you at a time, despite what seemed to be a mob of terrible danger. The point is, little ghost girls and Batman villains are really going out of their way to make you feel good about yourself.
Games Lower Their Own Difficulty Without Telling You
Choosing your difficulty in a game is like choosing a college career. You are expected to make a blind decision right off the bat that will affect the entire experience, and if you overestimate your abilities, you will be punched to death by cyborgs, ninjas, or cyborg ninjas. OK, so it's not a perfect analogy, but this one might be: For many gamers, choosing the Easy difficulty is like being intimate with the gaping, lifeless mouth of an inflatable doll. It's kind of fun, and it gets the job done, but it's still embarrassing. Sometimes even the games themselves mock you for taking the easy way out.
That's why many games don't bother with the choice at all. Everybody gets the same difficulty, and hence the same experience. R-right?
Maybe not. If a game doesn't let you choose the difficulty, it might mean the game is making itself secretly easier every time you suck at it. This is what's known as "dynamic difficulty." Resident Evil 4, for example, starts to get very generous if you're a clumsy gunfighter.
If too many cultists hack you up, some of them think "This neighborhood is getting crazy" and move away. And they leave all their ammo lying behind so you can find more of it. The developers never even told people they were doing this, and it was only discovered when players started comparing notes. Here's how the game looks when you're a good player, versus when you only think you're a good player:
Crash Bandicoot is another game that subtly helps bad players. When it senses that you suck, you start finding more checkpoints and get suspiciously lucky with the extra lives. The developers said they did this so they wouldn't have to dumb the game down, and presumably so players of all abilities could experience the riveting story of whatever a bandicoot is jumping on some dangerously stacked crates for. Here's what their "dynamic difficulty adjustment" looks like:
The player on the right has killed Crash Bandicoot too many times, so they are rewarded with another Crash Bandicoot to kill. The player on the left is not a Bandicoot murderer, so they are punished with a bundle of mostly useless fruit.
You know the random items you grab in Mario Kart? Those aren't exactly random. In reality, the farther you are from first place, the better the items the game gives you. Max Payne and Plants vs. Zombies 2 are a couple of other high-profile games wherein enemies start to become more fragile and inept the worse you play. So if you're a conservative politician looking for a new reason to rally against video games, now you can complain that they're all socialist welfare experiments.
"Coyote Time" Has Screwed Up Your Understanding Of Platformers
When you're committing Goomba genocide in exchange for cake, having Mario jump from ledge to ledge is a common activity. But developers found that players were constantly hitting the button too late. So they added something called "Coyote Time" (in reference to Wile E. Coyote, and how he would often hang in mid-air after running off a ledge). It's why Mario can run a little bit out in the air and still jump, which is almost always preferable to falling to your death.
It's not just Mario, of course. With very few exceptions, pretty much every platformer does this trick. And it's lucky they do, because at this point, all of us have been trained to press the jump button long after we've already run out of ground. Taking away Coyote Time now could mean thousands, maybe millions of mustachioed plumbers falling to their deaths.
Games Lie About Probabilities To Make You Feel Better
Humans are quite terrible at judging the odds of just about everything. This is why casinos and lotteries rake in profits with their cunning business model of "Give us money and you probably won't get it back." Some of this is plain old stupidity, some of it is naive optimism, and sometimes we simply don't understand how probability works.
Let's say you're playing X-COM, and the game tells you that you have a 20 percent chance of hitting your target. Yet you hit it five times in a row. Don't run out and buy a lottery ticket just yet; the software is indeed using a variety of factors -- distance, gun type, training level, and cover -- to determine your chance of hitting. But in the sequel, those numbers lie to try to accommodate our own inherent misunderstanding of statistics. So if it tells you there's an 85 percent chance to hit, it might actually be closer to 95 percent, because the game doesn't want you to miss an "85 percent chance sure thing" and throw the controller against the wall.
Even Single-Player Shooters Use "Aim Assist" To Make You Feel Better
If you ever see a game option called "aim assist," that basically means that your crosshairs slow down when they are passing over an enemy. Sometimes they will even "lock on" and automatically track them. You'll find it in Halo, Call Of Duty, and Destiny, among many, many others. Here are some of the developers of Halo explaining it: "If we do our job well, you won't have any idea this is happening ... it just feels like you're that badass."
Some assists are less subtle, like in Gears Of War, in which beginners are given massive strength boosts to make sure that they get a kill during their first match. If you've ever wondered why you, a seasoned pro, are getting stomped by the new guy, the game might literally be on their side.
But even single-player shooters have little tricks to make you feel better about yourself. For example, Bioshock enemies will always miss their first shot when they see you, presumably because those creepy masks really limit the peripheral vision. Bioshock also had a secret system that made you invulnerable for a few seconds at the end of a hard firefight, just to increase the drama.
Other games, like Doom and Assassin's Creed, fake this same effect, but in a different way. They make the last tiny bit of your health bar many times more durable than the rest of it. Even if you didn't want to be coddled, you've still been coddled. There is secret coddle-code, coddling you -- even in COD.
Abraham is your friendly neighborhood Mexican writer. He is also very humble, and got named top writer 2018 in Quora! You can follow him there here, say hi to him on Twitter here, check his terrible drawings here.
Forget all this stuff and pre-order Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that'll actually make you feel good about yourself.
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