What's The Most Unrealistic Thing in Video Games? Jumping.
“Realism” in video games simply isn’t fun. If I wanted to feel the physics and limitations of the real world, I wouldn’t be on my couch playing the latest AAA game for 14 hours now would l? I’d be out there, getting trashed on the basketball court or really, really hurting myself at the skatepark. But I am a Classical Nerd, which means my fine motor reflexes are excellent, but my physical form is just a few cheesy gordita crunches away from Jabba the Hutt. I cannot jump very high at all. And when compared to Mario, neither can you.
The least realistic part of gaming is not being able to spout fire from your hands or hit three enemies at once with your battle axe, it’s not even that you can die and be reborn over and over again. The least realistic thing in most games is the jump mechanics. The highest jumpers in the world can’t even jump their own body height. And despite that limitation being in some modern open world games like the emotional abuse simulator Red Dead 2, it always feels frustrating. The most satisfying games cleverly defy physics to make the player feel powerful.
Designers do this by programming unique physics environments for each game. Complicated equations using vectors and time deltas and all kinds of terms I’d probably understand better if I had taken a math class after Sophomore year of high school. But what I do understand is that jumping high is fun as hell. The reason characters have such satisfying jumps in games is because developers program the gravity of many games to be super strong. In most games, it's actually stronger than humans could withstand.
This fascinating paper meticulously analyzed the gravity and acceleration in Mario games and found the artist formerly known as Jumpman certainly lives up to his original moniker. Mario jumps high as hell and comes down fast.
Gravity on Earth is 9.8m/s, in order to have characters jump so high and come down at a satisfying rate, gravity needs to be much, much higher. In most games, the calculations to find gravity of a given world result in gravity that is five to ten times stronger than Earth’s.
cowards Peach mains in Super Smash may be content to float gently down to earth, real butt stompers know that coming down is half the fun. But even that is unrealistic, the sheer acceleration that many video game characters land with would smash every bone in the human body, if not outright kill us. Most of us would pass tf out at 5g’s of acceleration. In Super Mario Bros. 2 the acceleration when falling from a jump is 11g’s.
Next time you’re ogling at the immersive splendor that is your favorite game, just take a moment to realize that it’s all physically impossible. Enjoy your free time being ruined, it’s just science.