Gaming Belief Editorial
By: Alex Bowden
When playing a game, you immerse yourself in its world and knowingly trick yourself into thinking what is happening is real. If there are armed men hunting you down, you try your best to avoid them. You know that there are no real consequences if you are found and killed within the game, but if you truly don’t care, you can’t hope to get anything out of the game. You won’t progress and you won’t have any sense of achievement at triumphing over the odds.
By and large this suspension of disbelief is easy to pull off as everything within the game works together to convince you of its reality. Problems arise when the game has some flaw which you can not accommodate. I remember in the N64 classic Goldeneye, occasionally you would find an opposing gunman staring straight at you, gun in hand, not moving a muscle. At times like this, it is very hard to forget that what you are playing is just a game. If this guy, whose friend I’ve just shot, is a real person and this is a real situation, then he will lift that gun and shoot me between the eyes. Instead he stands there oblivious to it all while I kill him. Of course, maybe he was just a pacifist.
A friend of mine has an unsettlingly deep hatred for the Tomb Raider games for these reasons of belief. He is willing to accept Lara’s ability to leap seemingly thousands of feet in the area pirouetting, somersaulting and generally defying gravity, but he can’t believe it when there are inconsistencies. There are moments in the games when there is a particular jump you wish Lara to perform. Having played the game for some time, you can see that she will make this jump quite easily. You set her in motion and then watch in horror as she gracefully launches herself towards her destination before inexplicably plummeting onto a spike. You have to play fair, yet inconsistent game physics puncture the gaming world.
Similarly, in any player versus computer game where the sides are supposedly even, there has to be a level playing field. In one-on-one fighting games or football games for example, nothing is guaranteed to have a player destroying costly equipment more quickly than an unbeatable series of ninja moves on the part of a computer opponent or a screaming forty yard backheeler by an AI San Marino player against a human-controlled Brazil. If you feel totally helpless to counter something like this, it is very hard to accept that you are the character on screen. In real life you wield influence.
Continuing with football, you generally accept that the character you see on screen is Ronaldo or Zidane or whoever. It looks vaguely like them, so that’s good enough. At times it is impossible to see a game character as anything other than an arrangement of pixels. Maybe you have inadvertently forced him to run into the crowd or maybe he has attempted a sliding tackle of thin air on the far side of the pitch, away from the ball. A common complaint from gamers is of the nearest player selection. Sometimes this seems to lag a bit, so you can end up controlling unexpected players. It’s hard to believe that this is the real Paulo Maldini when he runs right up to the player with the ball like a man about to make a tackle, then turns 180 degrees and charges off again, leaving man and ball gawking at the back of his head.
Scorelines are something of a double-edged sword. The aim of football games is to score goals, herein lies the draw of the game. Score too many though and you will soon become bored. You will also disbelieve the game world. There seem to be relatively small windows where scorelines fall within realistic expectations. When you first play, you are repeatedly thrashed; then you become competent and scorelines are as you would hope; then you become an expert and start thrashing the computer teams. At this point you move up a level and every match is suddenly 0-0, so you stop playing the game and go outside for a real game of football. After five minutes of ineffective step-overs, you realize that Fifa 2005 hasn’t gifted you with any real-world football talent and you return indoors again.
My personal experience of sabotaged gaming belief relates to cricket games. This British summer has been the greatest in living memory for the sport of cricket and it is only natural that gamers should want a piece for themselves. What they want is a believable cricketing world which they can influence. Unfortunately, the suspension of disbelief is a very difficult skill within cricketing games. I play International Cricket Captain and honestly, I hate it.
It all starts well enough and I retain my belief that each of my players is real, insofar as I can. However, after a couple of seasons things start to deteriorate. The longer I play the game, the better my bowlers get and the worse my batsmen get. Not just mine, either, but every player in the game is affected. Before I know it, a batsman averaging in the twenties is considered the best in the world and 90 is a good score for the entire team. The game still plays the same and it is no easier or harder to win games, but I no longer believe in it.
Ludicrously, I sometimes find myself trying to manipulate the game so that it is still believable. I’ll field nine batsmen in a side. I’ll deliberately pick poor bowlers. What am I doing? Why am I wasting my life like this? The game can’t kid me and nor can I kid myself. I come up with new ideas as to what I’m doing wrong, but to find out if they will have any effect takes an age due to the nature of the game. I could have learnt a language in the time I’ve wasted on this game. I could have written a novel. I could have studied programming and created my own cricket game that was absolutely flawless. Or maybe I should be batting more aggressively…