A path unwanted: Impossibly realistic games

One of the distinctive criteria of games compared to ‚reality‘ is their loose connection to the latter, a worksafe simplification of rules and goals. This doesn’t mean that these games are simple to play, but that rules and metarules are stated or can at least be relied upon as unchanging background as long as we play the game.

The same two mechanisms, simplification and a stated stable background, are the cornerstones of politics, especially in times of war. Knowing the enemy, recognizing the enemy, destroying the enemy, all executed in an unerring, straightforward mode.

There are some approaches to criticize these prerequisites of uncounted succesful FirstPersonShooters and wargames, for example Gonzalo Frasca’s interesting ‚Videogames of the oppressed‘ or Jens Wiemken’s practical excercises in ‚Breaking the rules‘.
David Wong wrote an excellent little essay on how a realistic wargame would look like, which at the same time captures in a humoristic manner exactly this aforementioned approach:

Like my Grandpa always said, there were no naked human pyramids in Starcraft.
There were no whiny anti-war Hollywood types or questionable war motives or granola-munching protesters. I’m starting to think that even World in Conflict, a real time strategy game so „realistic“ it takes a NASA-built Quantum supercomputer to run it, has left me woefully unprepared to fight an actual war.

Integrate some less thought of ‚realistic‘ complications into your gamedesign – and you get a game with an entirely different agenda than those with carefully selected worksafe rules.

„A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.“

WOPR, strategic computer in John Badham’s (1983) movie „Wargames“