Thoughts on Combat in Video Games


Amongst other things, video games offer plenty of acceptable breaks from reality—aspects or elements that are nothing like real life, but intentionally so, since it makes the game easier or otherwise more accessible.  One of the most common elements thus modified is combat, whether it be hand-to-hand, firearm-based, or whatever else.

Pick an age of gaming, any age, and you’ll find combat handled much differently than it is in real life.  Even Karate Champ, one of the first fighting games seen in the West, wasn’t quite as realistic as it appeared to be—which made it perfect for gamers to get into.  It looked realistic, which was the important part.

It’s quite difficult to really get combat to be realistic, especially when the characters, themselves, aren’t realistic.  How do you really get, say, Superman or the Incredible Hulk to be realistic when punching someone or something?  By all rights, the person should become a crimson mist, and any inanimate object they smacked would become microscopic debris.  One can cheat it a little by saying they “restrain themselves” or some similar, but it only works when not examined too closely—which pretty much everyone knows.

That’s the conceit, that’s the “deal” game developers make with gamers.  “Here’s a good enough reason; you don’t look at it too closely and we’ll deliver a fun time.”

That said, there’s an interesting way some developers have made hand-to-hand combat feel more realistic—trying to incorporate actual, real-world fighting styles.  That is nowhere near easy, mind, but when done well, it makes the game so much more enjoyable.

Take the Dead or Alive franchise, for example.  In yesterday’s top ten list, I’d mentioned Christie as being what got me into the franchise.  What got me to look at the back of the case in the first place was watching my friend play it.  He was fighting against Christie, and even I recognized She Quan; it’s a very distinct-looking fighting style, after all.  That caught my attention, and made me look at the case with interest, and the rest is history.

There are other games that try for such believable-looking hand-to-hand combat, though it perhaps can be said that they aren’t as prevalent as they could be.  On the other hand, again, trying to code such a thing isn’t easy by any stretch.  Coding anything that can be compared to a real-world counterpart is fraught with problems, as the moment someone does make that comparison, faults and flaws and discrepancies can often be found all too easily.

Firearm-based combat is certainly no easier to deal with.  In the earlier days, hitscan weapons were the order of the day, though as we discussed in that linked article, simulated ballistics is starting to become more popular.

There are numerous other things that make firearm combat less than realistic, though are used to make the game more accessible.  Having every weapon fire tracer rounds, for example, or there’s the player being able to see enemy cross-hairs (or a shadow on the ground where a missile or other object is going to land in a moment).  Both of those are there for player benefit, even though neither are really realistic.  They make the game more accessible to the player, which ultimately is an attempt to make it more fun.

Another aspect, and one that is still quite common (as I dare say it should be) is to rarely have the weapons jam.  It makes sense, too—it would really not be fun for the player to suddenly have their weapon jam up and be unusable.  Even if there were some obnoxiously long mini-game or the like where, after five long minutes of frantic button-mashing, the weapon is finally usable again.  Not very fun, that.

There are many, many ways combat in video games differs from combat in the real world, which, again, I think is as it should be.  Games are meant to be fun, to be enjoyed, and quite honestly, there’s nothing really fun or enjoyable about fighting in real life (we’re talking about “real” fights, not tournament fights, or training, or the like).  In real life, fighting is hard and harsh—which is pretty much the opposite of what video games should be.

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