Violence seems to be a prevalent theme, tool, and even goal in many video games. Most require the player to defeat the opposing forces by “killing” them in some way.(Warren 2015) It is an interesting topic on its own but there are games which do not require any forceful act from the agent. These usually mimic real lives and relate to everyday situations and occurrences. Because games are a source of entertainment it can be difficult to translate the mundane routines of reality into an engaging medium. The genres in which such titles span differ greatly including entries like The Sims, Simcity, Tropico, GameDev Tycoon, Democracy, all completely diverse from one another.
Not all games based on real life are realistic. Minecraft, for example, is heavily stylized and gives the player freedom in what they can construct but the elements and tools are based around everyday life: building a house, acquiring resources to expand your base, and protecting what he or she has from external factors. The Sims, in contrast, has attempted to imitate real-life struggles and events as closely as possible throughout the different versions of the game. Mechanics include the need for sustenance such as food and water, tending to needs and emotional states, maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life, starting and raising a family, and many others are taken directly from real experiences. This can be problematic after a certain point since the amount of work required to tend to your avatar’s whims can quickly start to outweigh what you may want to do instead. Reversely, there are mechanics which simply cannot work well enough or resemble real-life close enough such as sleep, job insecurity, and general permanent consequences. Although these can prove to be temporary challenges, overall their solutions can be quick and without much hassle such as losing your job and immediately being able to find a new one.
Serious games are another trend which has become more popular over the recent years as gaming has been more widely accepted as a mainstream media. These represent titles which showcase difficult moral choices, having to solve problems on a philosophical or spiritual level, problematic topics such as racism, sexism, social inequality, and any others which invoke thoughts and feelings about real life issues. Once again, they may not necessarily be in a realistic setting such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which provides a distinct high fantasy setting but challenges the player with very real dilemmas like choosing among friends, deciding who to sacrifice if necessary, or generally being provided with easy but more consequential options. (Obsidian Entertainment 2004)
But everyday game mechanics can be much more nuanced than a blatant moral choice especially when they begin to influence gameplay without overtaking it. Fallout: New Vegas implements a system which includes the need to eat, drink and rest which can be done in a plethora of natural ways. (Stapleton 2010) According to Don Norman, this is necessary to achieve the required level of immersion and for the system to be assessed as successful and intuitive. (Norman 2014) This can be done by following convention, using descriptions, and follow real life as closely as the environment allows. Because objects in the game resemble those found outside the digital world such as cups, plates, mattresses, and others, it is easy to conclude what must be done (i.e. drink the water, eat the bread).
Many games while succeeding to represent some part of life in a believable way, fail to do so in other places some of which are not to be underestimated. For example, racism is often an unintentional consequence of cultural bias.(Fordyce, Neale, Apperlay 2006) A game like Europa Universalis IV presents a pseudo-realistic view of history with the player acting as an agent with complete control over an entire country with mechanics like attrition, starvation, military discipline, diplomatic and administrative power, religious influence, technological advances, relations with neighbours and foreign powers and many others entirely founded in history. However, during a big portion of the time during which the game spans the Chinese empire was more advanced and prosperous. (Maddison 2007)
The complete opposite is represented in-game with European countries having an advantage in almost every single system. Most recently South Park: The Fractured But Whole made a commentary about this issue by introducing a difficulty setting based on the skin colour of the character. Even though only cosmetic, it serves to illustrate the existing problem within the medium of games.
Games continue to permeate our lives on an increasing basis. Because of this, it is imperative to remember that even the ones intended to provide the most realistic simulation of life are still fiction.
Fordyce, Robbie; Neale, Timothy; Apperlay, Tom. (2006) FCJ-199 Modelling Systemic Racism: Mobilising the Dynamics of Race and Games in Everyday Racism. The Fibreculture Journal [Accessed 15.11.2017]
Griebel, T. (2006) Self-Portrayal in a Simulated Life: Projecting Personality and Values in The Sims 2. Available at: http://gamestudies.org/0601/articles/griebel [Accessed: 15.11.2017].
Maddison, Angus (2007). Contours of the World Economy 1-2030. P.379, table A.4. Oxford
Norman, D. (2014) Affordances and Design. Available at: http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances_and.html [Accessed: 11.11.2017].
Obsidian Entertainment (2004) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 – Microsoft Windows, Xbox, OS X, Linux. LucasArts.
Paradox Development Studio (2013) Europa Universalis IV – Microsoft Windows. Paradox Interactive.
Stapleton, D. (2010) Fallout: New Vegas Hardcore Mode Survival Guide. Available at: http://www.pcgamer.com/fallout-new-vegas-hardcore-mode-survival-guide/ (Accessed: 15.11.2017).
Ubisoft San Francisco (2017) South Park: The Fractured But Whole – Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. Ubisoft.
Why is Killing a Fundamental Game Mechanic?(2015) Directed by Warren, J. [YouTube]. PBS Digital Studios.