Video Games Aren’t Realistic, So Stop Expecting Them to Be

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Out today, some of the reviews I’ve read for Shadow of the Tomb Raider have had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.

Honestly, I really enjoyed Shadow of the Tomb Raider, that’s why I gave it a 10/10. At the same time, however, I can understand why some people don’t share my passion for it. Some people might not like that there’s less emphasis on combat, for example, or that it is very similar to its predecessor. But then it is a sequel, after all. What I can’t fathom though, is those who complain about really stupid inconsequential things. Like Lara’s guns still working after she’s been swimming in water.

Let’s get this straight; video games aren’t realistic, and they never will be. Some claim to be realistic, and are indeed more realistic than others, but they’re still games. There are always constraints that prevent them from being an exact depiction of real life, and more importantly, we wouldn’t really want them to be.

A game like Shadow of the Tomb Raider just wouldn’t really work if it tried to tie itself to realism. To perform the actions that Lara Croft performs in Shadow of the Tomb Raider in real life, you’d not only need a death wish, but also superhuman strength. She scales walls without losing grip or getting tired, grabs ledges from heights that would probably just rip her arms straight off, and withstands injuries that would cumulatively kill anyone. And the traps she goes up against, just who invented them? I’ve never heard a news report about the discovery of a temple that houses a rotating device with blades and flamethrowers attached, have you?

When I play games, I judge them for the entertainment they provide, rather than going over them with a fine tooth comb to check for inaccuracies. Others seemingly do, but only on certain occasions. No one complains about a vendor appearing in the strangest yet most convenient of places in Octopath Traveler for instance. In fact, the majority of vendors in the history of video games are pretty shady; many blatantly trade weapons, some have an uncanny ability to be wherever you are, and others have prices that seemingly no one else can afford but you. If you want to nit-pick at any game you can, but 99% of the time there’s no point, because it doesn’t affect how the game actually plays. And that’s what’s important.

We don’t complain that you don’t die when you have a major crash in a racing game, for example, because it wouldn’t be fun. We don’t complain that characters often heal themselves by eating a piece of meat, because why not? And we don’t complain when our characters carry enough loot to fill a storage locker without breaking a sweat. Why? Because realism sucks. We play video games to escape, to enjoy ourselves, to have fun; real-world constraints are often at odds with that.

What does it matter that Lara can buy an Uzi from an indigenous merchant in an isolated village? Maybe they found it while out exploring the nearby jungle; there are soldiers searching for relics there, after all. Anyway, I really don’t care because it’s a game, and that’s how things work in them. Sometimes engaging game mechanics are at odds with realism, and to me, the former are more important than the latter. I like that in games such as Far Cry 5 I’m effectively a one-man army, able to take over fanatic controlled settlements single-handedly. Is it realistic? In terms of visuals maybe, but definitely not in terms of gameplay. But is it fun? Fuck yeah.

If you’re picking a game apart because of some stupid little things that aren’t realistic, you should probably take a step back and look at what you’re doing. Pull a game apart because it’s technically or mechanically broken, or, if you must, take issue with its “politics”, but pointing out unrealistic things in a medium in which people performing superhuman actions is a norm, seems pretty lazy and cheap to me.