© Written by Rob Ager July 2014




In addition to reducing complex and long winded real life dialogue into short chunks, video games and movies also depart from reality by filtering out the vast majority of mundane and repetitive activities that make up most of human existence. And this isn’t just true for the likes of James Bond, whom we never see trying to figure out his personal finances or waiting impatiently to see a dentist or doctor or simply getting tired or feeling emotionally traumatized after a fight to the death. The filtering applies to pretty much all lead fictional characters. So let’s take a realistic drama such as the film American Beauty. Even though the film is about ordinary everyday people going about their little lives and all the drama and comedy that occurs within those lives, it still filters out a lot of the mundane aspects of their existence. We see a family argument over dinner, but didn’t see anyone cooking dinner because that part was just too mundane to include.


The story spans several days yet we don’t see anyone getting dressed in the mornings and we only see one person taking a shower (with the purpose of establishing his frustration in a sexless marriage by masturbating in the shower). With historical epic movies this filtering is multiplied. Huge passages of time are removed so that we see just a tiny fraction of a percentage of events that have been selected based on how pivotal, unique, interesting and stimulating they are.

The problems that people face in pursuing goals in movies are usually directly related to the goal itself, such as competition from a particular enemy, but how often do we see a movie in which a character’s journey is significantly hampered by some thematically boring everyday obstacle like catching the flu, their mobile phone battery dying, their internet connection going off, not having enough change on them to make a phone call, having an allergic reaction, not getting a decent night’s sleep or needing to go to the toilet? These kinds of mundane common experiences can drastically alter the course of a particular day’s events in a real person’s life, but we tend to be disinterested in seeing them in movies.

With video games this filtering of the mundane occurs in a variety of ways. Take a game like Skyrim. Day and night cycles are speeded up. So you can play the game for five or six hours, yet several days and nights will pass while you play. Once you’ve bought a house in a city you don’t have to pay any taxes to the local monarch. You just live there for free and you don’t have to do any maintenance or repairs on your home like you would in the real world. In previous games in the series your weapons and armour would gradually degrade with usage and you’d have to repair them, but this was abandoned in Skyrim despite the game being more "realistic". So in Skyrim your blades stay sharp forever and your armour never gets dented and nothing rusts. Presumably this departure from reality was to keep the latest game in the series from feeling mundane. Despite the game visually featuring a variety of weather effects, the player is completely unaffected by the cold and the wet. Would it have made the game more fun if your character could catch hyperthermia? You don’t have to wash or iron your clothes and the clothes you have seem to be made of some magic material that never fades or falls apart at the seams. You never trip over or sprain your ankle while walking rocky hills. And being that you don’t leave any footsteps in the dirt and because wild animals have no sense of smell, once your enemies lose sight of you they’re unlikely to track you down.

Skyrim is a great game. I played it through and loved it, so this isn’t a critique of the game design. I’m simply pointing out that realism is both impossible and undesirable. Imagine having a bladder and bowel counter in the game. Terrifying enemies like huge mammoths, spiders and twenty foot tall cave men would trigger your bodily functions, requiring you to sneak away and relieve yourself before doing battle. Although it would initially be funny, it wouldn’t make for a better game experience in the long run.

Another fave game of mine in recent years is Farcry 3, which has been hailed for its open world "realism""Skyrim with guns" some have called it. You have to hunt animals for skins to craft weapon holsters and enemies will search for you and set alarms off if they find the dead body of a comrade you killed. However, this is another instance in which attempts at realism in a previous game of the series were dropped. In Farcry 2, your weapons would deteriorate with ongoing use and would even jam during combat, but it made combat frustrating. Farcry 2 also did away almost completely with menu screens by having everything show in your character's hands when using in-game maps and computer screens.


That was an impressively realistic aspect of the game, yet it was dropped in the far more praised and successful sequel Farcry 3. At the same time Farcry 2 and 3 did away with the imposing mutant monsters that were featured in Farcy 1. It seems the game makers considered those monsters to be silly, but for me it resulted in a certain mundaneness in that your enemies throughout the entire Farcry 2 and 3 games are just humans, not unlike the extras in the Star Trek TV series, who seemed to be marked for death by their red t-shirts. On the other hand Farcry 3 did use hallucinogenic drugs as a plot device to justify some surreal montages and bits of gameplay, including a generic battle with a huge, graphically impressive demon. This was likely done to break the monotony of only fighting humans and animals, both of which offered little challenge once you’d unlocked the game’s best weapons. I really would have liked to see some epic, Farcry 1 style, monstrosities in the game, even if it meant having a plot that was unrealistic. Again the pursuit of ever-increasing realism is often a hindrance in games and movies. And so Farcy 3 was followed by a successful spin off title called Blood Dragon, which dropped all the realism pretence by featuring old school 1980’s sci-fi clichés and of course ... monsters.