Realism

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Realism refers to a range of concepts which apply to the Grand Theft Auto series and most other games, particularly in the "sandbox" genre.

In short, some fans prefer games to be more realistic or believable, whilst others prefer crazy fun games where they can do whatever they like.


This can be broken up into a number of different concepts, each with their own attractions and drawbacks:

  • General Realism refers to the game's appearance and automation appearing to be close to real life, as opposed to an unrealistic game or cartoon.
This would include basic things such as graphics quality and level of detail (foliage, road markings, manhole covers, advertising), but also advanced AI such as traffic obeying the rules of the road and pedestrians behaving naturally as real humans would. Realism often requires a large amount of computing power for high-definition textures and complicated AI algorithms.
  • Authenticity refers to the pseudo-accurate reproduction of the setting, context and content of the game feeling authentic and similar to real life (but not a direct copy).
This includes everything from the style of architecture to the gang tension experienced in the real-life city the game is based on. Combining accuracy with parody humour (from adverts to characters to company names) is a difficult balance, but this is generally very highly praised in the GTA series. Accuracy is attained through detailed research, careful planning and meticulous execution.
  • Believability refers to the events, features and actions in the game being credible, convincing and hypothetically possible in real life.
At the extreme end of the scale, users demanding believability may expect a requirement to eat, sleep, obey traffic signs and hold down a job for money. Users demanding crazy fun at the expense of believability may prefer to be able to fly, be invincible, break into military bases and generally do whatever they want to do for fun. Believability is a deliberate trade-off decided by the development team, a balancing act between crazy fun and simulating real life.


Realism in GTA Games

Pre GTA III

The player and an NPC driver dismounted from their motorbikes in GTA 1.

Realism is not very prominent in Pre-GTA III games, however, it still exists in some aspects. In Pre-GTA III Era games, the player will be thrown forward from their motorcycle if they collide with vehicles past a certain speed. This feature offsets the motorcycles' superior maneuverability and nimble nature, and discourage recklessness. Players will lose health when thrown.

GTA III Era

Involuntary Ejection from a Freeway in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, an example of GTA III Era realism.

With Grand Theft Auto III introducing 3D gameplay, this provided huge opportunities for realism of all types, and this level of detail is what set GTA games apart from the other games available at the time. With realistic radio stations, billboards, pedestrians, traffic and a varied city, the game was immersive and engaging on many different levels. GTA III set the standards for the rest of the industry, but by today's standards, GTA III would be regarded as chunky, cartoony and not as detailed as many modern games.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was much larger and more detailed than previous games, but conversely added a plethora of less-believable missions and features. These notably included breaking into the Area 69 military base to steal a jetpack.

GTA IV Era

Involuntary Ejection through the windshield of an Oracle in Grand Theft Auto IV, an example of GTA IV Era realism.

Grand Theft Auto IV gave a more prominent focus to realism, by removing less-believable features of previous games, adding a number of more-realistic features, and making the environment, gameplay and story as realistic and accurate as possible.

However, a large proportion of players condemned GTA IV as being too realistic and taking the fun out of the previous games. The grey and gritty environment of Liberty City also was a sharp contrast to the bright 80s world in Vice City and the rustic desert of San Andreas, whilst several fun aspects of the game were removed, such as being chased by the military and driving tanks around. Many players considered this a removal of 'fun' from the previous games and some completely dislike GTA IV as a result. However, other gamers prefer the realistic environment.


Conclusion

The preference towards realism or fun varies wildly between players - but the ability to play the game in many different ways is the primary benefit of the sandbox genre.

Some players treat the game as a complete simulation of a life they wish they could lead - perhaps as a police officer living in New York City, because their real life is different or not as exciting. They may even go as far as to eat, sleep, drive to work and make it as realistic as possible.

Others treat the game as a challenge and try to achieve as much as possible within the contraints of the game. This could include competing difficult tasks/missions whilst facing the wrath of the in-game law enforcement or gangters, eating to regain health, trying not to die, completing all stunt jumps without cheating or even 100% completion of the game. This group of gamers often enjoy multiplayer, as other humans offer a much more competitive match.

Others treat the city as their playground, and like to do whatever they want, often regardless of what the developer planned. This could include street races, bank robberies, breaking into military bases to steal tanks and flying jump jets around city streets. Players in this category will often cheat or use modifications/trainers to achieve the fun they want, and pay less regard to the expectations or limitations the developer placed on gameplay. This is generally regarded as the 'fun' playing style, but it's characterised by the player playing by their own rules, and it's this style that the open world sandbox is best suited for.

The real world can be very exciting - but most gamers play to escape from the routine of their day job, to do things they can't do in real life, or in aspiration of doing some of these things in future. If a game was a reproduction of their real life, that would not be as fun as being able to live a second life in-game, whether the game is very realistic or completely crazy.

That said, realism, accuracy and believability are not the only important features of a game. Gamers by their very nature are able to suspend disbelief to enjoy playing a game despite it being unrealistic or even downright ridiculous. No game is a completely realistic simulation of life, but fun is had by enjoying the experienced and playing within the rules. Different people should be able to play the game in different ways - even so far as to enable them to ignore the storyline and make the game their own.