Editorial: Simulacra And Simulacrap

The idea of simulation – the closest approximation of reality in digital form – really suits certain genres. Racing a car, for example, where the player’s possible interactions are limited to a couple of pedals, a gearstick and wheel, can be modelled closely. So too can flying an aeroplane, where the number of possible inputs via a keyboard resembles the bewildering number of switches at the disposal of a pilot. But the vicissitudes of human behaviour have yet to be captured. ArmA 2 gives it a go, all the same. Yet, as Bohemia Interactive’s war sims have scaled up the choices available to the player to a level more closely resembling that available to a squad leader and even general, so its level of realism has fallen away. 

Why is this? Clearly, the foundation of realism is much broader than the replication of choice alone. A film – which offers no choice to the viewer – can feel very real, after all. Similarly, scripted events in games can convince the player of their authenticity, while still offering only limited control. But why would a game that does offer choice manage to feel less realistic than those that simply tip a cinematic experience from a can? Much of ArmA 2’s problem is that the technology underpinning its interface can’t express choice as fluidly as a human. For all games’ ability to capture the ripples in a pool of water, or the refraction of light through mist, other areas of production have not kept step. The player’s need to scroll through menus to issue an order doesn’t map neatly on to the way people deal with each other in reality – and is significantly less efficient.

For all the credible bullet physics, fastidiously researched armoury and the simple lethality of a gun, ArmA 2’s sensation of realism hits a ceiling – yet Bohemia Interactive has remained uncompromising. The bullet that passes through a squadmate’s brain isn’t any less lethal simply because the AI lacks the smarts to stay out of sniper fire. ArmA 2 refuses to fudge the simulation, to paper over the cracks even when the limits of technology mean that the resulting behaviour becomes less than credible. And until the tech can carry the weight, realism will be a matter of prioritising the illusion of reality above its replication.

This article originally appeared in E204. Like what you’ve read? Buy your copy of Edge now for £4.50 and get it delivered to your door (UK and Europe only). www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/gamesradarshop