Grunt’s Grumblings: Swords and Realism

Sword fights. We have seen them in countless movies, shows, and games, plus have read described versions of them in various works of fiction. Most of these scenes are done quite well both in terms of being made to look cool and being accurate. There are times though, where you’ll notice they are simply designed with the intent to add action to the show, movie, or whatever it may be. These scenes are typically flashier and less accurate in accordance to real-world fighting techniques.

“Grunt, this is mostly a gaming site. What does the accuracy of a ten-minute sword fight have to do with anything?”

Fair point. To answer that question, we bring up the discussion of where to draw the line of how real a game, movie, or something similar should be. This is a very subjective topic because what I define as “realism” in a game for example, could be drastically different than what you might consider. To address what sword fights have to do with this, it’s the main reason behind me writing this. As I have mentioned many times over, I love history and with me recently taking a heavy interest in Historical European Martial Arts I have also taken to researching various sword fighting styles. While I have been playing through Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Skyrim I cannot help but notice how the combat with swords is quite different from techniques seen in the real world. More than a few times I see a guard in Skyrim bring their sword behind their back when striking towards their opponent. Due to the fair amount of research I have done into swordsmanship, I have learned that is not the right way to do it. Well, it is if you want to leave yourself open for an easy attack by your opponent. While it hasn’t detracted from my overall enjoyment of the game and it isn’t something to hold as a negative mark against the game either, it is still something I notice every time and it annoys me slightly.

This is where we can introduce our main point, when are we comparing the real world to a fictional one too much? Realism is something many people don’t mind in something like a game, in fact, I would say there is a decent amount of people who would prefer games to have more. So then, where exactly do we draw the line of games being too real? Simply put, when we start comparing things to the real world so much that it ruins our enjoyment of it. In the above paragraph I mention how the lack of historical accuracy for the sword combat in Skyrim and Shadow of Mordor was annoying me, this is a perfect example of perhaps letting the “realism” I want in a game get too far. In situations like these, we have to remind ourselves that the game we’re playing or the movie or show we are watching is set in a fictional universe.

Does that mean we should not draw comparisons between the real world and fictional one? No, we shouldn’t stop it necessarily, we just need to know when it’s ok and when it isn’t. When you have something that someone has created to essentially live in a fictional universe, they need to create some sort of guideline as to how it should exist within that universe. If these guidelines or rules are not set forth already by the person(s) that created the fictional universe, then naturally we are going to start drawing comparisons to things that are similar to it in the real world. At the same time though, one could argue that if things are not “defined” then this is why we shouldn’t draw comparisons. Why is that? Because of exactly what they are, works of fiction. We shouldn’t really be trying to find real world similarities because chances are high that whatever you want to compare might not exist in our world. It wouldn’t be right to compare the universe of Halo to what exists now would it? The answer is no because of many reasons, primary one being it’s not the year 2552 and to compare something that is 534 years into the future is impossible. Let us take a break from reality and let our imaginations wander through these universes that were created for us to explore.

Does this mean we also should just forget the idea of having any form of realism in a work of fiction entirely? Certainly not. In my grumblings about history and games intersecting, I brought up the point that it provides a “what if” factor. That “what if” factor is, what if this stuff could have happened? Realism is another thing that can help provide that. For example, take a gander at the Splinter Cell series and its setting. While I am sure that most of the events that took place in those games were purely fictional based on the SC universe that Tom Clancy created. It was also the way the fictional elements were intertwined with real world aspects that made it possible to believe that something like that could have happened.

Immersion is something else that realism can help with yet, it can also destroy at the same time. Having an aspect of realism in your game can help sell the environment, or universe and really immerse your player base. I would like to point you in the direction of the 14-year old game, Full Spectrum Warrior. This is a game that I feel can be used as a perfect example of how to use realism to bring immersion to your game. It’s an RTS game with a real-world military setting, which doesn’t sound overly fancy right? I would agree, but it was more so the fact that instead of simply ordering your fireteams around to the next position it felt like you really had to think as a team leader in order to get through the game. If you moved your team into the alley too far, you’d run the risk of them being spotted while you were managing the other team currently laying down covering fire for the team you just moved into the alley. The real-world setting combined with the gameplay mechanics really helped sell the fact that you were commanding two squads out on a military operation.

While it does help, this same realism can be the death of immersion. If you let realism get in the way of things too much, you then start seeing inaccuracies in things and start getting less enjoyment from them. Bringing up the sword examples from earlier, I must admit that it has lessened my immersion I could have gotten from Shadow of Mordor or Skyrim. While that is my fault, this also proves when we should draw the line and not let realism get in the way too much. If we do, then it starts making us enjoy the things we love less and less.

There is a delicate balancing act that happens when fiction and real-world aspects are crossed. Part of that balancing act includes the line that we should draw when it comes to comparing things from fictional creations to the real-world. Where exactly is the place to draw that line? Once you stop enjoying games, movies, shows, or anything else that involves fiction due to comparing it to reality is typically a good place to start. Sometimes it is better to let go of reality and let the fiction be itself.

Author Note: When I started writing this, I made reference to the possibility of there being a book in Skyrim that teaches proper sword-fighting techniques. Recently I discovered one…there is literally a book for everything in this game.

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