Pseudo-Physical Rules

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In many games there is an experiential appreciation of the existence of a world or place where the actual game unfolds or takes place. These worlds are abstractions, intelligible, have clearly defined boundaries (spatial and/or in terms of possibilities of actions) and are consistent. (Papert 1980; Turkle 1995; Church 1999; Gingold 2003)

Games such as Super Mario Sunshine (Nintendo 2002), Quake (id_Software 1996) and Tomb Raider (Core 1996) present the player with a simulated physical environment that is generally consistent and believable. For example, there is rule that states that your character cant walk through walls. We call the gameworld rules that apply to the believability, consistency and immersion of the gameworld pseudo-physical rules in that they attempt to convey the sensation of a "real" world to the player.


Strong Examples

Far Cry

This game's "ragdoll" physics engine applies to all bodies and many props in each level. An additional rule is that explosions in clear terrain (i.e., away from environmental props or buildings) will create a small crater, resulting in the possibility of a more realistic-looking battle scene.

Half Life 2

Half Life 2's source engine makes every object in the game seem to have a realistic weight and inertia, including the player. The player is highly immersed when they accidentally walk into a table, and instead of remaining static, the table gets nudged and soda cans sitting on it fall over.


Elebits is fairly realistic in its sense of physical rules. It is difficult to pick up heavier objects until you've gained enough watts to power up your capture gun. Additionally, throwing objects is realistic, although in the game world, precision is difficult without practice, and objects fall a bit more slowly than is natural. There is also an excellent sense of reality in the opening of doors and cabinets. If there is an object in front of the door, it will not open until you clear the path.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has consistent physics, where within the confines of the game everyone can jump or fall about the same distance, gravity affects all equally, and other physical rules are distributed across the board. This engenders both a sense of fairness and immersion in the player, which is helped by the pseudo-reality of the cities themselves; based on real locales, but not quite the same, they are perfectly suited to a sort of in game magical realism.

Weak Examples

Final Fantasy Tactics

In Final Fantasy Tactics, when a character is made to fall a significant distance (something like the height of two characters or greater) they take damage from falling. This is a weak example because the amount of damage is fixed, and doesn't really bear any relation to the mass of the character, so in that sense it isn't that realistic.

Legend of Zelda:Ocarina of Time

This game has a 3-D world that is pseudo-realistic in its use of gravity, interaction with objects that give slightly such as trees or rocks, and ones that don't such as walls or floors, and also of its use of night and day. However, these rules are applied inconsistenly in different areas. For example, when you are inside Hyrule city, time is stopped. When you are out in Hyrule fields, the day/night cycle passes normally, but as soon as you enter a town, it stops.




Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms : children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York, Basic Books.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen : identity in the age of the Internet. New York, Simon & Schuster.

Church, D. (1999). Formal Abstract Design Tools. Game Developer.

Gingold, C. (2003). Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons: Games, Spaces, & Worlds. School of Literature, Culture, & Communication. Atlanta, Georgia Institute of Technology: 123.