Chronicler Conjecture – Realism

While not really an under wraps part of the game, how ‘Realism’ affects Chronicles of Elyria are something I have been pondering about. It is a word that developers have used quite a few times, to the point where part of the game’s introduction is about the ‘dramatic realism’ we are going to be able to experience. However, what actually is realism when it comes to a game set in a fantasy world? How real is ‘realistic’?

The reason I started musing on this topic is because of mjwalstead, a member of the community over on the official forums. There was a discussion after the last developers journal about griefers murdering others and how we would try to prevent this. Before we go any further I just want to say that murder is a serious topic, and the discussion of it in relation to game mechanics is not in any way intended to diminish or overlook the seriousness of such a heinous act. However, as it is going to be a part of the game and I do want to talk about how that impacts Chronicles of Elyria.

Miguel ‘Souzou’ Sierra, Community Manager, let us know that that murder was a genuine part of the game, and not necessarily griefing. It was then that mjwalstead stepped up, part of their post read:

I applaud the desire to make a more “realistic” game, and I recognize that this is a “game”, but the murder rate in most countries today is 1-4 per 100,000 per year. Even in Honduras, the world leader in homicide, there are 92 murders per 100,000 per year. There is simply nothing realistic about the way murder is being handled in CoE.

I read that and thought “Phssh, this game is hardly trying to represent modern culture, what are they on about.” I told them as much, and got this as part of their response:

Despite what the movies would lead us to believe, murder rates were not higher in the past. Estimates for medieval Europe are 35 per 100,000 per year.

This left me scratching my head. Really? That low? I went on a bit of a hunt to see what sort of figures I could find to prove them wrong. The first number I found was almost 50% higher at 50 per 100,000. So, ha! No, wait, that is still a stupidly low number. Like really low, still not even at Honduras territory. Now the figures of murder rates are a bit all over the place for medieval times, as would be expected trying to get accurate wide scale social information from that time.However, the over alltrend is low. Mjwalstead was right, murder is not all that realistic in the volumes you are likely to see in a game.

Is there any way to allow murder in a game but still get an actually realistic murder rate? Not by allowing players to have a free choice in the matter. This game has strict jail terms, great. However, how many times have you almost murdered someone in the real world just to say, actually no I don’t want to spend that time in jail. None (*fingers crossed*). The problem is that is no consequence that stops most people in the real world. Most people would not even consider murder because in the real world because we can not even contemplate taking someone’s life. Not their spirit, or life spark, or any other virtual entity. It a real person. That real life will never be part of a game, so unless you limit the mechanic in another way simply relying on other people making the correct moral choice is not going to work.

So what sort of systems could you use? Well, you can stop all player murders, have them as an NPC only event and therefore, limit the rates like that. Or perhaps have them only linked to a story element and keep that story on a low frequency. But do they fit into a game about player choice? Does making sure we have a realistic murder rate help or hinder the gameplay? Personally, I think enforced restrictions are the wrong way to go. Players should be asked to choose how to behave, within the ruleset presented in the game, how you want to behave. As we have seen there is no way to make that rule set truly realistic, so player choice, and statics will not be either. There has to be a limit to realism in order to make a good game.

In the end, ‘realism’ has its place in the game but should always be taken with a grain of salt. This is not a simulation, not everything can match the real world. Striving for that balance between making a world that feels familiar, and making one that feels fun is going to be the line the developers have to walk. Afterall if this was truly realistic shotgun being the one with the underwater breathing talent so I can go hang out with the mermaids.

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