We all know and love survival games, and there are quite a few of them out there. But even if you’re no Bear Grylls, you know that these games are typically a far cry from reality, and if developers really want to keep them entertaining, they might never be truly realistic. Fact is, realism and entertainment are practically opposites; the more you have of one, the less you can have of the other. This is due to a number of factors.

Lack of Sensation

Image Source: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

One of the key factors preventing a video game from being truly realistic is the lack of physical touch and sensation. Maybe this will be something we get later on with super high-tech VR, but right now, we’ll have to stick with the traditional game UI and messages to let us know we’re literally starving to death. The thing is, in the real world, things like hunger and thirst would be easily felt by a survivor.

But in a video game, you have to keep a careful eye on your hunger and thirst meters on the side of the screen to monitor your health. In one of my favorite games, Subnautica, this applies to oxygen as well, which means it’s incredibly easy for players to just forget they’re about to asphyxiate. Needless to say, this wouldn’t be a thing in the real world. And about that little thing with hunger and thirst…

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Debilitating Dehydration and Starvation

An average human can go up to three weeks without food and about a third of that time without water. In a video game, not only are the rates at which you run out of food and water just all over the place, but they’re also not as debilitating as the phenomena would be in real life. In a game, you run out of food or water and you’ll only then start dying.

Your health bar will go down, often as if something’s hitting you, and then you’ll just die. But in the real world, hunger and thirst have drastic side effects on the human body long before they kill you. Don’t drink, and your body will have to rely on other liquids in the body (eww). Don’t feed yourself, and your body will begin to eat itself alive. All your stored fats and calories burn off first, and then your body begins to burn its own muscle mass. Starvation and dehydration can cause physical weakness and severe pain that can cripple movement.

A Measure Of Your Life

subnautica game survival screenshot

There are mental and emotional effects as well. Both thirst and hunger can cause extreme physical and mental fatigue that can cause loss of concentration, coordination, and focus, all things that are vital to survival in the wilderness. Extended hunger drops the body’s core temperature, easily leading to hypothermia, while also shutting down the immune system, making you more vulnerable to disease, and will eventually cause the organs to shut down. Dehydration, meanwhile, can lead to dizziness, headaches, fever, delirium, and eventually you may even drop into a coma before you die.

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Some games have debuffs applied to players when experiencing hunger and thirst, but the reality of it is that, toward the end of your life, you would die a long, slow, painful death. Succumbing to severe dehydration and hunger would mean there’d be a long period of time toward the end where you couldn’t stand, left to slowly crawl around. How long until you simply couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but wait for death to come? And let’s face it, in a game, that would do nothing but take up a gamer’s time. Real dehydration and real starvation is not only more crippling than most games portray, it’s boring.

Unrealistic Building and Crafting

ark survival evolved screenshot building

One of the biggest things that’s always annoyed me in survival games is the fact that you can construct a little home for yourself in no time flat, with the crude rock-and-stick-based tools I’m not even sure how you built in the first place. I don’t know about you, but if I were stranded in the middle of nowhere, I’d be completely at a loss for shelter and tools. The idea that you can grab some plant fibers, a few sticks, and some rocks, and create a nice little home for yourself is a complete fantasy.

Subnautica’s crafting and construction system is acceptable in that it uses futuristic technology to rearrange microscopic structures to build things instantaneously, but games like The Forest, Stranded Deep, Raft, Rust, and Ark: Survival Evolved all use the same basic system of totally absurd pull-a-house-out-of-thin-air crafting. It takes trained professionals with years of experience days to build a house, and I doubt the shack you’re putting up in the wild is up to code.

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Conclusion

Suffice it to say I like video games, and survival games are among my favorite genres, but many of these games are at odds between their gameplay and the realism so many players want developers to provide. In reality, there is a line between realistic survival and survival games. The more realistic the game is, the less it becomes a game, the less fun it is to play. But hey, that’s fine. It’s not like we go into a game about surviving on an alien planet or taming dinosaurs wanting 100% realism. In the end, we’re all in it for the fun.

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