I was going to post this one today. But after 36 hours traveling and very little sleep, I realized that I had it wrong. At length.
I’ll be revisiting this, most definitely. But I will say this:
I was going to set up “believable” as an overall goal that people who clamor for “realism” actually want.
After thinking about this a lot, I don’t think it’s true
I think believablility is a bit like “rule zero,” which can vary in expression, but is basically what I’m getting at here. Playing RPGs is supposed to be fun. (What I refer to as the Wendler-Dell’Orto Rule of Awesome is a corollary to Rule Zero: To enhance fun, be Awesome.
So, “realistic” isn’t really properly substituted by “believable,” as I originally was going to write. You can have perfectly believable games that are, nonetheless, over-the-top if the consequences of what happens are self-consistent and well explained by in-game or metagame logic.
I think what I realized in contemplating believability is this: If the game and situation is not believable, you probably aren’t going to be playing for very long, if at all. Rules arguments, boredom – all can be consequences of unbelievable games.
As an example: I played in a DnD 3ed game in grad school. My archer (1st level) was shooting at a bad guy. I hit, but didn’t do enough damage to kill him. Bad guy was able to cross what seemed to me to be a ludicrous amount of terrain on his turn, hit me, and kill me. Boom, dead.
I had a real problem with that. My character just stood there for probably six seconds while this guy, arrow sticking out of him and all, closed the distance and put an end to me.
Now, there are probably many things I did wrong. At the time, I was still a GURPS and WEG Star Wars guy (now I’m like 90% GURPS, 10% Pathfinder, but only as a player). So there are probably things I could have done to make that not happen. Maybe shoot and then move backwards.
But it just seemed unbelievable, and thus not fun, and really not Awesome. I didn’t play DnD again for years.
I suspect many game-digressions where rules and outcomes are in dispute can be put down to believability-clash – also known as expectations mismatch. This isn’t always willing in-game immersion. It can be “you’re disrupting my solo-narrative with shared-narrative” too.
But I digress. For now, I’ll leave realistic and cinematic and what axes they’re on to another time.
But for the moment: a game that wants to be successful, and sufficiently immersive to be definitely fun and potentially awesome had better be believable.