Plausibility vs. Realism

| Monday, July 9, 2012
I shoot a fireball out of my hands and it hits a guy in armor.  He is not roasted alive or seemingly impaired in any way.




At this point I am screaming at the sky, on the verge of a complete mental breakdown.  Thankfully, something which is neither a bird, a plane, or Superman appeared.  It was not flying.

Klepsacovic: Oh thank God, it's Realism Man!

Realism Man: You shot fire out of your hands, therefore it's all unrealistic and you're a dork for thinking about it.

Klepsacovic: Fuck you.  Not literally.  I felt the need to point that out.

As we can see, Realism Man is a useless jackass, a walking argument against freedom of speech and probably the guy who Churchill was talking to when he thought of his bit about five minutes with the average voter being the strongest argument against democracy.

Oh look, someone else is walking over.  Now what?

Klepsacovic: It's Plausibility Man.  Please tell me you have something worth saying, because if otherwise, given the fictional environment, I can kill you without consequence though maybe with remorse.

Plausibility Man: There are many reasons why we might see this outcome.  The armor itself could be enchanted to protect the wearer from fire or the wearer could be shielded by active spells from himself or an ally.  The fireball may have been a spell which is only effective against living matter: notice how the ground and structures are rarely effected.  Given the fantasy setting, fire may simply have different rules, so that it can be easily dissipated or the armor itself may have a very high specific heat, meaning that it takes a great deal of energy to raise the temperature of it.  There are many possible reasons.  We'd need to know more about the rules of this fantastical world to determine what happened.  Alternatively, if we knew what happened, we could attempt to deduce the rules of the world.

Klepsacovic: Thanks, Plausibility Man!

Plausibility Man: I'm just doing my job, and remember kids, Plausibility and Realism are not the same thing!

Klepsacovic: I'm not a kid...

Plausibility Man: You interrupted my dramatic exit.  I figured you already knew that, given that you're the one righting this terrible dialogue.
Klepsacovic: You were going to walk away slowly, without even having any explosions behind you.  How is that at all dramatic?  Also, my dialogue gets to the point.  I'm a modern Hemingway, but without shooting fascists in Spain.  Yet.

Plausibility Man: That "yet" made you sound so much less pitiful.  Also, check out the sweet explosion.

Klepsacovic: Woah.


Ben Sanders said...

Sometimes the people who are arguing about realism are more bothered by a lack of internal consistency, than either the plausibility or realism of the world.
For example, you are playing an MMO as a priest. You have a resurrection spell. It may not be very plausible or realistic, but by the games logic, it works - you can bring people back from the dead. Lots of other people can cast resurrection, too.
Then on an important story quest, an npc dies in a heroic story like manner, with some desperate last words. Somehow your heal spell doesn't work before they die, and your resurrection spell is strangely broken after they die.
Clearly the game has 'realism' problems. Or more specifically, even though you accepted all the premises that it required you to accept, it is still not internally consistent. Having such contradictions make it vastly harder to believe in a game world.
One needs one of Douglas Adams Electric Monks to help.

Klepsacovic said...

What you bring up is a real issue, but it's not what I was trying to get at, which is the casual, unthinking dismissal without any actual justification.

Still, your example does bring up a related problem. In that case, it can often take only a few words of quest text or dialogue to fix it. For example, in the troll starting zone, an NPC dies and cannot be revived because, as is stated, his soul was damaged by the attack. This could be extended so that most NPCs have more vulnerable souls than players (we are supposedly unusual in these worlds), which is part of what makes us so powerful, that we can survive or recover from attacks directed at our souls. Alternatively, some NPCs could be given personalities which reject help, so that they are actively repelling healing and resurrection effects.

Anonymous said...

The “his soul was damaged by the attack” explanation explains nothing. His zbxl was umphqwed by the attack is an equally valid “explanation”. The problem is that there isn’t an exact definition of soul in the real world, because no one ever demonstrated its existence. Of course this is not a problem in a fantasy world, but you must define the properties of a soul, for example how can you damage it. The same is true for magical fire, except there is a real thing called fire, with measureable properties that can confuse people. Same about heal repelling, how is it possible? Resurrection repelling is especially interesting, how do you cancel out a spell when you are dead?

The more I think about it, the more I believe that there are actually two worlds in MMOs. One where the story/lore happens and another where the players play. You have an (mostly) internally consistent story and an internally consistent set of game mechanics that directly contradict each other. Logically at least one of them must be false. You either reject the story as “lies” or reject the game mechanics as inaccurate representation of the “real” fantasy world. As a player you use the game mechanics all the time, but rarely help the story writers out. So the story/lore becomes “unbelievable”.

Klepsacovic said...

@Anonymous: You're right, is in an equally valid explanation. A valid one. That's the thing about a fantasy world: You can make up the rules and as long as they do not contradict each other, there is nothing wrong. Even apparent contradictions can be fixed by adding more nuances, such as the soul being damaged, defining different types of souls, different scales of damage and healing ability, and so on. This doesn't mean that writers and developers should just do whatever they feel like and force the next writer to make something up to cover it; whenever possible a story and gameplay should fit within the existing known rules, but often the contradictions are not inescapable.

If people are confusing fantasy and real fire, that is their problem for being incapable of engaging in fantasy. The writer is not responsible for the mental deficiencies of his audience. I suspect many players are merely looking for things to complain about or don't like that there are rules which limit their abilities so they argue against the rules. The mage is mad that his fire doesn't make the knight's armor melt, while the knight is annoyed that his sword doesn't instantly cleave the mage in two, with neither being willing to set aside their particular PvP concerns and senseless appeals to 'realism' to accept that it is a magical world.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I wasn’t familiar with your writing style and I have a tendency to take things too seriously. We are on the same page here. A bit off topic: I laughed several times while reading your “Bad arguments against Attunements” post. Also I instantly like anyone who can write comments like this: “Ah, now I see. It's like the double-slit experiment where the light is affected by photons from parallel universes filled with noobs.” You’ve got yourself a new reader. (Now I can’t stop thinking about how the masses of noobs in parallel universes affect us and randomly burst into laughter.)

Klepsacovic said...

@Anonymous: It's okay, the internet is serious business. I'm glad to hear that you liked the post.

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