Realism in simulated combat

That’s not real fighting. That would never work in a real situation. Those techniques aren’t real. In real life, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

I hear these phrases or other variations of them said all the time whenever some form of simulated combat comes up, whether that be Sport, Movie, Book, or Game. At times these are legitimate arguments to have. Does boxing’s reliance on stand up techniques mean that practitioners would be weak to take downs? Could a legendary fighter actually stand against a tribe of 30 goblins without issue or should massive penalties be levied because he’s outnumbered? Does a round wooden waster with a piece of tape marking a blade actually provide a decent analogue of a blade? Does a obviously fake combat ruin the tone of a serious drama?*

At times these are the pedantry in the extreme. Those sword fighting techniques would never work outside that ruleset and therefore not useful in real life. Great cleave is dumb because human can’t generate the power to swing a blade through 4 bodies in one arc. Acting out injuries isn’t realistic to the damage a weapon would cause. That fight was so fake because the enemies ran at him one a time.**

Realism is good. I love when a movie, book, game, or sport is able to simulate something that is passably real. But realism should not be the only goal in simulated combat. In pure sport the primary goal should be interesting competition. In spectator sport equally important is that it is interesting to view. It should be full of action and drama with pacing that elicits emotional response. Fiction that is the primary goal, a fight that is emotional and drives the narrative, with a secondary goal of visual beauty. Sparring for education and self defense might put realism top but it seems safety is more important. RPG’s are odd in that each game may have different goals and perhaps accuracy of simulation may be top, but usually creating a compelling narrative, empowering players to reach their goals, or creating interesting challenges top that in goals.

Why is this important? Because when discussing something it’s important to understand not only what the thing is doing, but what it’s trying to do. Calling Boxing an incomplete form of combat with large holes in terms of self defense is a valid argument when discussing a persons ability to survive a bar fight. It’s an irrelevant comment when discussing boxing as a spectator sport for entertainment purpose. While it may seem important to you mention to a person who is ignorant of fighting that boxing leaves the legs unguarded, it’s probably of little value to them at all, because they aren’t thinking of boxing in terms of self-defense but in terms of a sport. Likewise attacking a Kung fu movie for unrealistic fight scenes or a fantasy game for a lack of rules defining what techniques and weapons work against what weapons and defenses is probably not only boring and irrelevant to the person listening, but annoying too.

Discussions on what is and isn’t realistic in combat can be great. What techniques are appropriate and in what settings are great topics worth long debates. How much damage can be done with punch, sword, kick, ect and ways of reducing that damage are equally enjoyable to argue about. However making these comments, particularly when used as reason for to value or not value a particular simulation, without taking into account the simulations goals is not productive to any meaningful communication. If comments on the flaws of a simulations realism must be made, try to frame them in a way that shows an understanding of the goals. MMA sacrifices effective subdual techniques, like simply restraining someone and holding them in order to increase the action in their fights. Savage worlds fails to differentiate damage types to increase the speed and simplicity of combat. At that point comments on the effectiveness of the trade-offs become relevant but without recognizing the goal, any such comments are like arguing surfing isn’t good at teaching cooking. Hyperbole sure, but you get the point.

* My opinion on those, Yes, Massive penalties for each foe adjacent and acting, It provides the basics of power generation and edge control but lacks the flow(?) for lack of a better word of an actual blade, Yes.

**Explanation on why these complaints are dumb. No one sword fights anymore, all sword techniques are useless in real life. -It’s an elf game where people shoot fire from their hands. If that’s possible so is humans strong enough to cut through 4 bodies. – Acting out injuries is not to be realistic but to acknowledge the superior position that would beĀ gained by a successful blow, not enough to win, but enough to be given a tactical advantage. – Bad guys attacking one at a time is a Hollywood trope. Accept it and move on. It is the movie equivalent of a painted set or other prop meant to represent something that can’t be properly displayed.


One thought on “Realism in simulated combat

  1. Very insightful.
    Was actually looking up a melee focused adaption to ORE when this popped up and I’m glad it did.
    You definitely know what you’re talking about, great work and keep it up.


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