What Video Games Get Wrong (And Right) About Guns

First-person shooter games like Call of Duty, Halo, Rainbow Six Siege, and Counter-Strike have had a huge impact on our culture as video games have become more popular over the last 50 years or so. This style has become a favorite for many gamers, as well as sparked controversy from skeptics. While some will dismiss the importance of talking about it all—or blame them for all the world’s woes—a lot of video games are incredibly unrealistic about their guns. And for some of us, video games and real-life guns come hand in hand for special interests, so we notice issues with them (as much as sometimes we may wish video game mechanics worked in real life). 

Infinite Ammo!

Halo character kneeling with pistol
Though not all video games have infinite ammo, it’s common to have certain modes or weapons lists with infinite ammo options. [Photo: Microsoft (Halo)]
Ah, ammunition. In reality, what is such an expensive and, at times, tedious part of shooting becomes easier and less of a concern in video games. The most common issue in video games is the infinite ammo trope. As nice as it would be, ammunition can’t be carried in mass quantities as some games may make you think.

Reloading is another issue. A lot of video games have the player ditch half-loaded mags to reload. In theory, this could be fine, but the issue comes around when you never see those mags again. If a player is low on ammunition, there is no rush to go back to the nine half-loaded mags they swapped out earlier in the game. 

Not to mention the fact that reload time on guns is often incredibly unrealistic. Some games have stepped up and even added great graphics to show the full process, while others have the hand kind of wave at the gun and BOOM, completely reloaded within a few seconds. Granted, if it was always accurate, many players would quickly get fed up in their high-speed games, but it’s worth noting how inaccurate it can be sometimes. 

And as nice as it would be to have happened in real life, most video games never have their guns fail to feed or otherwise malfunction. Realistically, with the amount of ammunition you blow through, there would be bound to be an issue at some point. However, there are definitely a few gun games that strive for realistic expectations that even have you perform maintenance on guns occasionally and will have their guns fail if you don’t. 

Bullets are often not affected by things like wind or distance either. Normally, things you’d account for at any range in real life are completely disregarded in games. Users just have a simple trajectory, and that’s the end of it. Magic. 

Lastly, when was the last time you saw a bullet ricochet in a video game? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it personally. Though ricocheting isn’t necessarily common in real life, it’s something to be aware of. And with how often players just mag dump when trying to hit enemies, it would be bound to happen eventually.

Impact on the player

call of duty mobile stats ak-47
Realistically, most rifles would take a toll on the player in some form, but they often never do. [Photo: Activision (Call of Duty: Mobile)]
Guns commonly have no further impact on the character than maybe a tiny bit of recoil. Even then, recoil is rare to see realistically portrayed in most video games, even when it comes to incredibly powerful guns that players shoot standing up. In the video game world, a 50 BMG becomes a 22 LR for recoil. 

Most video games also completely disregard the weight of guns. Carrying several rifles, pistols, ammo, and other accessories would eventually take a huge toll on the player. The speed and mobility of your character are likely never going to be impacted by the massive weight of that machine gun versus a smaller pistol in hand. Don’t forget that carrying a heavy rifle across the battlefield for hours on end is no easy feat. Many games even allow crawling or jumping with no difference between what guns are in the characters’ hands.  

Though some games only let your character cycle through a (slightly) realistic few guns during a round, some allow the player to cycle through almost a dozen at a time. Can you imagine carrying three rifles, a shotgun, two pistols, a missile launcher, AND ammunition for all of that? Honestly, imagining the logistics of it is kind of funny, and it would be cool to be able to do that, but video games don’t really show the reality of doing that during a game. 

Suppressors 

agent 47 with a gun with a suppressor
Suppressors never work quite right in video games. As much as I wish it was that silent, it’s not. [Photo: IO Interactive (Hitman)]
A common gripe among the few game and gun enthusiasts is video game portrayals of suppressors. Many games have suppressors that take a toll on weird stats of the player, such as accuracy or damage, when in reality, that’s further from the truth of what a suppressor would change about a shooting experience. 

Plus, video games like to make suppressors way too silent. Many think that if you have a silencer on just feet from another player with their back turned, they won’t notice, effectively making you the stealthiest player around. Realistically, though, a silencer may help, but it’s not going to make you nearly that sneaky. You’re still going to hear it.

Shotguns

Shotguns alone are a common issue in games. More often than not, their spread is portrayed unrealistically. The spread is typically insanely narrow at any range and, at times, creates the effect of what turns into a sniper rifle at a further distance (which is very, very wrong). This takes away from the more realistic approach of effectively using them for close-quarter combat and creates both unfair advantages and disadvantages for players.

Giving credit where it’s due

Now, video games do get some things right. And obviously, I’m not addressing all games; instead, I’m taking a very general approach. There are several video games that actually put a lot of time and effort into making their guns more realistic for gameplay. Some things are also completely unrealistic to expect of a video game, especially as many developers may not have the resources or time to put in the severe amount of detail needed to match reality. 

One thing that doesn’t fail too often is sound effects. Many video games have pretty realistic sound effects for their guns throughout gameplay. It may not be as loud as needed. However, there’s no reason to try to blow out the player’s speakers or permanently damage their hearing with every shot. It is nice that many games do take distance into account, at least a bit when it comes to how close players are to one another on a map when shooting. This can make it easier to strategize and find the enemy. 

Many video games also have decent animations at times. The animations can be incredibly detailed, take a realistic amount of time, and show some more niche details for certain guns during gameplay. Even if some animations aren’t all that accurate, many look very cool and create a better experience for the player. 

Overall, some of the best realism I’ve seen has been in design. Many games consider the design of both common and more unique firearms. Understanding just how tedious that can be in common software adds to the appeal, as more often than not, the design is pretty accurate to reality. It’s also nice getting a chance to see guns that may be harder to run into in real life, so when developers put some love into the design and mechanics of those, it can be borderline educational (or just really cool). 

Parting Shots

Video game developers really deserve a lot of credit for what they do. As much as some may critique technical issues about gun mechanics in video games, it’s hard to imagine the amount of detail they already go into when designing these games. That being said, it’s important to understand the major differences between reality and video games so that players don’t create unrealistic expectations when encountering firearms in the real world, especially for younger, uneducated players.

Grace Ainsworth Stevens is an outdoor writer and political cartoonist who writes for a number of industry publications including The Truth About Guns and Breach Bang Clear. She's been hunting everything from deer to feral hogs since grade school and started honing her handgun skills at the age of 13. Grace's art is Second Amendment focused and speaks to current events and gun world cliches. She's also a college sophomore and will fight you over robotics and early education issues.

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