Why Aren’t Real-World Physics Equations Used In Video Games?

Physics creeps its way into almost every facet of a game. Just look at Mario’s classic slide, the momentum involved in aiming your avian slingshot during Angry Birds, or the boneless flexibility of Human: Fall FlatOne game that particularly impressed me with its upside-down movement was Limbo, but indeed, physics is constantly evolving, testing the boundaries of what’s possible, and shattering assumptions like Haku’s dragon scales in Spirited Away.

Over time, advancements in tech have made physics more realistic too. Compared to the 2005 release, the Shadow of the Colossus remake achieves a more authentic presentation of foliage, grass, and rainwater. We’ve not quite reached absolute levels of realism yet, but is that on the horizon too? Maybe, maybe not.

At this point in time, mimicking the way things work in real life right down to the molecular level isn’t possible. Simulations are, by definition, an approximation or an imitation of a naturally occurring process—let’s say the formation of a wave. What about that famous blue blur Sonic The Hedgehog? If he actually ran faster than the speed of sound within any of the games, it’d be impossible for the human eye to detect (and the forces would probably break the screen). In most cases, reproducing real-world physics with one hundred percent accuracy might inhibit player enjoyment.

On the other hand, games in the simulation genre like Forza Motorsport 7 or Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 pride themselves in faithfully replicating their respective sports and making the experience as believable as possible. And it’s on that note we’d like to pose a question—are games with more realistic physics more enjoyable? Or is it something else, a collection of factors if you will, that makes a game truly fun?