On Guns and Video Gamers

I was interview by The Escapist, a major gaming website, about guns and video games. The article quotes me many times.

Steve says the best way to gauge the realism of shooting guns in games is to compare it to the realism of anything else you can do in a game, like driving: “The best analogy that I can think of would be motorbikes. How realistic is riding a motorbike in GTA compared to riding a motorbike in real life? Not very. Same with guns.”

The article is well written, although I don’t think the majority of gun websites are “wonky” and I would have presented the gun crime stats a bit differently. Hopefully the article will encourage video gamers to give real guns a try.

“The Call of Duty effect” is the first phrase I have coined πŸ™‚

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • subase

    Congratulations on the your growing net influence.

    For me the most realistic gun games were ‘Stalker’ and funnily enough Clive Barker’s ‘Undying’ the demo. The sawed off double barreled shotgun had incredible recoil and spread and reloading took forever. Just proves in the video world that capacity is king.

  • Jusuchin

    Quite a refreshing article. I do know a few gamers being gun owners, and besides hitting me in the head for acting like an idiot, aren’t dangers to anyone.

    As for me, money, time, and parents are the only reasons I haven’t gotten that Jericho that fitted nicely in my hand or the classes to learn how to properly shoot and maintain it.

    I can settle for a Japanese Role-Playing Game until I do, though.

  • Vitor

    Some games try to be harder than real life to appear realistic. I remember Counter-Strike having some over the top recoil.

  • Matt Groom

    I used to play videogames religiously, until I was old enough (as well as financially capable) to buy real guns. Now, I don’t have the discipline to sit in front of a TV screen and try to figure out a puzzle in Resident Evil 5 or six or whatever for hours and hours. Now, I spend hours casting bullets, reloading, and shooting real guns. Seems like a pretty good trade off to me.

  • oscar

    That article was an intresting read. I am an environment artist working at a small indie games studio (i won’t plug here), we work very hard on getting the sounds and animations of weapon handling to fit real life as much as possible but it can never get anywhere near the real thing.(I am a gun owner myself). What holds us back the most in terms of capturing ballistics and other ,not smaller, but less obvios pieces of detail is time.

    Most studios will spend 2 years creating a game, in which time those who don’t outsource will have to create every single asset used within the game, this doesnt sound that extreme on its own but in most games there are thousands and this is a very large task. unfortunatley this means we have to do a certain amount of time management and in most companys the accuracy of the weapons comes second to coolness (leftside ejection ports and deep sound effects) and to other assets they deem more important.

    this doesn’t just affect guns it affect vehicles (civillian vehicles are often delibratly non accurate so as to avoid car companys tendancys to sue you for looking at them funny) and pretty much everything under the sun.

    what annoys me most about this is that there are 100s of brilliant resources out there for people creating weapons in games. stuff like Decide[NBF’s] gallery on pixagogo which contains brilliant refrence for so many guns but i widely ignored in return for “artistic freedom”


    “For me the most realistic gun games were β€˜Stalker’ ”
    I’d say thats pretty much right, though arma is very good aswell but it’s a game that grew out of a training simulator.

  • Tom

    I’ve been a gamer for much longer than I’ve been a gun owner, and I’m in the interesting position of having experience in both game design/development and being a trained gunsmith. The problem there is that with the former, I know exactly how and why guns are represented in games; I also know how companies can do it better and why they don’t.

    Being a “gun guy” makes playing certain games downright painful. It does annoy me that my muzzle is glued to the center of the screen and I have to point my gun at everyone I want to talk to. Even in the virtual world it’s difficult for me to intentionally break safety rules, even though “it doesn’t matter in a videogame”. Playing something like Modern Warfare 2 is basically akin to watching the most overdone Hollywood action flick imaginable.

    I complain a lot about nit-picky gun things in games on my own site/blog when I review games. The three most common culprits are poorly modeled weapons (often they mirror the gun left to right, ala STALKER) or animations, the “iron sights” mode, and poor weapon sounds. One of the things I always hate about games is using a scope will zoom the whole screen in *around* the scope! Another one I recently ranted about is how many games arbitrarily make suppressed weapons half as powerful as their can-less counterparts. This may be true of some cartridges at certain ranges, but a pistol from ten yards in a dark subway tunnel not so much.

    It’s an interesting position though, and I do hope that others like myself can contribute to improving how firearms are presented in the virtual world. I’m actually on a commercial development team now, though we’re not working on anything involving modern firearms. Maybe someday we’ll work out how to make some of those virtual non-issues matter in games. After all, people like customizing their character…why not make gear placement important?

  • Maigo

    Oh yeah, it’s AWAYS pissed me off that pistols are more powerful than most other guns. Usually 4 or 5 times as powerful, often laser accurate

  • SpudGun

    Nice one Steve, the article seemed very fair and balanced and you came across extremely well.

    I think the author’s reference to ‘wonky’ gun websites is because your blog isn’t obsessed with Christianity, the end of the world or the assassination of Obama.

    With regards to guns and video games, I do blame them for the sales of tactically poor and horrendously overpriced weapons such as Desert Eagles and SPAS 12s.

    As for potentially influencing young minds, I played Pac Man as a kid and I didn’t grow up to munch pills in darkened rooms whilst listening to repetitive electronic music…oh wait, bad example. πŸ™‚

    I could go on about the media’s need to find a scapegoat for societies ills, how it was all about horror videos, Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal when I was growing up and that young kids dealing crack don’t carry guns because of video games, but I’d just be preaching to the converted.

    Finally, the only real connection I can see between random acts of violence and video games, is in the legal world of ‘diminished responsibility’. Back in the old days, nutty murderers would plead ‘God made me do it’, but in an increasingly secular age, this mantra has been replaced by ‘video games made me do it’.

    Evil scum (and their equally scummy lawyers) will use whatever it takes to get a few years of their sentences or swap a prison for a comfy hospital and let’s not forget the families of victims needing to sue someone in order to get rich of the back of a tragedy.

    Sorry for the long post and congratulations on getting some positive exposure for the blog.

    • SpudGun, the thing is that few gun blogs are obsessed with Christianity or Obama. The majority of the major gun blogs are usually non-Religious and would politically be classified as Libertarian.

  • SoloTwo

    Hell I first got into firearms after playing Call of Duty 2, though then I wanted a ton of WWII rifles. Then I realized I enjoyed modern weapons more and the purchasing began…

  • SpudGun

    You say that Steve, but you recently linked to Michael Bane’s blog on the $500,000 Luger – a blog in which he suggested ‘nuking England’ because someone in the UK disagreed with his point of view.

    The fact that Britain has been America’s staunchest ally in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to have been totally lost on both Mr. Bane and his band of idiotic posters. It’s self serving morons like Bane who give a lot of the gun blogs a bad name.

    Anyways, back on topic – realism in video games. From playing a vast number of FPS’s, I’ve come to the conclusion that a locked wooden door is the best armor ever made. I’ve gone up to doors and shot them with rifles, pistols, shotguns and grenade launchers and they haven’t even received a scratch. I’m trading in my SAPI plates for some plywood.

    • SpudGun, seriously, Seriously! I know for a fact that you are intelligent enough to recognize a hyperbole.

      … but that is besides the point. One blog is not the blogoshere. Quite frankly, the majority of the media consider open carrying and the advocating of open carry to be “wonky” and extreme despite is being legal and harmless.

  • It’s great to see some other game developers posting on here! I have worked on several military video games, including America’s Army, and I also have over 20 years in the U.S. Army, and I am an avid shooter. I presently teach video game design at a pretty well-known technology and entertainment school in Orlando. I also continue to freelance in design and am working on a contract project for Uncle right now.

    I think the “guns to bikes” analogy is great (particularly since I ride too!). Guns in games are just game objects. They are balanced for ease of use and effect vs. cost, not realism and authenticity. As I was explaining to another professor here the other day, real combat is months of tired boredom perforated by minutes of intense terror. It would hardly make a good game! Sure let’s play guard duty – now stay awake for the next four hours…

    When most gamers find out I’m a soldier, they ask me what my favorite FPS game is, or which gun I like best in Counterstrike. Then they’re disappointed when I am awful at these games – they don’t want to believe that I can do a pretty fair job with the real thing! The people I shoot with just laugh because they know that double-tapping isn’t the same as double-clicking. When it’s not a game, you know it’s not a game.

    Now I’m off to the range with my two chrome-plated .50 AE Desert Eagles in shoulder holsters, Barrett M82A1 with thermal scope, and Streetsweeper automatic shotgun with a laser, loaded with triple-aught buck. πŸ˜‰

  • subase

    I’ve actually have zero gun fighting experience. (I held and saw a 1911 in Chile once). But alot of the theory of gun fighting that I’ve learned online, was very much true in ‘Stalker’ the video game.
    Distance from enemy and accuracy of weapon trump firepower, the element of surprise is everything, with no cover your dead, be as fast as you can when you know where your enemy is, as slow and as quiet as you can when you don’t, camoflouage really works, darkness really really works, clip capacity and amount of ammo you can carry is very very important, indoors smaller weapons are quicker to respond (MP5), use the sights or miss and die, full auto only of value in very very close ranges and when really really desperate (practically don’t hit crap and are just relying on the ‘luck head shot’ that may result from unloading a clip while running you ass off), save for head shots at seriously close dangerous ranges pistols are incredibly inferior to rifles and with armoured enemies useless, save one or two enemies at very close ranges shotguns are niche guns that just don’t cut it most of the time, if you can spare the ammo shoot them through the walls and amost always throwing a grenade around corner is better than peaking around that corner too bad grenades are heavy.

    All these things I learned online were true in the video game. I think with slightly more work done, especially to the A.I of enemies (Which weren’t that good in stalker), a very effective combat simulator could result.

    Although the Stalker had alot of rough edges its ballistic model was by the far the most realistic I’d ever encountered. One of the major missing elements I noticed was the lack of a psychological model. The character you play is basically Jason Bourne/The Terminator in his emotional control, I think RPG FPS games should simulate the psychological fear that would result from being outnumbered, the shaking and breathing hard when tired, shaking when cold and being afraid to die, feeling of being pinned down, fighting in the dark, being chased by enemies, having low amount of ammo, being in enclosed spaces, being injured or bleeding, reacting with shock to strange sudden sounds, allowing ones emotions to effect weapons handling such as sight alignment, reloading, weapon change everything, ecetera. It would really add a new layer of realism to these games.

    In Stalker people got pissed off and usually wouldn’t talk to you if you talked to them with a weapon in their faces.

  • SpudGun

    Sorry to have taken this off topic Steve and I know I shouldn’t pay any attention to the ‘shock jocks’ of the gun world, no matter how ignorant or hateful they may be.

    Totally agree with you about the media and firearms, people often attack what they don’t understand.

  • Tom

    It’s really a tough problem for game designers to make fps games totally realistic because they’ve got to worry about game balance. Designers have to create (often artificial) differences between weapons so that players that prefer high accuracy but a low fire rate can use one weapon, whereas players who like, say, a deep magazine and high power can use another.

    If, in a game, all NATO 5.56 weapons have similar ballistics, then that’s kind of boring. All the rifles are pretty similar, so why even bother to include a variety? Or on the other hand if one weapon is too dominant, then nobody will use the other ones. This leads to silly results (from a realism perspective) where a TAR-21 will have twice the power as an M4, but arguably it makes the game more interesting because at least in gameworld, the M4 might have way better accuracy and so players are offered a choice of two different weapons with different characteristics depending on how they want to play.

    It’s also why .44 magnums in games are often more powerful than 7.62s. The designers have to balance risk with reward and when you’re gaming it’s a hell of a lot harder to shoot some guy with a revolver than it is with an automatic rifle with a 30 round mag. So, suicidal as it might be in real life to take on a guy with an M16 with your Raging Bull, good game design dictates that you should get a big payoff for taking that big risk.

  • Tom W.

    haha, another Tom on here I see! I’m the first of the two, but I’ll stick my last initial on to make things easier.

    @ Chris: Great to hear! I haven’t been involved in any high profile titles, though I got a wee bit of notoriety for Garry’s Mod game modes and mods for other games a while back. The project I’m involved in now does involve a slightly fantasy-warped iteration of early black powder, paper cartridge firearms so I’m hoping my input from the design and function side (and the project lead’s experience with firearms) can help us put together something unique and enjoyable.

    @ subase: A few very good points, and I do agree that STALKER did a lot of things right despite its many technical issues and rough edges. My biggest problem with it out of the box is the mirrored models, but visual things like that are easy to modify. STALKER has quite the mod community!

    @ Tom: I agree with your point somewhat, but there’s also variety for the sake of variety. I know a lot of other devs will shake their heads at me for wasting valuable art resources for no real reason, but if you look at STALKER as an example many of the weapons are very similar statistics wise. To many, the most important factor in using a gun in a video game isn’t what numbers it has in each category, but simply whether they like it or not. Whole-heartedly agree about manufacturing differences to balance gameplay though; it’s often extremely critical in multiplayer games to create whatever is needed stat-wise to keep the game from getting one-dimensional.

    I think the key point that some folks who constantly gripe about realism (yes myself included sometimes) should remember is that the vast majority of games never consider realism to begin with. Modern Warfare 2 threw realism out the window right off the bat, and most people would find the thought of realistic weapons in a zombie or mutant shooter laughable. I gotta say Steve, that bike analogy certainly hits the nail on the head.

    Now, who wants to get together and make a crazy awesome open-world zombie survival shooter/action RPG hybrid? Get some slick gear placement system in there, have a more detailed malfunction system than “hit reload to clear”…it could be going places! Think of the RPG potential, folks. Rifles – Level 1 – The Chicken Wing! πŸ™‚

  • subase

    What I reckon would be ‘cool’ in games centered on the military is that every time you face your own soldiers or superiors, your gun should point to the ground and away from them.

    It should be illegal for an special forces soldier to stick a gun in the face of his superiors when talking to them. It sure is ridiculous and almost sadistic.

  • adamr

    I completely understand where you are coming from, spudgun. I stay away from most blogs/forums for the same reason. Its far from Libertarian.
    It only took looking at the “propaganda” page on Lucky Gunner to realize I’m never going to buy from them.

  • adamr

    Oops, I meant “get lucky” page. Propaganda was on magpul’s website.

  • Edward

    Note re: ArmA and ArmA 2 — they have a “floating crosshair” whose zone (read: how much you can move it without moving the character field of view) can be adjusted, plus the ability to raise or lower one’s long gun, and even a toggle for whether you control the character’s head movement or overall facing. Unfortunately there is no separate weapon aiming if you use the mouse, though you can use the TrackIR to control in-game view by real-world head movement.

    Oddly enough, you can’t lower sidearms…