I've been making a visual novel game where the Player Character can get hungry, thirsty, has energy and also needs to go to the toilet, has sanity, has cleanliness, has life, has money, has a reputation in the school he visits, has a "Love-Meter" with his relationship partner (for now), strength, intelligence and the list goes on and on.....

But now I think too much of those things would rather "bother" the player than add fun.

But then I also think a lot of survival games have those things and it's a lot of fun to keep those numbers up and survive or get punished.

Now I'm struggling with the balance between making "too much" and "too few".

So maybe one experienced Game Designer here has a good answer for this problem. How much "real life" immersion is good?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You need to see World of World of Warcraft. \$\endgroup\$
    – corsiKa
    Apr 5, 2018 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an opinion rather than an answer, but honestly I burst out laughing the moment I read 'go to the toilet'. If your VN is supposed to be a bit silly (e.g. like Hatoful Boyfriend) then by all means add it. If you want people to take you seriously, don't. If I had just finished a really dramatic moment in the game and then I saw a "you need the toilet" notification, it would kind of kill the mood. Food is less of an issue if you can bring it with you and if you can offer it to other people since then it has multiple purposes that can be plot related. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pharap
    Apr 6, 2018 at 4:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not enough for a full answer: but a lot of other games wrap up the "Mundane" as part of the saving process. Visit your house to 'save', time advances by an hour, or 6 hours, or a day etc, and it's assumed that all the "Makes himself a snack, goes to the toilet, has a snooze, browses reddit" etc happens during that time. At least, that's how I've always thought about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Robotnik
    Apr 6, 2018 at 4:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another thing to think about with this is how much is too much. I get annoyed when I play a game and every 5 minutes my character needs to eat something. I end up carrying more food than anything else and so have no room for loot. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2018 at 10:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sgroves Some people do. I wouldn't like to speculate on numbers, but it is undenyable that some people use video games as a form of escapism. Immersion isn't about becoming deluded into believing the game is reality, it's simply about having one's focus fully drawn on the game and caring about the game's consequences, the same way readers get drawn into a good book or how people care about what happens to characters on a TV series. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pharap
    Apr 6, 2018 at 21:37

5 Answers 5


Realism is generally not a good guide to game design. When someone asks you "What is your game design reason for having the player tell their character when to go to the toilet?" and your only answer is "realism", then you are doing something wrong. People play video games to escape reality. When the player wants a 100% realistic experience, they would stop playing video games and go outside.

Games are primarily about two things:

  • Challenge the player's skills
  • Let the player live out a fantasy they can't live out in real life

I could imagine a game concept where your character's bladder capacity is an important resource to manage and it actually makes the game more interesting to play. The Sims certainly pulled this off successfully. But the idea of The Sims is a very unique game concept. Taking care of the basic everyday functions of a human being was the main fantasy of the game. And even though it is not a particularly extraordinary fantasy, the series and its countless expansions still sold over a hundred million copies, making it one of the best selling game series of all times.

When you consider to add a bladder management mechanic to your game, you should ask yourself:

  • Does it contribute to the fantasy you want the player to live out? If you want the player to live out the fantasy of being an action hero, emperor, criminal, business owner or casanova, then the mechanic might not actually add anything to that fantasy. So it should not have a place in your game.
  • Does it make the game more interesting? Does it lead to hard decisions to make? Does it lead to interesting optimization challenges? Does anything interesting happen on the toilet? Does it have interesting interactions with other game mechanics? If it does - fine. If it is just something you need to take care of by clicking "use toilet" whenever the "pee" bar is full, it's just an annoyance which distracts from the parts of the game which are actually interesting.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Further comments could be deleted without warning. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vaillancourt
    Apr 6, 2018 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I agree that in general realism isn't a good reason to add something to a game, it's certainly a good guide. If you want to make, say, a modern military shooter, looking at modern military equipment, tactics, and so on will be a great help, as will having real-life experience with things in the area. For example, if you're a 3D artist trying to make a satisfying reload animation, there are a few things that you can only really pick up by looking at how it happens in real life -- slapping magazines, bolt catches, yanking bolt handles, opening dust covers... The same applies everywhere. \$\endgroup\$
    – anon
    Apr 7, 2018 at 18:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this case falls into the "contributes to the fantasy", however. To keep close to the original toilet-oriented example, you wouldn't probably add the mechanics of latrine building in a tactical simulation, or the fine-grained details of logistics and form filling though, would you? \$\endgroup\$
    – R1ck77
    Apr 9, 2018 at 10:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Escaping from reality" is so subjective. For some, escaping reality could mean living in the house across the street. It's not about escaping reality altogether; it's about escaping the player's reality. I COULD fly across the globe to climb a mountain and I COULD decide to quit my job and start an organized crime ring, but I honestly prefer to do so in video games. \$\endgroup\$
    – Clay07g
    Apr 9, 2018 at 16:45

Believability instead of realism

I would argue that realism is not bad per-se. However, realism should not be your objective, and it is not good excuse - by itself - for introducing game mechanics. Instead the place of realism in video games is as a particular esthetic, which you may want or not, but that is another topic.

Instead, you should aim for immersion. And believability is your main tool for that. It means that you should not aim to create something that matches our reality, but something that players can believe about your fictional world.

This is also a good principle when creating animations or character designs. Your world can have crazy creatures that cannot exist in reality, and nobody cares. But if their physicality is wrong, they lose believability, most people will know it does not look right.

Often times excluding things helps believability, because once you portray something, players can ponder if that makes sense. Meanwhile, if the soldier at war does not have the need to go to the bathroom, it will not break immersion because everything else keeps the player engaged.

Your base line for believability is popcorn/fridge logic:

You know. You’ve just come home from a movie, you had a great time, you go to the refrigerator to get a beer, you open the door, and you say, ‘Wait a minute …’

-- Jonathan Demme

However, sometimes you include things because it helps believability.

Toilets and complexity

The Sims is certainly the main example, up to the point of being nicknamed "The Toiled Game" within Maxis. The Sims has toilets, because if the game did not have them, you would notice (you build the house, after all). If it had them but sims did NOT use them, it will not make sense. Thus, The Sims needs toilets.

They also covered what happens if the sim can't go the toilet (accidents that needs cleaning). They added on top that toilets get dirty, and that they could break and flood the place.

I also want to point out that The Sims added sobrenatural elements.

However, I want to talk about a game that uses toilets much better: Prison Architect.

  • Players would notice if there were not toilets to put in the cells.

  • Why would players place toilets in the cells? Prisoners need to use the toilet.

  • If they do not have access to a toilet, not only you will get accidents, that needs cleaning... but also it increases the chances of prisoners to riot.

  • Furthermore, a toilet needs an active water pipe connection to work, meaning that you need to ensure that there is enough water supply and connected (the pipes can be destroyed).

  • If they break a toilet, while still connected to water, it will flood the place.

  • Furthermore, prisoners may hide tools, drugs and weapons in the toilet (which they can be smuggled by other means). Which they will use in their riots, gang fights and attempts to escape. Do not forget to search the prisoner’s cells.

  • Oh, but prisoners will take advantage of your toilets to dig tunnels to escape. Search for tunnels regularly, put guard patrols and outer walls when you can.

The developers has gone up and beyond asking the questions about their world. Furthermore, they have managed to create interesting game mechanics around the answers to those questions. Moreover, the game – or at least that aspect of the game - is more engaging thanks to that.

As you can see, sometimes you need to add things for believability. And that building complex systems on top of that can be engaging, even with toilets.

It is, in fact, a good idea to turn this kind of problems (test players ask why there are not toilets) into fuel for creativity. If you have to include toilets, what interesting mechanical implication that might have for the game?

For instance, the sims can die. This is a possible out come of neglecting their needs. How can they make death mechanically interesting? They become ghosts, and go on scaring other sims, of course. Realistic? No.

Is it ok to aspire to create something like that? If that is your vision, sure.


Find a minimum viable product

Let me tell you about software engineering. We know that the complexity of the software increases exponentially with the number of requirements. We also know that the number of possible bugs increases with the complexity of the software.

I will refer you to “What We Actually Know About Software Development, and Why We Believe It’s True” by Greg Wilson.

This means that if you can remove requirements, not only you create a software in less time and with less bugs, but also the improvement will be super linear.

This is a good argument to take your design and start removing things. File them for version 2.0 or whatever. Another argument is that you will be able to find the core of your design: the minimum viable product. Ship this first.

Oh, and any bugs you leave alive build up your technical debt, they charge interests (the longer you take to fix a bug, the more expensive, and that is exponential).

I am not telling you that you should not go for a crazy design; I am telling you that you need to start small. Plan how you will add stuff on top, and grow over time.

Back to The Sims, they called it “The Toilet Game” because it required doing unappealing tasks such as going to the toilet and cleaning it. In addition, executives initially rejected the project. However, the developers kept working on it until they created something that executives approved. It required years to archive it, of course, but look the success that The Sims has.

Growth and design, by examples

I have told you to find a minimum viable product, and to make that product grow. You can plan how to extend it ahead of time, which will save you a lot of trouble. However, once you do, you will have effectively coupled those systems to your core design, and that can bring trouble.


  • The Sims. They had many expansions, which means many systems for which they had to plan. That is a form of Accretion (look it up). That kept the evolution of their core mechanics in check. The Sims 4 was a return to rework the core of the game, and that is a good thing to do.

  • Civilization. Again, it had accretion, and people were used to - and enjoyed - the complexity of all the interlocked systems. However, that complexity meant a high entry point for new players that had to learn a lot to be competent in the game. Again, the developers did a return to the core mechanics, and Civilization V shipped with an overhaul of the core principles of the games (down to the grid and movement), there was some backslash from veteran players, but it served as entry point for many new players who were not following the franchise from the start. Then they went to improve it and add some of the complexity back in Civilization VI.

  • Windows. Microsoft sells licenses and support to companies. Companies that has business critical software running on Windows. If the developers of that software used deprecated API functions, or relied on undocumented behavior, and as a result did not work in the new version of Windows… who do the company blame? Microsoft, because Windows was the thing that changed. They call support – that they are paying for – and Microsoft has to solve the problem. As a result, Microsoft developed a strong tradition of backward compatibility, Windows core grew in complexity, and the system started to become slower in each iteration. Until you got Windows Vista. Windows 7 was them going back to rework how they organized things. Windows 8 was them going too far, and trying to appleal to the mobile market at the same time.

  • English. The spelling make little sense. Look at why the letter “e” sounds different “here” than “there”, and countless more examples. The abstract is because of “historical reasons”. As English takes words from different roots, and as those words evolve their pronunciation change. Then either you change the way you write it to match the pronunciation (breaking backwards compatibility with old documents that will no longer make sense to people learning with the new version of the word) or you let the spelling and pronunciation diverge. Furthermore, people has been finding ways to shorthand writing since the time of monk scribes. Nuthin new m8. Sometimes people did try to standardize. We have to thank the printed press for pushing the process. Yet, that is just spelling, "the structure of language grows, as a reef of dead metaphors" -- The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher.

I am telling you that systems evolve, and that accretion happens. Yes, aim small. Yes, create a simple and elegant minimum viable product. However, plan and design the system in such way that it can grow, preferably avoiding strong coupling. Yet, every decision you do, cuts some path you didn't taken. If eventually you need to go back and rework, be ready.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The start of the question is really strong; it's about the only answer here that actually made me realize something I didn't think of. But I think the answer goes too far off-topic by the end. The point on "exponential complexity" is relevant as an argument against feature creep, and therefore is indirectly arguing against extensive realism. But the entire latter half is about feature creep, rather than a short point that feature creep is one negative aspect of realism - the real point of the question \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5, 2018 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KABoissonneault Or was it a brilliant self-critique of feature creep? You decide! \$\endgroup\$
    – Charles
    Apr 7, 2018 at 1:46

No-one has exact answers to questions like these, especially not for a game they've never seen and one which presumably exists mostly (or only) inside your own mind.

The only answer is: Every designer has these questions, but the only way to resolve them is to build a simple prototype (or two, or three, or a hundred) and test, test, test until you find the kind of gameplay you desire. That is how most products are developed in industry, not just games.

You don't need fancy graphics, and you don't need complex rules, but what you do need to do is to find the fun factor. In this endeavour, it really is wise to follow RAD principles and make the simplest thing that allows you to test those game dynamics you mention, individually and together.


I think the answer is in your very first sentence actually. You are creating a 'visual novel' which is not the same as a survival game. Realism in descriptive text isnt the same as a game mechanic. That is where you are already diverting strongly from what you declared your product to be. A novel guides a user/player through a given story line (and sometimes splits into several possible story lines by giving choices).

Realism as a game mechanic is part of simulated environment which can be found in several types of games - survival games is just one of them.

Extending a novel into a life simulator is obviously an option but you are faced with the problem that you mix 2 completely opposite types of entertainment. Realism of environment as a mechanic caters to players who want to micromanage those type of events. Its the main mean of being entertained for them.

A novel on the other hand caters to the exact opposite of players. They want to be guided through a well written story, want to immerse in a given universe.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually : My Game is not a "pure Visual Novel". Its supposed to be a visual novel where you have a bit of life-management. \$\endgroup\$
    – OC_RaizW
    Apr 5, 2018 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mixing genres is not bad per-se. A lot of great games were the result of mixing genres people considered incompatible. Regarding mixing visual novel with life simulation: I have seen people do that and it wasn't always a bad game experience. The main difference to a classic VN is that the story branching is not just affected by the choices in the story sections but also by success and failure in the life management sections (example: other character will only agree to date you when you trained your strength and intelligence enough). \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Apr 5, 2018 at 13:36

In game design, Realism is a tool, not a goal.

Realism serves multiple purposes:

  • Intuitive design. E.g. No need to explain that: drink more -> more going to the toilet
  • Humor. Reality sets expectations, which can be exploited for humor. E.g. break the 4th wall.
  • Advertisement. Many players are excited by the idea of simulating something. E.g. Kerbal.
  • Educational, similar to the above. Some players and many parents/teachers are excited by games that promise to teach something. E.g. Kerbal.

If I have to mention just one thing about realism that players don't respond well to, it is excessive negative repercussions for events/actions outside of the player's control.


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