Here is a bit of a strange thing I realized as I was working on implementing crawling and also had the sudden idea that an item allowing the player to pilot a drone would be appropriate: very little of the programming I have done before now has involved physics. This is the first time I’ve found myself tweaking numbers to adjust the feel the player gets for moving stuff through the world, whereas most everything else in the puzzles that I’ve worked on moves objects an explicit distance through space and time that gets calculated beforehand. Attempting to move a box, for example, instantly initiates some collision and raycasting tests just to see if anything is in the way; if there’s a wall or something, it tells you no, sorry, and if not, it goes ahead and takes a half hour to move it to its precise destination. In addition, the non-puzzle systems pretty much consist purely of numbers that wait patiently until such time as they can dole out a punishing consequence to the player. I think this probably says something about how coldly numerical and deterministic the universe I’ve created so far is, and I maybe wouldn’t mind calling this “realism” on my more pretentious days. (It would be nice to make a game someday where I could just focus on creating pleasurable interactions for the player, though.)
I think what I’m trying to get at is that games concerned with larger systems and games whose primary interactions are physics-based are equally material and deterministic, but the latter might shift the focus onto the graphical (which is, at bottom, just numbers) enough to cover up this reality with fantasy. Framed this way, it’s unsurprising that most of these games are about the player eventually overcoming challenges and winning, usually by smashing objects into each other one way or another. A more “realist” game, I think, would confront the deterministic formal qualities of games made with computers head on.