Are these men's bones made of steel? Or are their fists cotton? Why doesn't riddling that guy with bullets even slow him down?

Often, when you play video games, you may find yourself puzzled and annoyed by the inefficiency of the weapons wielded by the characters. This is an interesting question that involves the game balance as well as the feeling of power we seek when we decide to take the role of the imaginary beefcake dual-wielding miniguns.

Firstly, there is the gameplay aspect: in real life, a single good hit from the enemy can often be fatal, but it is not necessarily entertaining to be collecting your brain matter from the walls every time someone gets and uses a chance to shoot at you. Particularly single-player protagonists tend to be blatantly durable by human(oid) standards: in various The Legend of Zelda games Link can take an absurd number of arrows, sword strikes and snake bites before having to gulp down some magic potion or consulting that poor fairy he had imprisoned in a bottle a while ago. And this is despite the fact that in many games of the series, Link is not even implied to be wearing any kind of armor.

It can be comical to see Solid Snake CQC the crap out of a bunch of armed opponents while taking minimal damage from their bullets, but the main problem is that in many cases the enemies, too, are disturbingly hard to kill. In the God of War games, for example, Kratos' blades are shown to be easily capable of decapitating a large man, and yet, even most basic enemies tend to require multiple hits to kill. What on earth are you swinging there, mate? Divine weapons of doom, or chained butter knives? Why doesn't just poking someone make his head explode the way it happens with just about any weapon in the cutscenes?

Some games do get it right, of course. A good example would be Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars: when that gigantic Mammoth Tank points its twin railguns at a light enemy vehicle, you can expect to see light enemy vehicle pieces flying all over the place. Those shots really put holes in most targets, and even the opposing heavy vehicles, such as the Avatar mech, cannot take repeated pummeling for long. Additionally, medium vehicles and even heavy infantry can cause impressive amounts of devastation once properly upgraded and sent to attack the right kind of target. However, despite this, things generally do not seem like they've been armored with soaked paper: the Predator Tank can take a decent amount of cannon shells, and Mammoth Tanks generally shrug off anything that isn't from another heavy vehicle, advanced stationary defense system or an anti-armor infantry squad. In general, units feel both powerful and durable at the same time.

In some cases, though, an attack being underpowered is justified. For example, in some Fire Emblem games a character may be completely unaffected by an attack provided that the defense is sufficiently much tougher than the offense. And that's credible and realistic: the heavy plate armor and bulk of an experienced General certainly can be expected to deflect hits from a low-quality sword wielded by someone with barely any physical strength. Largely unarmored Berserkers being unaffected by sword strikes is a bit less reasonable, though. Or maybe those guys have beards so bushy that they stop lesser blades... Nevertheless, it is pretty much equally ridiculous to see a tank being slowly stabbed to death with spears as is having a particularly tough dude's mustache absorb sniper rifle rounds.

Interestingly, in my opinion, there is a fairly easy solution to the problem of underpowered weapons that does not require making the gameplay focused around one-hit kills: add armor. If it takes ten hits from a sword to make enough paper cuts to cause a man to bleed to death, your weapon is ridiculously dull. On the other hand, if you use nine blows to peel the opponent's armor and the tenth to finish him off, your blade is suddenly utterly badass because it can cleave freaking plate armor! And this would be despite the fact that you'd still have to whack the enemy ten times to beat him.