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Third person vs first person: the best and worst of gameplay

Updated on September 17, 2013

First person gameplay

Doom screenshot
Doom screenshot | Source

Since the days of Doom and Duke Nukem on the PC, a line was drawn in the video game sand between first person shooters and third person video games. Some lucky dogs are able to play both, moving back and forth as easily as Chris Redfield now that he can walk and shoot. But others are firmly planted within their desire for a first person or a third person game. Some, not by choice.

Third person gameplay

Resident Evil 6 screenshot
Resident Evil 6 screenshot | Source

Definitions

For those that are unfamiliar with the terminology, a first person shooter is a game where the player can see only what the protagonists sees – they are literally looking through the eyes of the hero. Possibly the only body parts one sees of the protagonist is part of the arm, a gun or other weapon extension, and then the full body during a cinematic. Currently popular first person shooters include Call of Duty and the Bioshock series of games. Third person games differ in they allow the player to see most of the protagonist’s body and every movement they make.

Pros and cons

The arguments for preferring a first person shooter is a feeling of being directly in the game. The multi-player aspect of first person shooters also are a huge draw for fans of this type of gameplay. On the side of a third person game, you are more immersed in the world of the game by being required to do more than just shoot. Third person games often involve the solving of complex puzzles that require more strategy than a first person shooter. Being able to see more of the protagonist’s body, third person games also allow the player to view more of what is going on beside the protagonist, therefore allowing them to experience more of the setting at any given time. There are also those unlucky souls, myself included, who experience vertigo when playing a first person shooter. To be able to play any first person shooter, I have to ingest Dramamine and then limit my play to 20 minutes before the vertigo decides it doesn’t care about the pills. Then I fall asleep within another 30 minutes, even when using the non-drowsy version.

The vertigo factor

I’m going to go off on a quick tangent about first person shooters as I am a third person gamer. I have tried a few first person shooters in the past. One in particular had me spend thirty minutes at the beginning of the game creating an avatar. I picked out skin tone to boot straps and everything in between. Then when the game started, I was robbed of my ability to view my avatar masterpiece. What’s up with that? My other massive pet peeve: marketing first person shooters as if they were third person games. I hate watching a commercial of an awesome game where it shows the protagonist in every shot as if it’s a third person and then racing down to the video store only to find out it’s a first person shooter and they only showed the cinematics in the commercial. Did they think I wouldn’t notice once I bought the game that it’s a first person?

What we are missing

Back to the question at hand. The problem with limiting one’s gaming experience to just first person shooters or third person games is just that: your gaming experience is limited. A person who resides only in the third person world will never experience the fantastic sights of Bioshock, while a die-hard first person shooter player will never know the awesome adventure within Uncharted.

Video game developers should have learned long ago that a game in first person is only going to appeal to a certain percentage of the market, and the same with third person. They lose out on so much business that one would think a light bulb would have gone off in their heads already: make games available in both. If the most recent Tomb Raider, which blew everyone’s mind away that played it, was available in both first person and third person shooters, then all gamers would have been able to experience it. Same with Bioshock Infinite. I desperately want to experience that world, but I’m left out in the cold with a “Sorry, no vertigo sufferers allowed” sign on the door. Sure it may be a little more challenging to create a first person shooter out of a third person game, but it could be done. You’d think the market share alone would be worth the effort. Making games available in both would give gamers an all-access pass to every world developers create.

Do you prefer first person or third person?

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    • profile image

      Starburp 

      2 years ago

      As silly as it is devs don't take the extra time to make all games 1st person or 3rd person I love 3rd person games. They enable so much ability like the n64 Zeldas & Jedi academy not to mention being able to customize & see your character such as saint row. Another thing vertigo my girlfriend gets dizzy when I am driving her around on my mount in world of Warcraft when she watches me play 1st person shooters let alone trying to get her to play one with me is just out the question lol

    • j-u-i-c-e profile image

      j-u-i-c-e 

      5 years ago from Waterloo, On

      Vertigo is fairly common. My gf can't watch me play FPSs, though even third person can cause problems if the camera rotates too quickly. I've known other people with this problem as well.

      Much as I think it would be nice if more games offered both options, I don't think you'll see much change in this area. The camera position can have a significant impact on not only the gameplay (I can't imagine some of those TR events in 1st person!) but also the tone of the game, so it tends to be one of those things devs just have to take a stand on. What would the original Resident Evil game be without its cinematic camera shots? Mirror's Edge (the FP Tomb Raider) wouldn't be Mirror's Edge in 3rd person. Of course, you could argue that at least having the option would be *something*, even if it meant that the player was getting something a little different from what the developer wanted them to experience, but often development costs trump accessibility and market outreach.

      The latest Elder Scrolls (Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim) and Fallout (Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas) all allow you to switch perspective, if anyone's interested in exploring more of these games. I tend to switch perspective while I'm playing depending on what's going on. Many older CRPGs also had two gameplay modes, with 1st person exploration and top-down 3rd person combat.

    • Angie Martin profile imageAUTHOR

      Angie Martin 

      5 years ago from Frazier Park, California

      Hi Lama, Thank you for your comments and criticism, and I am sorry you have such harsh feelings about my article but I guess we all don't agree on everything! :) Vertigo isn't a medical condition in which one will hurt themselves while playing a video game, but it can make one ill to their stomach and feeling nauseous. Maybe I should have described it as "sea-sickness" or "car-sickness" so that it was better understood. I definitely won't hurt myself playing a video game - but thank you for your concern!

      I wrote the article because there are actually a lot of gamers I've met that have the same problem of feeling ill that I do when playing first-person shooters. In fact I know a couple that suffer through the effects of Dramamine so they can play Call of Duty. You are correct that some gamers play both (hence my poll question asking if the gamers reading the article play one or the other or both); however, I have also met a lot of gamers that strictly stick to one type of game or the other. Some gamers feel very strongly about playing only one or the other, and a lot of articles I have read over the years support that this can become a heated topic. Obviously you feel strongly about people who are unable to play first-person shooters or you wouldn't have made your comments about me and my inability to play first-person shooters in the manner you did. Finally, I do know there are a couple games out there that have both available, yet the vast majority of games do not have that option, which having that option always available on every game would open up games for all to play. Thank you so much for reading! :)

    • profile image

      Lama 

      5 years ago

      This article is crap. most gamers play both. not many gamers have vertigo and you should stop playing games before you hurt yourself if you do. p.s. there are games with first and 3rd person. try star wars battlefront 2.

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