First-Person Ghost

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Anne from Trespasser, or what little you can see of her at least.

In many First-Person Shooter games, you might notice that something...odd about your character. You don't seem to have much in the way of a bodily presence. Instead of feeling like you're actually there, in the game, you almost feel instead like you're simply controlling a RC helicopter with a camera attached. For example, you can see your arms holding your gun in front of you, but everything else about your body appears to be non-existent. Looking down, you don't see your torso or legs; rather, your whole body seemingly "rotates" with your view, making it appear that you're not touching the ground at all. Furthermore, you seem to have a curious lack of interaction with the environment: water might be undisturbed by you walking through it, or snow and mud show no footprints. You don't cast any shadow, even if NPCs do, and you never seem to see yourself in any reflective surfaces. Walking up to a door, the player will press an "open" button on their controller, but in-game nothing seems to happen; the door just magically opens up, even though you don't see anything switched or pressed on the screen. For the most part, it seems like player might as well be a ghost.

This is because, from a technical perspective, you are. The game engine is built so that you are essentially just flying a camera around, with animated arms being "painted" on the screen that only you can see. As far as the game engine is concerned, the player's viewpoint is just a camera. In some cases, the player's physical body might never actually be modeled or tracked in-game.

In early games, this was considered an Acceptable Breaks From Reality, as there wasn't enough hardware power to render something that is hidden half the time anyway. Also, many older raycasting engines had to purposefully limit vertical camera rotation to well under ±45° in order to minimize perspective distortion artifacts. However, as hardware has gotten more powerful and software more sophisticated, this trope can become particularly jarring.

To combat this, some FPS games have begun to include more and more pre-rendered footage of your body. For example, if you go to open a door, you'll actually see an animation of a hand reaching out and turning the handle. You sometimes will also see your body in cutscenes, such as if the player is knocked down by an explosion and you briefly see your legs as you're bodily thrown back. However, as soon as the custcene is over, and you have control of your character once again, you'll find your legs mysteriously absent once more.

This is so common in FPS games that only aversions, subversions, or lampshade hangings should be listed as examples.

See also Invisible Anatomy.

Examples of First-Person Ghost include:
  • Arguably most famous example? Jurassic Park: Trespasser. Not only did you see your arm but also your breasts, an essential part of your anatomy since it had a tattoo that represented your health meter. There's a code to play the game in third-person, but, as seen in the page image, your character model is invisible except for the things mentioned above.
  • In Half Life, the "third person" command would allow one to have a third-person view over Gordon, with a complete model. However, in Half-Life 2, using the same command would result in seeing just Gordon's arms.
    • On another occasion, using the developer console to play Half-Life 2 in third-person led to the revelation that Gordon Freeman is apparently a vaguely humanoid glass statue that doesn't move so much as glide around.
  • Deus Ex has a strange subversion. While you can see JC Denton in mirrors and other reflections, you can't see his feet when you actually look down (though you would see a “blob shadow” under him.) The same holds true for just about any game based on the early builds of the Unreal Engine: Unreal, The Undying, etc. The Mind Screw in Deus Ex comes when you notice that your reflection never holds anything in the same position as you. Particularly odd in the case of well-polished floors, where you could see the soles of JC's boots reflected back at you.
  • Duke Nukem 3D was one of the first FPS games with mouselook, and therefore one of the first examples of this trope. Of course, in early versions, you could see both of Duke's feet, but only when attacking with them (the left foot was the Quick Melee and the right foot the melee Emergency Weapon).
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion you cannot see anything but your arms in first person. Additionally, you cast a shadow in third person view but not in first person. This gets even more strange when the horse you are riding always casts a shadow so if you look at the ground while riding your horse in first person you will see the shadow of a horse with no rider.
    • For PC users, the TFC console command gives you a ufo-camera option, using this in first person will auto-set the camera into third person pan without actually zooming out, leaving two arms floating in midair.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 does away with seeing your legs and feet in first person, no matter what your settings are. Word of God says that the removal of legs was needed in order to allow more zombies in the game world and cutting out legs in first person would allow this goal since rendering legs can get taxing on the Source engine. Notable because the first game is in the exceptions list below.
  • Not just FPS games suffer from this. The Myst games are a series of first-person puzzle games that had a First Person Ghost whose only visible appendage was a floating hand cursor. Justified in Myst and Riven due to movement limitations, but by the time Myst III: Exile rolled around, the player could not only look down and see that they had no feet, but also wind up standing on thin air just off of the edge of a cliff. It Got Worse in Myst IV: Revelation when the hand cursor gained a more realistic look. You could even inexplicably tint the hand strange, unearthly colors other than 'skin tone' or 'heavily pigmented skin tone'. The developers thankfully fixed this in Myst V: End of Ages.
    • While most of The Lost Crown isn't first person, there are a few such scenes in which objects must be handled and Nigel's arms are nowhere to be seen. This was probably deliberate, as it makes a story about ghosts just a little creepier not to avert this trope.
  • One of the few things that's almost always present in an FPS are the hands and held items. Ironically, one example of a game which lacks even that is? Ghost Recon.
  • Taken to the extreme in the Time Splitters series up until the third one.
  • Particularly tasty in GoldenEye and Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 since you can freely look down to the floor. Try it while standing in a corner and look for your feet...
  • The Penumbra series and its Spiritual Successor Amnesia the Dark Descent play this trope completely straight, due to engine limitations. In Penumbra, you don't even see your own hands - even when you're holding a flashlight or swinging a pickaxe in front of you.
  • Portal lets you see Chell by looking through the portals, but you can't look down to see her legs and she doesn't cast a shadow (even in rooms in Portal 2 when other objects do). As with Half-Life 2's gravity gun, you use the portal gun to pick up objects, but before you get it Chell seems to pick up things by glaring at them.
  • System Shock and System Shock 2. The Hacker's Guide to Sin goes further: not only does the main character have no feet, but he's able to activate healing stations from 13 feet away, yet unable to search bodies across a gap, so he most likely has boneless tentacles that snake along the ground.
  • Justified in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, during the Desmond's Journey sections, as the puzzles are made of pure Animus data, and Desmond can't even feel or see his own body.
  • Minecraft lets you see only your arm and if you are holding an item, you only see the item itself while your arm is nowhere to be seen (unless you are holding a map, which both of your arms are shown then).

Exceptions

  • America's Army 3 allows you to see your character's entire body when you look down. Interacting with objects (turning valves, opening doors, etc.) however, still seems to be done telekinetically.
  • F.E.A.R.'s development articles drove this point home. You can at least see the main character's feet, even while performing kung-fu. You also need to use your hands to climb ladders and swim, although curiously not to press buttons or open doors.
  • The Max Payne 2 FPS-Mod makes the game probably the most realistic FPS game, in the context of this trope.
  • The Darkness allows the player to see Estacado's lower body when looking down.
  • Far Cry 2 allows the player character's entire body to be seen.
  • Killzone 2 does try to avoid this to some extent, but for some reason you can't see all the way down.
  • Halo 2 and 3 have visible legs.
    • If someone leaves the party while playing multiplayer campaign online, the game freezes and glitches allowing you to look down directly into your torso.
    • It's perfectly possible not just to look down and see your thigh, but to stick a plasma grenade to it.
  • The 2008 Turok relaunch has visible legs.
  • Mirror's Edge lets you see Faith's legs. Good thing, too, because the game requires a lot of precision platforming. Additionally, you can see her full arms, shoulders, and torso, body position permitting (your camera is constrained to the directions Faith's eyes could actually be looking at any moment). The tip of her nose is the only thing really missing.
  • Related to Mirror's Edge in the context of this trope is Jumping Flash. Since this game was a Platform Game and an FPS, it was important to see where you were going to land. The developers of this game had the camera pan down as you fell. Not only did you get to see the character's feet, but a shadow as well.
  • Operation Flashpoint is one of the earliest games that does an honest attempt at not doing this trope. Of course, it'd invoke some really obvious Fridge Logic if you couldn't, since it also allowed you to use a third person view.
  • Left 4 Dead also lets you see your feet and legs (including the infected if you play as one) when you look down, but they don't appear if your graphic settings are too low. Humorously, the height at which your body is situated makes it look like your arms are sprouting out of your neck, at least from your point of view.
  • In Thief: Deadly Shadows you can see your whole body (save for your back and head of course) in first person.
  • Though both are already older games (made in 2002), Iron Storm and the second Hitman instalment let you see your legs, feet and hands while in FPS view (third person view being their default mode).
  • Crysis permits players to view their character's lower torso and legs, arguably to show off the extreme level of detail that was put into the game's Nanosuits.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay allows you to see the title character's arms and legs, as well as his shadow. This proves very useful in making a lot of the jumps, as well as creating a more immersive experience.
  • Zeno Clash, although more of a brawler than a shooter, makes a point of being very detailed. The main character's hands are visible as his default weapons, his leg shows up during counterattacks, and when hit by a heavy blow, you can see him realistically scramble to his feet through his eyes.
  • Metroid Prime 3 not only allows you to see Samus' lower body and arms when she's sitting in her spaceship, you can also view her skeleton when using the X-ray visor.
  • Battlefield 3 looks to avert this. The recent trailers show amazing depth perception and body awareness.
  • Geist, while not allowing you to see your legs by not letting you pan down to look, does show you doing EVERYTHING when you're possessing someone.
  • The Call of Duty games, in their multiplayer matches, feature an interesting example: the players bodies are rendered seperately, so that the third person version you see of another player isn't the exact same thing that they see in the first person. While most the time the two match up more-or-less seamlessly, some interesting things can happen when they don't match up; for example, most modern CoD games will "smooth out" the player's third-person movement to look more fluid and natural, rather than the herky-jerky movement that would result if you showed their actual first-person movement.
    • Because of lag, what one character shows in third person might be delayed from what they're doing in first person. This can lead to situations where you get shot by someone who appears to not even be facing you; their bullets will seem to exit the barrel at angle to hit you.
    • If you are hit with a flashbang grenade, your character will appear to cover their eyes and shake their head, with their gun pointed at the ground and off to the side. However, from the first person perspective, your gun is still up, meaning that you can still shoot and kill the person who flashbanged you.
    • Going prone actually takes into account the position of your limbs; it's possible to be "prone blocked" and be unable to turn without standing up if your legs are up against a wall or something.
  • Dark Messiah of Might and Magic not only lets you look down at your body, but also shows you visibly lifting objects, kicking enemies, etc.
  • In Subnautica, you can see quite a bit of your body -- enough to know you have one. And in bright sunshine you cast a complete shadow. (However, if you enable a cheat that lets you move the camera away from your first-person point of view, you will discover that while you have a body, you are distinctly lacking a head -- regardless of that shadow and its outrageous pompadour hairstyle.)