Why can’t video games get shoulders right?

March 23, 2019
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When we talk about the uncanny valley, the focus is usually on the eyes or the mouth – on something that’s ever so slightly awry with the face. But what about the shoulders? We’ve been accustomed to seeing shoulders centred on our screens ever since the up-close viewpoint of Resident Evil 4. But there’s always been something about video game shoulders that’s been a bit off, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Is it just stiff animation, or is it something else?

To better grapple with the subject, I sought advice from some people who know a thing or two about how the shoulder works in real life. As it turns out, it’s a more complex joint than I had thought.

“If you’re looking at it in isolation, then the shoulder is the ball-and-socket joint, what we call your glenohumeral (GH) joint,” orthopaedic registrar Charlotte Somerville explains to me over the phone. “But if you’re thinking about shoulder movement, there’s so much more to it than that. You have your clavicle that joins up to your sternum in the middle, and unless you’re doing quite restricted movements, your scapula is moving alongside the movements of your arm as it’s coming off your body, or forward, or back.”

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