Many games feature swimming and many treats it differently. In some games the player can swim for an unlimited amount of time and in others will drown after too much time passes. Sometimes the player is limited to the water surface and other times it is possible to dive whenever one desires. In some games, you can't swim at all.
Let's look at how swimming works in a number of different games:
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Link can swim for a limited amount of time, after which he will drown. No diving. Drowning results in being returned to the last place you were outside of water.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Link can swim in the water surface for an unlimited amount of time. Limited diving abilities, which can be improved with items found in the game. Iron boots can be used to walk below water, but Link will drown if too much time passes. An ingame item can prevent Link from drowning.
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Swimming in human form is identical to OoT, but without the upgrades. Zora form allows Link to breathe underwater and swim very quickly.
- Rayman 2: The Great Escape: Rayman can swim in the water surface for an unlimited amount of time. Rayman can dive at any time, but has a limited air supply. Blue lums and air bubbles found underwater will replenish this air supply. Drowning results in taking damge very quickly.
- Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc: Rayman can swim in the water surface for an unlimited amount of time. Rayman can not dive manually, but will do so automatically during a single level. Rayman can not drown.
- Half-Life: Gordon Freeman can swim in the water surface for an unlimited amount of time. Gordon can swim freely underwater, but can not remain there for too long. If too much time is spent underwater, Gordon starts taking damage. Upon returning to the surface, Gordon's health will slowly regenerate to what it was when first going underwater. A number of weapons are unusable while underwater.
- Half-Life 2: Swimming system is very similar to Half-Life, but an oxygen meter is visible while swimming. The oxygen runs off the same AUX Power as sprinting and the flashlight, resulting in using the flashlight decreasing the amount of time that can be spent underwater. In Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the flashlight is given it's own battery supply, eliminating this problem. Oxygen is still shared with sprinting, but sprinting isn't possible underwater.
- Team Fortress 2: Swimming is nearly identical to Half-Life. The only weapons that can not be used underwater are the flamethrowers and the flaregun.
- World of Warcraft: In most areas, players can swim for an unlimited time in the water surface. Players can swim freely underwater, but has a breath meter and will take damage when it is depleted. A number of items and abilities will increase the swimming speed or give players underwater breathing. In areas with extremely deep water, a fatigue meter will appear. The fatigue meter is similar to the breath meter, but will kick in even if the player is swimming in the water surface.
- Pokémon series: The player can not swim himself, but a Pokémon can be taught the move Surf, which can be used to traverse bodies of water outside of battle. Many of the games features other moves that can be used while surfing. Gold/Silver, has Whirlpool, which can be used to remove whirlpools and allow passage and Waterfall, which is used to climb waterfalls. Ruby/Sapphire has Waterfall and Dive. Dive let's the player explore underwater areas and is neccesary to reach Sootopolis City. Diamond/Pearl features Waterfall.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Link can swim in the water surface. Iron boots can be used to get to the bottom and walk around, but Link will drown if too much time is spent underwater. Zora armor allows Link to breathe and swim around underwater.
- Super Mario 64: Mario can swim in the water surface and swim around freely underwater. When underwater, Mario will lose health, but all health will be restored upon returning to the surface.
- Super Mario Galaxy: Swimming is similar to SM64, but there is a seperate air meter. Mario can spin underwater to move faster. Luigi can do this too, but it costs him air. Air bubbles will replenish the air meter. Shells can be used to swim faster.
- New Super Mario Bros.: Mario and Luigi can swim around freely underwater and will not drown.
- Wario Land: Shake It!: Wario will swim in the water surface and can not dive. The subwarine is used in underwater levels.
- Sonic the Hedgehog 1-3: Sonic and Knuckles can not swim and will drop to the bottom when in water. When underwater, Tails will swim instead of fly. If too much time is spent underwater, the player will drown.
- Kirby series: Kirby can swim freely and will not drown. In most of the games, Kirby can not suck in enemies while underwater and will squirt out water instead. Most copy abilities can not be used underwater. An example of one that can, is sword.
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 1-3: Players can not swim, but will fly through water. Players can not drown.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, among others: Initially Link can not swim, but gains the ability to do so upon getting flippers. With flippers, Link can swim and even dive for short amounts of time. In some places, other areas can be reached by diving.
Swimming is seldom seen as realistic in gaming. The bodily movements required to move forward or even to tread water in swimming is vastly different to walking or running, while a swimmer can only be most effective with minimal clothing. More importantly, there is little to no freedom of executing other actions, such as swinging a sword or dodging. Mainly, the reason of this being is fatigue.
Even the most experienced will eventually tire out and start to drown without a proper floating apparatus. This is because swimming requires most, if not all of the human body to constantly be in physical motion, whether the swimmer is floating or swimming in a direction. Runners and cyclists have the option of completely stopping to rest and remain still, while swimmers do not. However, there are techniques to conserve energy while swimming, which are aptly named as "drownproofing." Nevertheless, there is a minimum requirement of motion to stay afloat or propel one's self is needed to maintain surface buoyancy.
For a number of gameplay purposes, integrating fully realistic swimming would prove detrimental on both a player and developer level. Instead, compromises are made to still enable swimming, but without providing any grief to the player's experience. For example, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind features the ability to swim infinitely, even when wearing a full set of plated armor. Players can also attack and defend in the water the same way as if they were on land. The physics of water and land appear identical, only that water enables the player to move upwards and downwards. The same principle holds true with Morrowind's sequel, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and even Fallout 3; although granted, players cannot draw their weapon while swimming in Fallout 3.
Most MMOs follow similarly to Morrowind, but there are variations. In World of Warcraft, swimming in deep water will trigger a fatigue meter. When depleted, the player will take damage, although the DPS dealt is identical to drowning. Primarily, this is to encourage players to use public transportation, such as boats, as intended. Also, all characters in Champions Online opt to dolphin kick when in the water. When certain travel powers are activated, players can swim at absurdly fast speeds. Other MMOs, such as Lord of the Rings Online and Free Realms, would only allow players to swim on the surface.
There have been games that attributes certain aspects of realistic swimming. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time granted Link the ability to swim and dive underwater, complete with animations. To compensate buoyancy issues, he needed iron boots in order to sink and walk on the bottom floor, although he also needed the zora tunic to prevent himself from drowning. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is credited to realistic portrayals of buoyancy, where CJ can achieve neutral buoyancy (i.e. neither sink or float underwater) when he dives deep enough in depth.