Laser sights are one of my favorite weapon mods in games; they’re just so cool looking! Despite being relatively old technology (reflex sights were invented in 1900!) they have a sci-fi, high-tech feel to them that makes any gun look more badass.

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There are two major forms of laser sights in video games: ones that come with a visible beam of (usually) red light or ones that are simply a colored dot showing where the barrel is pointed. In real life, the latter is the only feasible option since the laser beam is too difficult to see in normal daylight and only in optimal conditions as night. Video games tend to prefer the former, however, due to being flashier and more useful to the player. If a game does include a more realistic laser sight it’ll often be a multiplayer game where the full beam would be too much of a giveaway to any potential targets. The sniper rifle in Team Fortress 2 is an example. Laser-sighted weapons wielded by NPCs will almost always be solid, and probably carried by snipers because otherwise the player would get extremely frustrated at trying to spot the long-range, high-damage unit.

And the NPC snipers who aren't using lasers are probably using tracer rounds.
And the NPC snipers who aren’t using lasers are probably using tracer rounds instead.

It’s no coincidence that snipers and lasers are so frequently linked, because laser sights are intrinsically linked to the concept of accuracy. In Left 4 Dead 2 and Planetside 2, adding a laser sight to your gun magically increases the firearm’s accuracy. In Payday 2, laser sight mods are the best way to create a gun that can accurately target enemies without needing to aim-down-sight due to the game not having crosshairs.

The Kobra machine pistol in Saints Row 2 is the only weapon with a laser sight, subtly alerting the player that it has a longer effective range than normal pistols.
The Kobra machine pistol in Saints Row 2 is the only weapon with a laser sight, subtly alerting the player that it has a longer effective range than normal pistols.

Let’s talk about that. Some games do not contain crosshairs due to either realism or attempting to keep the HUD minimal. In cases such as these, laser sights are perfect for giving the player a diagetic means of aiming their firearm. With a hi-tech protagonist, infrared sights can even rationalize why the enemies don’t notice your laser sight.

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Or, if your enemies are mindless zombies, why they ignore them.

Killing Floor 2 has two guns with laser sights, and each demonstrates a different motivation from the developers. The M14 semi-automatic rifle is the mid-tier rifle for the Sharpshooter class, and its laser sight allows accurate hipfire and alerts your frontline fighters where you’re aiming. The Berzerker’s Eviscerator fires circular saws and originally was not equipped with a laser sight, but the devs added one after players complained that they never used the weapon (despite it being the final tier option for the Berzerker) due to difficulty judging where the saws were going to land.

Due to TF2 having crosshairs, the Wrangler's laser sight is more of a downside than an upside, though it does help alert the engy when he's actually firing his sentry into a corner.
Due to TF2 having crosshairs, the Wrangler’s laser sight is more of a downside than an upside, though it does help alert the engy when his sentry’s aim is being clipped by a map entity.

In certain contexts, the laser’s ability to broadcast your position to opponents can be seen as an upside. Enemies will be less likely to turn a corner if an enemy laser is clearly staring down it. However, mostly absent in gaming is the psychological aspects of having a laser trained on you, an aspect used often by real life law enforcement units.

Let’s wrap this article up with 3 fun facts about the TF2 Sniper’s laser sight:

1. It can detect enemy spies.

2. It can be hidden by props and corners.

3. You can easily fake one with an animated spray!

This article is part of my “On Shooters” series, where I compare multiple games by focusing on a specific game mechanic or developer objective. To read the rest, click here!

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