Published on March 20th, 2013 | by PJ Douglas


Blog: Headshots – Why do we love them?

“So good I should charge admission”
– Baird after a headshot in GOW 3

You steady your aim, you zoom in a few inches further on the player in front’s head behind cover, an explosion across the field rocks your aim and you lose him for a moment amid a flurry of gunfire but all of a sudden you find him again, you zoom back in, get your little red dot right between the eyes and slowly pull the right trigger…



It’s the sound that brings fear to players who aren’t in cover and an arrogant smirk to those who perform it.

A rush fills you and your ego swells with the knowledge that you just reduced your enemy to nothing more than a mannequin that can’t wear hats with the same force of a giant stepping on a bug.

With the arrival of gears of war judgement this Friday, in my opinion the game that has the best headshots of all time I thought i’d take a trip down memory lane and see why we as gamers have fallen so in love with headshots over the years…

The first game I remember rewarding headshots was Virtua Cop 2 back on my Sega Saturn in 1996, while you got points for shooting enemies in the hand or chest, a head shot would flip them backwards in a single shot as if the bullets had the force of Bruce Lee’s one inch punch, shortly after this came house of the dead, those of a certain age will remember sinking pound after pound into this in the arcades and one scene in particular near the start where the quickest way to stop a zombie throwing a scientist off a bridge (and ultimately making you take the awful sewer route) was to headshot him as oppose to using multiple body shots.

But what is it about aiming for the head that has made it so famous? I think it breaks down into five main areas:

The Science
Scientifically if you shoot someone in the head and manage to hit the medulla oblongata (Brain Stem) you sever the brain to the rest of the body and cause an instant shut down, this has been made famous recently in Zombie games and films where the statement “Removing the head or destroying the brain” is the only way to stop their base instincts of hunger and violence.

The Skill
Even if we don’t notice it in today’s world of flash graphics every enemy is essentially just a long rectangular box with a smaller box on top, and it is in hitting this smaller box that the skill lies, many times a headshot will fall lower and become a standard chest shot or whizz right past the enemies head as they move at the last moment. There is also a smugness that it only took one bullet to take down your enemy, no ten bullets with a machine gun to the chest or grenades thrown nearby then a follow up shotgun blast this is six single shots dropping six single enemies, those of you who remember Goldeneye on the N64 might remember the medal you got for the headshots was arrogantly labelled ‘Most Professional’ for this exact reason, you have taken yourself out of auto aim and made a conscious decision to try and be better than the rest.

The Stealth
Whether it is from afar with a sniper rifle, up close with a silenced pistol or using a bow and arrow, the new weapon of 2013! This is the ultimate way to keep things calm, almost every game these days has a ‘Don’t set off the alarm’ mission and it’s all about killing quickly and cleanly. In sniper missions this is made even smoother as you kill enemies (one of whom is almost always taking a piss) from miles away with no one knowing who, what, why or how the kill was just achieved.

The Sadness
It’s not all good however, a lot of weapons and styles of gameplay are now overlooked as players are used to racking up easy one shot kills with starting weapons and ditch the more entertaining weapons such as flamethrowers and grenade launchers. Several times I’ve found myself restarting checkpoints because I’ve shot enemies in the chest and forgotten I could just shoot them again and engage in a fantastic cross room shootout or an all out Rambo approach to a room full of soldiers.

Oh the gore, I use gears of war as my main example for this but plenty of games reward you pinpoint precision with a sight not unlike the result of someone speed punching a watermelon to death using jam and ketchup covered wolverine claws. The display acts as both a reward and deterrent remind us that while we may be skilled enough to have just pulled it off, we too are at the mercy of anyone’s well timed shot.

So overall this seems to be the future, keep aiming high and enjoy that satisfying ‘pop’ but don’t let it distract you from running in with your chainsaw! See you on the battlefield (But i’ll be keeping my head down)!

I’ll leave you with the best headshot my brother ever made…


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About the Author

Raised in the late 80s on a steady diet of Sonic the Hedgehog and Cherry Coke /// World traveller, Rum baron, Situation Defuser and All Round Good Guy /// “A lot of things that happened [in the past] would have broken anybody else. I was able to survive. That's all that really matters.”

2 Responses to Blog: Headshots – Why do we love them?

  1. Scot says:

    There are very few things in this world that make me smile – e.g. Playing with my daughter, finding money down the back of the couch, McDonalds hash browns and well timed meatball exploding headshots.

    Is there anything better?

    Epic Games gave us the insanity of Bulletstorm to try and show people that the only thing better than a headshot was a series of crotch shots followed by the obligatory knee capping culminating in a very epic (sorry for the pun) headshot.

    There is no greater feeling than having that perfectly zen moment when everything lines up and you target drifts into view oblivious to the danger then……”CRACK”…..silence, followed by a barely audible sigh of exasperation.

    You haven’t just taken a life, you took the respect and demoralised the opposition who now believe they are competing against elite marksmen.

  2. Tony Winkett says:

    Nothing will beat Gears of old for me. Days when in TDM with your whole team watching you 3v1 and you end it with a gnasher shot to the head. The pop followed by the AWWWWWWWWWWW of the watching lobby made live great for me.

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