Considering Crosshairs

Are crosshairs psychologically comforting?

I saw an article link about this topic recently, but I can’t find it now (if you have it, please let me know) and I’m bound to repeat some of the observations.

I’m currently working on basic HUD elements for our stealth game (4thWall Awareon), so this is on my mind. Our player character doesn’t start with an overt weapon, but I’m still considering crosshairs.

I find crosshairs comforting. When there’s no targeting reticle, I feel unsure of my aim, but there’s more to it than that. I’m aware that this UI element in the middle of my screen consistently breaks immersion, but at the same time I’m able to ignore it to some degree. Clearly it enters my subconscious, because when it’s missing I feel an unease. Scary games get scarier when there’s no reticle. Dead Space manipulates this exceptionally well, keeping the UI completely absent until I aim or interact with something.

Other 3rd person games already have that too ( Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory comes to mind): Player aiming enables crosshairs. I’m aware of the comfort of crosshairs, so I hesitate to follow that standard and I ponder the repercussions. I’d like our players to start out inherently comfortable.

I’m reminded of the lessons of Half-Life, where the crowbar is the player’s touch element into the world. They explored that further with the gravity gun in Half-Life 2. Crosshairs themselves are related in a way, they probe areas where the player looks, especially if they change on context (red when highlighting a target).

For story however, I may have to compromise. HUD elements are bound to end up context-sensitive and it just won’t make sense for the player to start with any target-related gear / weapons.