There are a few good reasons why law-abiding citizens should learn how to pick a lock. A few weeks ago, my girlfriend told me she lost the key to an old metal box containing some change. As an experienced Thief player, I tried to break into this small container and soon realised that lockpicking in games is rather realistic.

The principal reason why we use locks everywhere is that they provide us with a sense of security and you probably interact with them multiple times every day. Almost everyone carries around a few keys whenever they leave the house and explore the outside world, but do these locks and keys keep your possessions secure?

A short definition

Locksmiths define lockpicking as the practice of unlocking a lock by manipulating the components inside the locking device to open it without the original key. It is terrifying that an inexperienced lockpicker is able to open a basic lock in a limited amount of time.

In some countries obtaining a set of lockpicking tools is considered as illegal for unauthorised citizens. In other countries, these tools may be sold and owned as long as there is no intent to use them for criminal purposes.

How does a lock work?

The most common locks are cylinder locks. These locks use keys to turn a cylinder and slides a mechanism forward or backward to open or close a door. On the inside of a cylinder lock, there are several pins with a different length with springs on top to keep them in position. These pins are cut somewhere in the middle.

When you insert a key in the lock, the notches on the key push the pins inside the lock upwards to different levels. The correct key pushes the pins to the exact point where the split of these pins are correctly aligned with the outer layer of the cylinder making it possible to rotate. Lockpicking requires you to manipulate these pins.

How realistic is lockpicking in games?

In games such as Thief, you have to manipulate the pins inside the locks to open them without the required key. Opening the locks with a set of lockpicking tools is not too complicated in this game and definitely semi-realistic and closer to reality than most gamers think.

Lockpicking is a time-consuming task in Thief, but the entire process is not exactly comparable to how a real thief or locksmith would open a lock. In reality, you have to use an additional tension wrench in combination with a lockpick to manipulate the pins inside the locked door or case.

A tension wrench and lockpicks

You insert the tension wrench in the bottom of the keyhole and turn it slightly in the same direction as you would turn the key to open the lock. This increases the pressure on the pins and keeps them in place when you position them correctly.

After inserting the tension wrench, you keep it in place and lift the pins one by one inside the lock to the required level until you hear a soft click when they fall into position. Keep the pressure on the tension wrench to prevent the pin from falling back. You can turn the cylinder once all pins are set in the correct position.

Gameplay and realism

Lockpicking seems simple, but you have to learn how much pressure you need to put on the tension wrench and how they need to manipulate the individual pins. Gamers do not have the time to learn how to pick a lock and game developers make it as realistic as possible without making it too complicated and frustrating for their player base.

The depiction of picking a lock is quite realistic in some games and you get an impression of the problems that lockpickers experience when manipulating the pins inside a cylinder lock. Games have to find the right balance between realism and gameplay and Thief did a great job at introducing believable lockpicking to the masses.

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Disclaimer. This post contains copyrighted images from Thief, a video game developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. The fair use of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting or research is not considered as an infringement of copyright.

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