December 31, 2012

Realism In Video Games

The debate between realism and make believe is a controversial topic for debate amongst gamers, and today we will put it to rest.

No one understands the boundary between real life and the modern console game better than I do, and that’s really saying something considering how many hours I’ve logged into Battlefield 3. The line between realistic and unrealistic games is drawn when developers choose to make it clear that they attempted a sense of photorealism in their games.

How do we judge that line?

Let’s examine that for a bit. First, photorealism isn’t the definition of a game’s attempts to look real, at least not in my dictionary. Rather, the game’s intentions were to highlight potential realistic qualities, such as breathing and taking damage when falling. Why bother with the little things? Because we all realize and respect that there is no video game known to man that can compensate for every last procedure and undertaking of the human anatomy.

If such a game did exist, it would harbor at least 1,000 gigabytes of usable hard drive space, and would probably take at least fifteen years to craft. Even at the end of such a process, you would only have rendered a replica the size of Houston. The world is simply to big to begin imagining a completely realistic video game, so the next best thing has to be our individual respects to real life.

What do I mean by ‘Respects’?

They’re the tiny, invisible happenings that you never manage to pay attention to. Things like light jogging after a long sprint to catch your breath, or flinching when nicked by a stray bullet are examples of respect for realism. The direction of light reflected off a paved surface, and the texture of the rusted metal from a car that’s just been fried are also examples of said respects.

Why do we need these?

Because while we realize that we can never replicate life, we can always pretend that we’re in a realistic world. But does that mean we’re trying to treat video games like our escape from the world that we hate so much?

Yes and no.

It’s a matter of opinion and position in society that can determine that factor, but the desire amongst gamers for realism is obvious. When you step into the world of Dishonored, you can’t help but notice how animated the graphics feel compared to the cinematic trailer for its teaser release. When you mantle kick in Gears of War 3, you feel the respect to the fact that you stun other people on a battlefield when you take leaps over ledges.

Finally, when you jump out of a helicopter two hundred feet in GTA4, the character yells in terror and fear and even positions himself into a strange fetal ball.

This is the way that developers appeal to the respect of realism in a video game.

Most game developers choose to make a live action version of their games to attract gamers into a would-be realistic world that they can connect to. This is a strange and invisible happening in the gaming industry, and one that is not so easily set aside.

Why did we all need a live action cinematic trailer for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? Because despite how realistic the game is, we know that it simply does not have the technical power to replicate life itself. So a replica helps our imagination.

That’s not to say that all games shoot for realism, but it would be blasphemous to say that there aren’t a lot of them.

Consider how disappointed gamers would be if video games ceased to attempt realism in their graphic and technical engines. What makes this conquest so unique is that we’ve been attempting it for as long as it was discovered that we could make money from making a game.

The universal motivator for a developer is money, but what better way to market that method than by appealing to the gamer’s need for escape? Call it a sick and desperate attempt to garner respect and I will simply call it the way of the world

Everyone’s got to eat by sundown.

Understanding the human condition and their need for realism gives us an idea of how soon we may see that ‘Real’ factor in future game endeavors. Are you excited? Let me know what you think!

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

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