Are realistic graphics something we should want? Part 1
Are realistic graphics something we should want? Part 2
Are realistic graphics something we should want? Part 3

Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was launched 11 years ago, in the holiday season of 2004. The game built off of the idea that Ultima Online had helped create. Bringing together a vast amount of players into the same area, giving them similar/the same goals, and they either need to work together or compete for the objectives. Ultima Online really helped found the idea behind the MMORPG, and this caught the attention of developers at Blizzard quickly.

World of Warcraft was expected to be a failure because ‘the graphics looked silly’. The cartoonish style that has followed it throughout its 11 years was not something critics wanted or appreciated. But, according to the 2014 documentary ‘Looking for Group’, World of Warcraft hit the 1 million mark within 2-3 months of being up – something they expected to do in 12 months.

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Blizzard’s now giant MMORPG is still going strong, despite a recent drop in subscribers. World of Warcraft has had many clones, following the same design for the game and making very few changes(besides the aesthetics). They hang on for dear life using a Free to Play system – or rather, a Pay to Win system. The micro transaction’s included in games are meant to give a player the edge for spending real money, regardless of how big the advantage is, it doesn’t make the game any cheaper to play then a $15 subscription per month. Or any more fun, for that matter.

With games like Elder Scrolls Online out, and having yet to stomp all over the ‘cartoonish’ game, Blizzard has made more of an impact on the ‘realistic graphics’ gaming then anyone else. Possibly the most successful video game – and the most successful MMORPG – to ever come out in the video game industry, Blizzard has yet to create a hyper-realistic World of Warcraft, and they probably never will. Besides making the game less accessible to a majority of users, it would effect the way that the fictional world is perceived.

Legend of Zelda and World of Warcraft paved the way for gaming without the use of realistic graphics. Without following the cultural norms, we can see developments in the industry when we expected very little to none.

That is not to say games that have realistic graphics can’t be ground breaking. In the end the graphics of the game is not what should concern us, the gaming population, the most. Not yet. The way that the game plays is more important then whether or not the person looks real.

How can we be as bold as to say that realistic graphics are the way to go, with the ever growing fantasy and sci-fi genre? The fantasy genres semi-recent revival(Lord of the Rings, Warcraft, and many others contributed to this) has brought back the Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Goblins we have all come to love. The realistic graphics we demand create games with things that don’t exist in the real world.

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The ideal of a realistic game comes from mans will to live vicariously. Dwayne Johnson once said, “Playing big, heroic characters with heart is always a lot of fun. I enjoy making movies like that, and a lot of people love to live vicariously through those characters.”

Although he is talking about acting and movies in that context, the idea behind people wanting to live vicariously translates easily to any form of media. Playing games that inspire, challenge, and excite remind us that we are still in control of our own life, but we can step back and enjoy the adventures of others. We do not need to actually step out and save that person from the gang fight, that’s what our character is for.

By making these games look and feel as similar to real life as we possibly can, we make ourselves feel a little bit better about our daily lives. We ensure that we have done something good, even if its just fictional.

Realistic graphics push the industry further in the sense of making more violent, more extreme games. We are entering a delicate time in gaming’s history, with groups of individuals attempting to put the blame for every shooting, every terrorist attack, on video games. What we play and what we condition ourselves to can effect our mental state, but for most people it isn’t enough to push them to the edge.

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I would never suggest that Video Games are the sole cause of everything wrong in the world. I don’t know why I’d be writing for Gamespresso if I believed that.

I would, however, suggest that we are trying to humanize games with realistic graphics, and take away the fantasy. Its our inability to connect to something that is stylized, something that looks different, that makes realistic graphics the most sought after part of our games.

We may have elves running around in most of our games now, but keeping a realistic style keeps us grounded. Stylized games have decidedly become for the young at heart, and we don’t take them as seriously as the games that remind us of the real world.

Although realistic graphics will constantly get better, and some day it will be like looking in a mirror, for the time being they will not be improving our games in the way that we want them to.

If you are looking for a game that pushes the boundaries, puts in new features, and works towards creating better gameplay – look for the games that don’t have realistic graphics. Games that come up with unique ideas, rather then boasting about their next gen graphics.

  • Christopher Smith

    “Its our inability to connect to something that is stylized, something that looks different, that makes realistic graphics the most sought after part of our games.”

    Alana, great article, but I couldn’t disagree more with the above statement. You say that we as gamers can’t connect to something that is stylized, but I believe that you are completely wrong. Look at recent games like the Valkyria Chronicles, the Telltale Walking Dead Games, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, This War of Mine, The Long Dark, and the upcoming Firewatch game. All of these games (and this is really just naming a few) have shunned photo-realism for stylised graphics, and all of these games have focused on nurturing or developing relationships with the characters/protagonists.

    Take for instance, Clementine from the Walking Dead game, I would imagine it would be pretty hard to find any gamer that didn’t connect with Clem when playing the Walking Dead. Of course, games like The Last of Us, with Ellie and Joel, also allowed the player to become very involved with the characters, but it wasn’t Ellie or Joel’s photo realism that made them loveable as characters, it was the writing, dialogue and relationships they had with each other that made them believable, and hence relatable.

    Ultimately, photo-realistic games will, for the foreseeable future, encounter the uncanny valley conundrum, whereby the closer we get to simulating reality, the more the small differences between the simulation and real-life stand out, and can actually be quite jarring and potentially leading to a disconnect. Therefore, by abandoning photo-realism, developers are able to circumvent this issue, and spend more time and resources of developing the game’s script, gameplay and dialogue. Obviously this doesn’t always stand true, but hopefully you can see my point.

    What do you think?

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