When Realism Doesn’t Age Well

In watching the latest gameplay footage of The Last Of Us from PAX, I was reminded of a subject I’ve always wanted to tackle with a few words: realism in videogames doesn’t age well.

Recently, I’ve started playing the original Metal Gear Solid for PSX through the PS Vita’s Classics feature. It’s a great game, but what once looked like a major milestone in “making things look like real life” is now all pixelated, fuzzy, and funny at best. Obviously, MGS compensates with other aspects to remain a masterpiece to this day.

Same with every GTA game for PS2. Back in the day, my jaw dropped when I saw CJ walking around the streets of Los Santos. Today, that realism doesn’t seem so realistic.

Compare that to timeless gems like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy Tactics, whose distinctive non-realistic style isn’t anachronistic – it looks like a deliberate choice.

My point is, it’s difficult to balance artistic direction with the lure of pursuing the latest technological advancements. After all, The Last Of Us looks fantastic, and we all want our games to look great on our HD displays. It’d be silly not to use the technologies at our disposal (military organizations are using games as simulators).

But at the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that realistic graphics alone shouldn’t define the nature of a game. What looks “realistic” today might appear silly twenty years from now, when technology will be far more advanced and complex than today.

A soulless, realistic-at-all-costs game is like fashion: it looks good today.

Art, vision, style, gameplay, and graphics should be purposefully combined to create timeless experiences that can stand the test of time under every aspect. I won’t pretend this should be true for every game – it won’t happen, ever. I just think there should be more of it.

Perhaps the lack of proper resources and technology of the ‘80s and '90s fostered a mindset devoted to imagination more than shaders.

In that case, game designers will have to double down on a new kind of creativity going forward: one that harness today’s computing power to empower the gamer with profound storytelling and presentation techniques.

Less sloppy first-person shooters, more of Pixar and Okami please.

“Anyone who thinks that emulating reality is the Holy Grail is not a great animator. Because the goal isn’t to emulate humans. The goal is to create works of art and to tell stories.”

 
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