Gaming, Video Games

How Realistic is Too Realistic?

Video games are more realistic now than they’ve ever been. One look at graphics from Halo 4 or Battlefield 4 will tell you that; the environments are more detailed than ever, and the engines in modern games can replicate real-world physics to a T. With all this realism, however, are we reaching a point where games will get so realistic that we won’t want to play them anymore? Will Battlefield 8 be so realistic that it’s not a game used for recreation, rather it’s a training tool for the military? (At this bi-annual rate, BF 8 would come out in 8 years, so possibly on a next-next-gen system.) Will it be so realistic that veterans can’t play it because it greatly exaggerates PTSD or other illnesses? The question is: how real is too real?

Let’s start by asking this “simpler” question: why do we play video games? Many answers would include, “for fun,” “to escape reality,” and “because I like *certain aspect of said game*.” The majority of gamers play for these reasons, which all revolve, to an extent, an escape of sorts. The fun in games can’t be replicated in the real world, due to superpowers, inventions, and other aspects of gaming. But at the same time, don’t we play these same games because of a parallel sense of realism? Take Halo 4, for example. The environments are detailed, the physics are good, but the aliens are completely unrealistic; it’s an oxymoron, yet we play it for a combination of the realism and non-realism.

Or, take Battlefield 3 or 4: the realism abounds in the destructible environments, lighting and shadowing powers, and realistic gameplay based on bullet drop and other factors. On the other hand, the non-realism evident is not because of any unachievable goale (i.e. contact with an alien race) but because 99.999% of us won’t ever have the chance to fly a jet into a battle, evade enemies left and right with barrel rolls, and unleash havoc on the enemies. Even fewer would survive such a stunt. My point is that the realism of the details and physics are parallel to the non-realism of our personal inabilities; most of us aren’t going to war in that manner anytime soon.
So, we play games for the thrill of the things we can’t do in reality. I’ve got to take a few lines from Tryhardninja here: “Eat Mario Mushrooms to grow tall; finally dunk that basketball. Leap off a mountain and free-fall; no big deal, ’cause I can respawn. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if life were like video games?” I think those lines (and the whole song, really) are the pinnacle of why we play games; to do the out-of-the-ordinary things that we can’t do in reality. So, do we really want games to become so much more realistic?

I’d like to say either yes or no, but the answer, for me, is a little of both. Yes, we want games to advance in a way that brings the experience to the point that it’s what it would really be like if we could do it in reality. On the other hand, we want to keep the non-realism that keeps these things from ever really happening, even if it looks like it could. How can this be achieved?

Well, I previously talked about voice recognition as a way to envelop gamers even more. Imagine if you could communicate with AIs simply through actual speech. Imagine how realistic a game would be if you could actually forge real relationships and communicate with the virtual characters. What if an Oculus Rift-like device could make the environment pop even more; if it would really feel and look and sound like we’re traversing through a pristine jungle environment. This would make the game so intensely realistic. As it is, take a look at this picture in the link: look at how realistic animation already is; imagine what it will be years from now: Animation is already pretty realistic, isn’t it?

Then, it brings us back to the topic question: how realistic is too realistic? If a game gets to the point that an overwhelming number of gamers find themselves as attached to it as the real world, then we’re going too far. Imagine how terrible it would be if we were truly enveloped in a world that was more appealing than reality, and no, the obsession of those who play games today doesn’t even come close to what I’m thinking the future could be like. If we form better relationships in the virtual world than in reality, we’ve gone too far; if we connect with AIs more than humans, we’ve gone too far. Most definitely, if we see them as love interests, we’ve gone WAY too far. If we reach the point where veterans can’t dare look at a military shooter, we’ve gone too far.

Do you see where I’m going with this? If games ever reach the point where they’re evoking more emotions (and on a larger scale) than reality, we’ve crossed a line. This is why the realism needs to be coupled with non-realism; it keeps us from truly being enveloped by the virtual environment. For this reason, I think we’re going to eventually reach a very troublesome point in gaming someday in the future. I can’t say whether it’ll be within a decade, or within half a century, but we will reach a point where we cross that line.

Think about it; inventions and advancements always continue to advance until they cross “that line.” Look at what industry has done to the environment and our resources. Look at how war has evolved. Look at how cars have become safer, yet more deadly, or at how fast food chains expand and contribute to obesity (although I’m not blaming them). Gaming will get to the point where it becomes so real that it snaps; it’ll be catastrophic for gamers.

Of course, games in the vein of Saints Row and LittleBigPlanet or Mario will be fine; we’ll be able to tell the difference between these games and reality, unless we develop the ability to become giants from eating mushrooms, or little burlap sack dudes are running around everywhere. Games with distinctive art styles, gameplay styles, and genres will be safe from crossing “that line.” However, the mega-popular “look-at-me-I’m-realistic” games will cross that line. GTA 9 might actually teach everyone how to hijack any vehicle they want. Battlefield 8 may actually give gamers PTSD (think about THAT one) and Call of Duty 20 might have not only fish, but also oceanic mammals swim away from you… and they’ll introduce cats!

Okay, that last one was totally off the map, but I had to do it.

My point is that the games striving for realism, such as most popular military shooters, will cross the line where games become too realistic for their own good, and that will be terrible for the gaming industry, and possibly for the world as we know it. Of course, I’m looking at the worst case scenario; what might happen if technology advances like I think it might, although we see how well those ideas worked out in the past. We still don’t have time-traveling DeLoreans, and we haven’t colonized Mars, so we might not have these super realistic games for centuries.

Am I just overthinking it? Do you think games will ever reach the point where they become too powerful for their own good? Let me know what you think about this; I’m genuinely intrigued by this topic!

Please note that I’m having my wisdom teeth extracted tomorrow, so I won’t be actively posting comments or articles for a couple days, although I’m setting up another article to auto-post on Saturday, assuming it works like I want it to. 🙂

Finally, I want to give a big THANK YOU to all who have read this blog; I passed the 1,000 view mark yesterday. It’s not a lot, I guess, but it means more than you know to me. Thanks so much for your support! Let’s celebrate with a Grunt Pinata!

Signing Off


8 thoughts on “How Realistic is Too Realistic?”

  1. Honestly, I think what you’re describing is going to be a long way off.Think about it, movies have been live-action, and thus that realistic, for years now, and yet people don’t really have that kind of reaction. As much as we like getting into them there is still the fact that there will be a controller between us and the screen, and the environment only stimulates two of our senses. Until we overcome these barriers (I think the Kinect is a long way off from replacing controllers entirely) I think we are safe from losing ourselves completely in the virtual environments.

    1. Thats another thing to consider though; movies have always been the same form: look at the screen. There’s no interaction like with games. Also, we dont know what developments will be made in gaming as far as new peripherals are concerned

  2. Great article, lovely read. I think your concerns definitely have some validity especially with the Occulus Rift hardware. It will become the future of gaming. I think and hope that the gaming industry knows its limits. DICE understands that people won’t want to see their teammates bleed out in their arms as you see the life drain from their eyes. Activision knows to stop at the point where the dying sounds of your opponents haunt your dreams. The sad thing is, if the demand for a game that you can lose yourself in and enjoy more than reality is there, that game will be made.

    1. What about all the terrible horror movies or gory military or crime movies?

      When I was a kid I used to watch violent “R” movies with my dad, admittedly, probably before I should have. He wanted to watch what he wanted to watch and so did I because I felt it was something ‘bad’ I shouldn’t be seeing, and he probably didn’t want to watch kids movies. I was 7 or 8. I had a few night terrors or nightmares because of this because I was too young to see this and my brain wasn’t fully developed.

      Did you happen to see the IMMENSELY successful Saw series? I’m pretty sure it was just a premise of a person in a room with a way to get killed. The movie Final Destination? They made 3 of them right? Isn’t the reason you watched it was because it was ENTERTAINING seeing the way each person got killed?

      People loved it, it’s entertaining. Grand Theft Auto? Driving around killing people, cops, and causing wreckless activity. Ya, I’m pretty sure that was the most successful video game of all time.

      Made 1 Billion in 6 days. Pimps dust their shoulders off.

      Normal people can decipher the difference between real and fake.

  3. You need to make the distinction between graphic fidelity and gameplay, then explore the issue from those two points because one neither necessarily includes or excludes the other. This post is problematic because you seem to be conflating the issues at some points and talking about one or the other at other points, something that utterly confuses the entire discussion. I hope you can see how this lack of clarity presents problems for the thesis sentence in the middle of the first paragraph, viz. are video games reaching a point where they will become too realistic to be enjoyed?

    In respect to graphic fidelity, an over-emphasis on photo-realism has put more emphasis on the way the game looks than the way the game plays. Games like Skyrim are lauded for their graphics but have a wealth of bugs and, following this example, Skyrim was released on a platform that the developer, publisher and platform itself (Sony) knew the game could not in any real way perform reliably on. (You cannot literally develop the same sort of game with greater nuance each time, each time having greater problems, and believe that it can work. Fallout 3, Oblivion, Fallout New Vegas and all of the DLC that game along with it…ZeniMax, Obsidian, Bethesda, Sony: they knew it would not work.) Games less complex than Skyrim suffer from the issue of adhering to a graphic, wherein issues like clipping and texture pop hamper the game’s visuals because of high graphic fidelity.

    In respect to gameplay, too great an emphasis takes the game and play out of gameplay but grappling with the question of how realistic can a game get before it is no longer a game. Is a flight simulator a game? No, nevermind the graphical presentation. Can an abundance of bugs and design issues destroy a notion of ‘realism’, such as in Left 4 Dead 2? Yes. (For example, the Magnum can one-shot a CI in any difficulty and on any difficulty with Realism mode enabled, however the two other weapons that can do that, the Hunting Rifle and Sniper Rifle, cannot do that in Realism mode despite being able to do that on every difficulty. That’s one example though, Left 4 Dead 2 is a bug fest.) Can limited emphasis of true-to-life concepts and effects produce a very strong game, e.g. fear, movement and wavering vision in Amnesia: the Dark Descent? Yes. Can the same thing hamper a game, e.g. the use of physics in games like Trine? Yes.

    Ultimately, what will make and break a game when it comes to ‘realism’ is just how true-to-life concepts and effects are applied to games. When QA issues crop up the illusion of reality breaks and the player is either thrust forcefully through the fourth wall or trapped inside all four. There is a line that games can cross to become not fun and the realistic effects become a chore. There is also a line that games can cross and become simulators instead of games, which is fine so long as they aren’t called games -at that point they are non-games, like non-art, not bad games. The notion of ‘realism’ applies as much to graphic fidelity as it does to gameplay and the two must be examined both separately and together, I’d even argue that they should be examined on a per-game basis.

    But realism shouldn’t be the goal in and of itself: a good game needs to be the goal and the more merely a part of game design is focused on at the exclusion of all else the more we will see games bad games.

    1. “In respect to gameplay, too great an emphasis takes the game and play out of gameplay but grappling with the question of how realistic can a game get before it is no longer a game.”

      Should read:

      In respect to gameplay, too great an emphasis takes the game and play out of gameplay by grappling with the question of how realistic can a game get before it is no longer a game.

  4. I actually agree with this article when i enlisted in the marine corps cod 4 mw was at its highest point and admittedly i thought the marines would be just like it so i signed the papers an decided on the 0311 infantry mos not realizing how bad combat really was so when i got sent to Afghanistan as a lcpl i was an idiot for the first few weeks till the ied went off and all the cod bs went out the window realizing i was not sgt Paul Jackson from modern warfare and well that changed me because i was on my ass my friend list his leg and the smell of blogs was thick so yeah i think this article is correct the “reality” should stay blended with nonrealistic themes because if scenes like this where in games and where as real as combat i think it would harm the community that was built on games like halo ce the original gta and even and i know it seems way too outdated but even duck hunter and pong the gaming community will be fucked up and look at things today games rated M for mature you still have kids whose parents buy games like cod battlefield and many other mature rated games imagine if kids where to experience events in a ultra realistic military shooter ptsd and kids don’t mix real well in my personal opinion so are somewhat realistic games good yes if it only goes as far as environments detail and story as far as military fps games but my message to game developers realism and immersion are two separate entities that in certain situations won’t mix well

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