For over 25 years now videogames have offered all of us an escape from what can often be considered, a boring, dreary and mundane existence (aka "reality") So then, why is it that so many of us care so much about videogames being realistic? I mean what's so special about "realism when videogames have the potential to offer us a world of infinite possibilities beyond the limits of our reality?
You needn't look much further than the current popular/up and coming triple-A titles/franchises to see what I'm getting at, such as Dead Space, Assassins Creed, The Last Of US, Watch_Dog and GTA V, heck, even many games that are based pretty much entirely on fiction are being bound by the rules of "reality" to a certain extent. So then, is the videogame industry's obsession with realism one of the reasons why so many games tend to look and feel "samey" these days? Personally I would say that it's certainly a contributing factor.
But how did realism become such a huge part of gaming to begin with? Well, I guess you could argue that the more technologically advanced gaming became, the more developers naturally wanted to try and replicate reality to provide experiences similar to what the real world offers, but which most of us couldn't actually experience in our everyday lives. Also realism equals "fun" everyone knows realism ads to the immersion factor, right? I mean if a world is believable then we are more likely to enjoy it and loose ourselves in it.
Well maybe so but does that mean we can't enjoy games that completely ignore the shackles of reality just as much? I personally don't ever remember thinking "Gee, If only Mario looked like a real middle aged, fat plumber in a mushroom filled land, running round squashing turtles, I'd be enjoying this game sooooo much more" But of course what a game is about is a huge factor in deciding as to whether or not it should look, and feel realistic, if a game is based in a modern, war torn battle field (or world war one or two) then it makes a lot of sense for that game to look realistic. However if it's a fantasy setting then why not break the confines of our reality and create a believable but also original world.
It's strange how so many games based in fantasy settings still choose to impose many of the rules of our reality on the populous of their fantasy world. Also, I do find It funny how "fantasy" (especially in the case of Western MMO's) seems to already have pre-existing rules and expectations attached to it, such as the need for elves, dwarves, dragons and the like. One would think that given the opportunity to create "anything" we would be seeing a lot more originality, especially in the mainstream.
So then, is the shear amount of games that focus on closely replicating reality an indication that we as gamers prefer "realistic games" as apposed to "fantasy games, or is it simply the case that creating worlds bound by the rules of reality is just a simpler task for Triple-A developers to undertake these days. Or at least more so than having them create a world with brand new rules, brand new worlds and possibilities?
Let's try comparing two incredibly well made games that are very similar but also very different, The Last Of Us and Bioshock infinite, now if you want my personal opinion I feel that these two games stand together as equals. It's really only when we go about creating a narrow and specific criteria for what makes a for a "better game" that either of these two games can be considered superior. Naturally if we say that a better game is one that offers a realistic world, as close to our own as possible (The world after the viral outbreak in TLO is certainly one of the most plausible) then The Last Of Us then becomes the better game. However if we say that a great game is one that offers a fantasy world, one that is set far enough apart from reality to offer unique events that are beyond those that we could ever experience in our reality, then Bioshock: Infinite would be considered the better game.
Do you see what I mean? The very fact that we measure how well a game represents our reality as a defining factor in how much better it is than another game, is limiting our experiences from a medium that is capable of offering us pretty much "anything".
There as many positives in making a fantasy game as there is for making a game grounded mostly in reality, maybe more so. So then, I'll say it again, why exactly is it that we seem to get so many more games being developed that are going for the realism approach? Is it a fad? Is it just the industry looking to push their tech further, so naturally replicating reality is a great way to test how far we've come? Another possibility for why many of us enjoy games based in a world similar to reality, is that we can experience events and emotions that we would not otherwise have been able to experience.
Silent Hill is a game franchise that places us in the real word, but then goes about morphing it into a nightmare in order for us to feel anxiety and fear the likes we would not otherwise have had the chance to feel (for better or worse depending on how easily you scare) so there's also something to be said for games that are based in reality but also offer us experiences, events and characters the likes we could not meet in reality, Metal Gear Solid is another game franchise I feel embodies this type of game, while MGS is grounded mostly in reality it contains many characters and events that are simply too far-fetched to actually exist or occur in the real world.
Honestly, I believe that games created in a fantasy world and a world that closely portrays our reality both have their merits, and when they are done exceptionally well they can both stand as equals. Games based closely in reality seem to be the more popular of the two right now, but so long as the games industry doesn't allow that fact to influence the kinds of games that get created, then I'm certain we'll be seeing plenty of fantasy games that could rival even The Last Of Us in terms of story telling, characterisation and immersion.
I recently played a PSP game called "Danganronpa" which has an incredibly well crafted story, likeable characters who you can sympathise with and some crazy goings on, it's also set in the real world and most of the characters are hyper stereotypes, but even so I still felt incredibly immersed in the world, it didn't matter to me that the game had an anime theme in fact that actually lended very well to the experience. I guess what I'm trying to say is, if Danganronpa had realistic graphics and more believable characters then it would have been a lesser game because of it.
In short. A game doesn't need a world that looks real in order for us to feel "immersed" get "invested" or have "fun" it just needs either a great story, interesting characters and/or a solid set of game mechanics. If you need convincing then just look to games like Super Mario, Starfox 64, The Legend of Zelda Windwaker, Jack and Daxter, Bastion, Journey, Blazblue, Persona, Final Fantasy, Pokemon and Disgaea.
All of these games I mentioned above are based in a fantasy setting, and all of them are fun, immersive, and allow for you to get invested in the world and characters. Realism does not make for a "better" game, it just makes it easier for us to empathise more with characters and their situation. Where as fantasy games often offer a fantastical situation and group of characters that is more difficult for some of us to get invested n.
Anyway, I hope I made my point clear. Thanks for reading my blog, and if you'd like to add anything or disagree with any of my points, please feel free to leave a comment