Graphics are Overrated
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No doubt I’ll receive at least some amount of flack for even bring up the subject matter, but I do honestly think that the focus video game graphical fidelity is overrated, because no matter how hard developers push said graphical fidelity it’ll never be able to reach the tier of accurately simulating the fidelity of real life in its entirety.

I’ve thought about this for a while now, at least for the past couple of years. True, I was once blown away by authentically simulated “real-life” graphics, but after a while I just became jaded to the idea of “realistic graphics” after experiencing games that only look realistic at first glance, until I squinted a little bit and notice one or several things wrong or not quite right.

Every time I hear or read “realistic graphics”, I just look at it with a blank stare and think with a mostly unimpressed “uh-huh. It looks realistic, but it’s not”.

That’s not to say that high graphical fidelity doesn’t have its moments, hence why I said “mostly unimpressed”. Whilst people may judge graphical power on lighting, smoke, explosions, 3D rendered particles, volumetric clouds and much more, I tend to judge graphical power based on water physics and fire.

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Water physics in video games seems to be nearly nailed down to a tee, but I’ve yet to see fire in videogames that doesn’t look like a invisible cone with glowing fire textures riding up it, with the odd flickering spark and smoke effects. So, whenever I see graphical power that can produce volumetric fire--y’know, fire that actually looks like fire--I’m usually taken aback before giving an enthusiastic nod.

While those occasions do come every so often, I am often left for the most part just looking at graphics and feeling pretty unphased.

It’s gotten to a point when I’m starting to appreciate and value texture quality and aesthetic style and artistic choice over how much overused bloom is generated from sunlight bouncing off of some surface of some description.

With accepting that video game graphics will never be as good as real life, its these values that seem to be winning me over in video games these days. For example, the texture quality of the upcoming The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt definitely drew my eye to the title on a visual level, and the aesthetic of Journey brought me into the narrative the game had to offer, and the artistic choice of pixelated games charm me in a way that I can only describe as “happy nostalgic familiarity”.

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A contributing factor to my lack of interest in graphic fidelity is that I, like many other players I assume, grew up with games that were in the early swing of 3D polygons, and I would argue that some games from that era and 20 years onward aged better than games that came out 4 years ago.

In all honesty, the graphical fidelity of modern games today, with “realistic graphics” being all the rage, just comes across to me as exceptionally grubby after while. Whereas before I’d fall into the trap of being taken over by the first glimpse of a game’s boasted graphical prowess, but now I just look at said glimpse and think, “well, what am I looking at? I don’t even…it’s just...ugh.”

I have no idea when this switch in my perspective happened, but ever since it happened I’ve never looked at graphical fidelity in the same way. Now, most games just get a mere shrug from me when they try to show off their graphical prowess. What I want to see in future games is a real focus on super-sharp texture qualities, with a solid and thematic aesthetic style and an accompanying artistic choice.

In that regard, I’m probably no longer in the demographic of triple-A games anymore. I’ll take interest again once fire actually has volume. That, or graphics get to a point where its no longer an interactive CGI cutscene and is actually, y’know, realistic.

Kieran Mackintosh
Kieran Mackintosh
@KingSongbird

Contributing Writer
Date: 07/09/2014

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