Think of every game that is slated to be released in the near future; they are all related. How, you might ask? Elementary, my dear readers; graphics. Each game looks better than the next, and that’s amazing. It wasn’t long ago that imagination played a big part in experiencing games, but now we are being hand fed senses like crazy. Epic musical scores and photo realistic graphics, to name the big ones. I think these graphics are awesome, but I don’t believe they’re our saviors from mediocre games.
If anything, games are now allowed to be worse due to the focus on photo realistic graphics. “Well, at least it looked good.” Um, no. I’m a firm believer that graphics aren’t everything, and I’m not afraid to tell you. In an interview with Games Industry International, 2K Games boss Christoph Hartmann was quoted saying real-life graphics are necessary, and that “To dramatically change the industry to where we can insert a whole range of emotions, I feel it will only happen when we reach a point that games are photorealistic.” The interview, which can be found here, delves into many other topics, but this one line caught my interest.
I’ll just state right now that I believe you can only find emotions in video games if they are there to begin with. Emotional stories are a very delicate product that are hard to make, and even harder to make right. Many games make connections just fine, without these photo realistic graphics. Bastion, Braid, Journey, Final Fantasy VI & VII, and Limbo, just to name a few that I have had experience with.
I can say that all of them have given me more story and emotions than many new AAA titles can hold a candle to. That being said, there are also some great AAA games that deliver very awesome emotional moments. Red Dead Redemption, anyone? Then there’s BioShock, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Metal Gear Solid 3 & 4′s endings, Shadow of the Colossus, The Darkness, Prey; you get the point.
That’s not even mentioning how generations of people thrived on things we now disregard as old and stupid. Experiences like table top games and text adventures, in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons and the like, where all you have are some figurines and your imagination. I can’t say much about it myself (I’ve only played a couple hours of a DnD game), but they’ve obviously lasted this long for a reason. People invest everything into the characters, stories, and worlds that they have been a part of for who knows how long.
They have a reason to care about the characters they play, and the people around them. If that doesn’t take an emotional toll on you at some point, I don’t know what will. The same goes for text adventures, which thrived in a time before graphics were actually possible. Many people hold these games in high regard because their narratives required logic and imagination to travel a world created only by text; not too much unlike a book (you may have read one of those before, right?)
Now, from the standpoint of the business of games, I understand where Hartmann is coming from. We’ve gotten to a point where we are striving to make games that replicate Hollywood blockbusters, and as unfortunate as that really is, we can’t stop it. It’s all about flashy visuals, realistic characters, blah-blah-blah. I’m not going to say he is wrong, because he isn’t. It’s his business to make games that depend on things such as photo realism.
At the same time, though, he is wrong. You can’t expect your emotional story limitations to be broken just because we have better graphics. With that kind of thinking, I don’t feel like we are advancing our craft as storytellers. Games have this awesome potential to be more than any book or movie could ever dream to be, but we are holding ourselves back by trying to be something else entirely, something that has already been done before.
I guess what I really want to get across in this piece is that graphics aren’t everything, so don’t be fooled. Graphics aren’t the enemy, though, but a product of our continuing search to have better… well everything, really. We just put graphics on this mantle and act like nothing else matters, but they are only part of what makes a game. To understand that, is to understand another portion of what I believe makes a true gamer.
Leave your comments, concerns, and suggestions for future topics in the comment section below, and as always, thanks for reading, stay tuned, and stay sweet!