© Written by Rob Ager July 2014




Something I find fascinating in the realms of video games and movies is the popular assumption from content creators that audiences want ever-increasing realism. In both these commercial art forms there’s an ongoing pursuit of increasingly photo-realistic visual content and an increasing rejection of any story or character clichés that might be deemed childish or cheesy. Old school clichés are often frowned upon and game and movie makers are, on the whole, tending more and more towards creating content that is quote "dark" and "realistic". And in video games the word "immersive" is frequently used to describe game content as realistic. And once a particular new cliché of realism is firmly established – such as more fluid character animation in video games or the addition of depth of field (contrasts of focus) in CGI movie effects – most new movies and games that do not conform to those new clichés are heavily criticized as if those clichés are the things that really matter most.

But as I’ve read and listened over the years to much of the debates, reviews and critique of new movies and games, I’ve frequently noticed that the prevailing fads of expected realism are often accompanied by the silent acceptance of features that are simply ludicrous. An example that does sometimes get talked about is that despite all the advances of combat realism in first person shooter war games, players now usually have regenerating health bars. You get shot and you can simply hide in a corner and your wounds will heal within seconds. It used to be that in most games when you took a hit your health bar was permanently reduced until you found a health kit or some sort of super food to replenish it. So in that case, the current fad is away from realism. Another example, which I don’t hear talked about very much, but must be obvious to many people anyway, is that tons of superhero movies are getting released that are described by the film makers and film reviewers as quote "dark" and "realistic". But superheroes, by their nature, are unrealistic. No matter how much you dress it up a guy in a cape who can fly without the aid of wings or aviation is the stuff of children’s fantasies. If realism is what people want then why didn’t they take away the Man of Steel’s ability to fly?

Ok, so that’s a couple of obvious contradictions regarding the pursuit of realism in games and movies. Now what I’m going to do in the rest of this artilce is break down the detailed aesthetics of movies and games into just over a dozen categories, such as interfaces, viewpoints, artificial intelligence, etc and in each case explore whether realism can be achieved and whether realism seems to be what audiences and gamers generally want.

Let’s start with Controllers & Interfaces ...