Article Analysis #1 By Riakeem Kelley_Social Realism in Gaming


March 26, 2012 by rkelle4

Alexander Galloway discusses in his article “Social Realism in Gaming” game realism, detailing initially the critical approaches of causality in video games; the notions that games can be used to benefit the player if they are realistic enough, such as flight simulators, or what he mentions to be the ‘Columbine effect,’ which is the notion that realistic violent will promote violence in the players. However, these serve mainly as a backdrop to his primary argument on the importance of realistic representation in video games. Galloway says, “One of the most central theoretical issues in gaming is how and in what way one can make connections between the gaming world and the real world, both from the inside outward in the form of affective action, and from the outside inward in the form of realistic representation,” (Galloway).

Galloway compares games that are based in the real world and games that are based in fantastical ones. He argues against such linear definitions, however, and claims that it is appropriate to further distinguish and define the complete aspects of what realism is. He divides realism into two classes: realistic narrative and realistic representation. He uses the Sims and SOCOM to distinguish the two classes, stating that “The Sims is most probably closer to the narratives of normal life than is storming an enemy base in SOCOM, despite the fact that the actual visual imagery in SOCOM is more realistically rendered than the simplistic avatars, isometric perspective, and non-diegetic wall cutaways in The Sims.” He wouldn’t regard either game as more realistic than the other, however he would claim that each game has certain traits that are more realistic in terms of how the player perceives reality. Overall, he argues the difference between realistic-ness and realism.

Ultimately, Galloway argues that games represent a phase for realism that is not present in other forms of media; realism in action (as compared the literature’s realism in narrative and visual media’s such as art, photography, and film’s realism in images). He closes the article with the sentiment that “realism in gaming is a process of revisiting the material substrate of the medium and establishing correspondences with specific activities existent in the social reality of the gamer,” basically saying that in order for realism to occur in a game, it has to be representative of realism for the player, much like art is for the viewer and literature is for the reader.

The argument over realism in games is one that our class has discussed in terms of why it matters aesthetically, however we have not really discussed this in terms of our perceptions of the ludology, and when we did it was only in passing. However, this is an important topic to discuss where we are in games now; serious games. The overall argument of serious games is that they are, according to Ian Bogost, tools for “learning, politics, advertising, exercise, and others.” According to Galloway, serious games would consider how “real” the game worlds are, or more specifically, how each player connects with a serious game. In this regard, serious games come close to the idea of what Galloway argues is “social realism” in that they require comparison to our everyday lives in terms of what we perceive as real in our own experiences. Take, for example, the serious game Darfur is Dying. My reality is not rooted in Darfur, and although I am aware of what is going on in that country, I cannot connect with the game in terms of realism. However, Galloway would argue that more than likely, someone from Darfur could play the game and find that it is dripping with reality. That person can connect with the game in a more realistic way, thus, that persons view of reality will inevitably shape what they feel about realism through the medium. Furthermore, when Galloway separates types of realism in games from other forms of media, he mentions that games represent a sort of ‘action’ realism. I find it hard to connect with Darfur is Dying in terms of the game play or the action. To me, that made took me out of what little realism I could connect with it.

Galloway’s argument successful defines his vocabulary in terms of his argument, and how he sets up his view that realism is subjective is solid. Intellects may claim that attempting to make games more realistic is the current progression video game designers are making, however Galloway’s notion that realism depends on the individual will forever be the case. A player can play a game such as Pong and find that it realistically portrays table tennis and another player may find its less-than-eight-bit graphic style to be a poor mimicry.

Alexander Galloway. “Social Realism in Gaming.”


One thought on “Article Analysis #1 By Riakeem Kelley_Social Realism in Gaming

  1. jwildberger says:

    Your experience of playing Darfur is Dying was similar to mine, and I do think the lack of realism, almost a lack of seriousness, keeps the game from imparting a strong social message. I like the idea that realism can be applied to different aspects of a game. However, I am not sure I agree with the last part of your post, where you state that realism is subjective.

    It is true that realism is relative in the sense that people use the term to differentiate games instead of making an absolute judgment. For instance, PS2 graphics were considered realistic because they were closer to reality than PS1 graphics. This is not the case now. I don’t believe this implies that realism is simply subjective. Intersubjectivity is a better critical term when talking about realism. Humans experience the world in similar ways, so our subjective experiences overlap in many ways. Realistic literature, films, and games work within intersubjectivity; they present situations which mimic the commonalities of human experience, and this is what creates a sense of realism.

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