March 26, 2012 by nikolozkevkhishvili
In this article Alexander Galloway analyzes several games and raises a question on their connection with realism and how this link might affect the overall definition of the realism in video games. Most of his examples consist of war games that reenact the history and the overall story of a specific battles, either from the far past or from modern warfare.
He talks about how with the development of the video games we have a chance to experience games with higher graphic quality. Most of these kinds of games also consist of long storylines that the player interacts with. But Galloway questions the realism of the games and divides this notion in several parts. The fact that the game can represent the world around us in sharp image is not enough to make it a complete replica of our world. He argues that the movies have the same goal, but the overall realism of the movie cannot be derived only from the image. A world that the game designers recreate has to involve the correct history and the context for the player to interact. Since video games don’t only involve the player through visual means, they have a chance to draw the player in by making them take the action.
Galloway says that for a video game to be close to reality in all different aspects it needs to satisfy three characteristics. It needs to be visually accurate, which is possible through the development of the technology and its use to replicate the way we see the world. Not only this is important for the sake of realism, but mirroring the real world also draws certain emotions and responses from the players. For example in war games like COD sometimes a player has to go through a misty weather or a blizzard in order to reach the enemy. This adds an extra detail of realism that serves both for the story purposes within the game and also adds another set of active involvement from a player. Moving through and coordinating the attack through different terrains and weathers, makes the player summon personal memories of the same circumstance(weather/terrain), put himself/herself in the shoes of the avatar and navigate through the map making the choices that one might make in real life.
The second important aspect that the game must carry in order to develop a strong sense of realism is for it to have a narrative story that actually mimics the real world. For example a war game “Special Force” follows a story of American soldiers in the war. The game has a strong pro-American story advertising the image of America’s supremacy and its justified reasons for invading an enemy country. But as the game progresses it gets more and more radical, twisting the overall story in the favor for one side and subjecting the real history that the game takes place in. Galloway mentions another game “Under Ash” that depicts the plight of a young Palestinian man during the Palestine-Israel conflict. The game was made for young generation gamers and the story does not bend to represent any of the sides in the conflict. The player is free to form its own storyline and make choices that a young soldier can make in the war. This method lets the player experience the war by themselves not only through the visual means, but also by the decisions that they would make during an actual conflict. Galloway puts much emphasis on the player’s actions themselves and suggests that:
“Games signal a third phase for realism. The first two phases were realism in narrative (literature) and realism in images (painting, photography, film). Now there is also realism in action. Whereas the visual arts compel viewers to engage in the act of looking, games compel players to perform acts.”
For a game to be realistic it is not enough for it to look realistic and have a true story. But it also requires it to let the player interact in its most true means. But I think that giving the game a sense of all these three does not necessarily make it realistic. A person who has no real life connection to a given war conflict that the game is based on, will most likely receive the game as just an entertainment. It is the same for the audience watching any genre of the movie. A film can get very involving but the audience is always aware that they are looking at actors, playing in a movie and that they are sitting on chairs in front of a screen because they can feel the physical presence around them. The reactions that the movie produces can vary greatly depending on the individual.
It is all different in which context we put the video games and who actually plays the specific game. The realism in this case would only depend on an individual player and not on masses in general. For a player who has lived through the actual events of a war ,the game is more than realistic. The game play itself would bring the memories of the horror of the war. In this case the graphics and the story of the character can even be drastically ignored because the specific player will fill in the gaps from his/her memory and view the game very realistic. However for a person who is completely unrelated to the war, this specific game would seem just another way to kill a lot of people and complete mission with awarding points.
The games can be very subjective on the topic of realism. It is very player dependant and personal experience and as of now the realistic games are not that close to realism because the visual representation and the story is not enough for it to actually mirror the real world and how people experience it.