The “Fun” Problem for Realistic Gaming

Galloway points out that realism in gaming cannot be held to the standards of realism at play in other mediums since gaming involves representation and action. This active component gives any hope of realism within gaming an added challenge. It is not enough to simply represent a world realistically with the appropriate images; a game’s actionable component must be a realistic representation of the engagements the game is trying to depict. Realism, for Galloway, requires a criticism of an actual landscape.  In this way I think realism is essentially about a depiction of pain. A realistic depiction is shows the miserable aspects of life in gritty detail, even when these details are not particularly important to the plot, so that the audience (or player) can feel the experience. Galloway feels as though that some video games can accomplish a degree of realism, but I’m less optimistic. 

Realism requires a true to life depiction of consequence. When something happens in a realistic depiction of a thing, the consequences of the actions have the lasting sort of impact that they would in real life, and video games naturally struggle with this sort of consequence. For instance, consider video games based around war: one cannot claim that a depiction of war where after being mortally wounded a character reappears a few seconds later, or where corpses simply disappear after an allotted amount of time. Yet this happens all the time in video games, saving the player from experiencing the true to life horror of war, by lessening the consequences.

The reason for a video game’s struggle to produce realistic game play might be due to the natural limits on programming. It is simply impractical to have every corpse produced in a round of Call of Duty to linger to the finale. But I think the more fundamental reason gaming is incapable of reaching the level of realism at play is how it is meant to be experienced. In some sense gaming has to be fun, and they are judged accordingly. That is, the quality of every game is in some way determined by how fun it is to play. Even games which according to Galloway score high points for realisticness like Under Ash have this purpose in mind. Meanwhile, other aesthetic mediums are not so restricted. For instance, I doubt anyone could tastefully call a viewing of “Schindler’s List” ‘fun’ yet this doesn’t seem to detract from the film’s quality. So film can realistically represent the harsh details of a circumstance, even to the point that our experience of the film is not enjoyable in the traditional sense, without diminishing its quality. Video games are not so unrestricted in their representative qualities. They must tone done the consequences of the actions they depict in order to keep the game enjoyable, which prevents it from being a truly realistic representation.

The interesting problem that I’m getting at is the aesthetic value of tragedy. Depictions of pain have an aesthetic value, which is commonly considered to be the highest form of aesthetic experience. (After all, when was the last time a comedy or action flick won best picture? Its almost always a drama.) This form of aesthetic experience is one which isn’t rightfully categorized as enjoyable, but is nonetheless good on some level. Video games can’t affect this type of experience, because a person’s experience of a video game, is on some level meant to be fun to play.


6 thoughts on “The “Fun” Problem for Realistic Gaming”

  1. I think the reasons people play video games differ from person to person. Some may play to be mentally stimulated, some may play to release frustration. I don’t think that all video games are played with the intention of being fun.

    I think another reason that video games cannot achieve this high form of aesthetic is because of the lack of character development. Why do people cry when they watch a really good drama? I think it’s because they have developed a relationship with the character that cannot be achieved with video games. Within a movie, the character development is at a reasonable pace in which you get some background history of the character, where they are now, and what they intend to do in the future. With video games, this development is much slower. You are introduced to a character ( or you can make one of your own) and then you complete your mission or challenge for that portion of the game. You don’t get to find out more about that character until the mission is completed and that’s if the video game has a story line to begin with.

    1. Modern games have actually taken on a strong sense of character development and story. Games like The Last of Us, Uncharted and the Mass Effect trilogy are really good examples of this. People seriously do get very emotionally involved with the characters within these games. The Last of Us in my opinion is better than most every zombie/infection movie ever made, and the Mass Effect trilogy had countless amount of feels. Were moving into an era where video games aren’t just works of art, but they also have the potential to be masterpieces of their generation.

    2. I have to disagree with you Kadeejah, I believe that games have put a lot more into character development than you give them credit for. I do understand where you’re coming from though, the classical Mario games didn’t have much character development but take a look at the more modern games. In Gears of War, a game that seems to comprise only of grunting and gunfire, Epic Games creates a beautiful backstory to many of the main characters, notably, Dominic Santiago. I won’t ruin it for you but Dom’s story is one of the saddest moments that I have ever encountered in a game. I was definitely disturbed/moved by the the events in Gears 2 and Gears 3. What’s amazing about his storyline, is that Epic Games started sowing the seeds of a great story in the original Gears of War, with hints and allusions of what Dom is searching for.

      In an more obvious example, see the universe of Assassin’s Creed. Ezio Auditore, the main character through a majority of the games, is started as an Assassin as a youth, and progresses in age throughout the games, giving gamers a continued experience of his life. Throughout this series, Ubisoft had laid the groundwork for an insanely rich backstory, even creating a Facebook game that would unlock secrets in game. They’ve used the premise of the story to create an entire alternate history, with famous historical figures intertwined in their fictional timeline.

      One can definitely tell the dedication that game developers put into a character’s backstory. Especially with blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed.

  2. You made two points in this post that I completely agree with:

    1). Videogames cannot truly embrace realism because they will not capture the moments that realistically correspond to certain events, unwilling to risk losing gamers because the game is too serious or painful and is not fun enough to continue playing. This is one reason that videogames cannot truly depict real life events with accuracy. Another is because our actions have consequences that reach out far beyond our own view; sometimes we realize those consequences later, sometimes we don’t. In videogames, the consequences are immediate. Certain interactions with characters do not come back to reward or punish you much later in the game (at least not in any I’ve ever played, correct me if I’m wrong) the way they can in real life.

    2). “the aesthetic value of tragedy” is beautifully written and encompasses one of the reasons that I believe makes videogames so popular. People love to be part of a struggle as long as they are not personally affected by it. This is why so many dramatic movies are so popular; people are moved but are then able to go back to there normal lives afterward without any real loss being sustained. It’s the same thing with videogames; people can struggle as much as they want and then shut off the game as soon as they are satisfied without being hurt themselves. What does this say about us?

  3. I understand and agree what you have said, but I would also like to take into account that we would never be able to have a truly realistic game. You’ve brought up the point about video games based around war and how they can never be realistic because the wounded character reappears seconds later. If the character were to die and never reappear, what would be the real purpose of playing the game. These characters are suppose to be invincible and that is why so many people are drawn to playing these games. There wouldn’t be a gaming industry if the characters were to never come back to “life”. Some people play video games to escape reality, but some fail to realize that they are actually playing a game that could possible happen in real life (in terms of war games). The only difference is that when the character is killed, they miraculously come back to life. Unfortunately this does not happen in the real world. Besides the characters being revived, are we truly escaping reality?

  4. This last comment gets at the point nicely. A scenario presented in a video game could, and often is exemplified in real life. But I am skeptical that experiencing the situation through a video game will have the same feel as experiencing the circumstance in real life, no matter how realistic game play becomes, especially when it comes to war games. Video games require a person to respawn, to restart and try again with the same character, the same back story, and the same purpose. There is no sense of permanence to the actions and consequences of the game. The feel of a war game thus has all of the excitement and action of a battle with none of the dread or loss. For death without permanence loses its emotional character. Thus, the experience of the game can only be thought of as a superficially realistic depiction of war. Things like the weapons, the strategies, can all realistically represent a battle, but the aesthetic feel of the experience, the immense pressure, the swirling emotions of pain and grief- these cannot be so realistically depicted.

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