The quest for photorealism in video games

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Video games are many things to many different people. Alina Burns, editor, believes that video games are art above all else. Video games combine theater, music, literature, visual arts, and technological progress. These attributes are the reasons Burns sees video games as an art form. Here are her thoughts on the quest for photorealism in video games.

Video games are art

To be more persuasive, I’ve decided to refer to the ancient philosophical doctrine. Plato argued that art attracts our minds to both vice and virtue. He said it must follow morale to instill disgust to the first and love to the second. Later on, I’ll tell why he’s wrong.

His other statement says that art is a copy of the perfect abstract form, an attempt to represent perfection in our imperfect, real world. This is the story which Ancient Greek sculptures tell us nowadays: these are the real people’s faces and bodies aiming to the perfection of gods.

Contemporary art tries to do exactly the same: to reproduce a perfect idea in a material implementation whether realistic-looking or surreal. Just look at BoJack Horseman and how imaginary references combine here with realistic quotations.

What is a trend? Plato, don’t hurt me!

Some artists (aka game studios) choose a more stylized way to impact our senses, while the major trend is to show both real and fantasy worlds with as much photorealisim as possible.

Video games are aimed at many benchmarks, but the main trend is photorealism. Nothing requires as much money as graphics, but why is there such a prominent lineage of photorealistic pursuits? Expensive projects attract more attention and, as a result, more sales. That’s exactly how it works.

I guess Plato wouldn’t like it in the same way he disliked Homer’s comedies. It’s clear that in the majority of cases, a good quality promotion may deliver a piece of art to more people. And the best part of this process is the audience’s reaction. Some would like, for example, God of War, while others would prefer Mario Kart. Both games are successful, but only GoW looks realistic. The moral here is quite plain. People just like different flavors. I’d rather say to Plato: “Think of how you could teach people critical thinking instead of persuasively spoon-feeding them your vision of good and bad, bro.”

The quest for photorealism in video games

Some would like, for example, God of War, while others would prefer Mario Kart.

More and more realistic projects give a player a choice to become good or evil or just tell a straight story. Similar to Ancient Greek sculptures, many titles struggle to show a realistic mime of the story if it happened in real life, just because they decide it to be a better embodiment of their message. According to the logic and biology of perception, a piece of art is better understood by the masses if it corresponds to their images. In most cases, a photorealistic picture is the most effective way to reach one’s understanding. That’s it.

The more photorealistic games we have, the less surprising they become

It means that technological development and AAA budgets become more mainstream than unique stylized games. But if something is less mainstream it doesn’t automatically become somehow more pure and soulful. The thing which really makes the game a piece of art is taste. Aesthetics, according to Plato.

There are good and bad examples on both sides of the spectrum. I’ll start with a good one, realistic. The Last of Us 2 for PS4 and wonderful stylized Okami for old PS2 hardware…both represent different sides but enrich gamers’ souls via outstanding stories and may be called a good taste choice. We won’t even look at bad examples, because we just don’t have that much space. Just believe the guys from who played Mass Effect Andromeda and felt the pain of receiving an exclusively expensive piece of junk.


Discussing this topic with the team, we came to an agreement, that history doesn’t really change. It goes in circles but becomes overgrown with details. Photorealistic games look like a modern version of theater. They depict reality around the viewer and give him a choice of doing something without the real consequences. The more realistic they look, the more immersive experience they bring. However, nothing can work 100% of the time because human perception has individual aspects.

What do you think of Alina’s thoughts on the quest for photorealism in video games? Let us know in the comments below or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

*This is a guest post and the thoughts and ideas expressed within do not necessarily reflect Techaeris or its staff.

Last Updated on February 3, 2021.


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