Escape to Reality?

By Rosemary Young (April, 1995)
Whilst writing the article on the evolution of adventure games in our last issue I found myself in an interesting dilemma (or should I say quandary?). One word kept cropping up again and again - realism - and each time I used it I had to think carefully and clarify in my own mind what I meant by it.

To risk repeating myself, my understanding of 'realism' in a computer game is based on my impression of whether I feel as if I am 'really' in the story. For me this does not depend so much on whether the graphics or the characters look 'real' but rather on whether or not I feel involved, and this in turn depends on how interactive the game is. If I can't open the curtains or climb the tree then no matter how 'real' they appear they simply 'aren't'. Conversely, if I can drink from, swim in, or drown in, that inviting little lake it doesn't matter if the water is blue or pink, or purple, it exists in the game world.

Now, I am well aware that my understanding of 'realism' in a computer game is not the most widely accepted interpretation. Most interpretations, in fact, seem to see it simply as the degree to which graphics and characters appear 'real'. The phrase 'virtual reality' springs to mind, as the emphasis is on being able to act out one's fantasies in a scenario that looks authentic, although this analogy doesn't quite fit. It doesn't fit because even with virtual reality the emphasis is on creating the 'sensation' of being in another reality and not simply on visually creating another reality. Remember the early creations? They looked anything but real. With the call for 'realism' in computer games, however, it seems to be the opposite. The emphasis is on the 'visual' side rather than the 'sensation' side. In fact the more 'real' games become in this respect (with video footage and real actors) the more the player is placed outside the action, and invited only to look in on what is happening.

So where does this leave computer games? Are we really happy to sacrifice interaction for 'good looks' all in the name of 'realism'? No matter how hard I try, I can't be convinced that 'real' characters in 'real' settings' are the be- all and end-all. And, in any case, computer games aren't real - they're only fantasy - and that's exactly how I want them to stay. Who wants to escape into reality - the sort of reality that we live in every day, inhabited by the sort of people we nod and smile at every day? If that's what we want we may as well take a walk to the corner shop and buy a paper! (This, of course, supposes that what we read in the paper is reality).

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1995. All rights reserved.