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Why Realism in Games is Important – A Discussion of Art Imitating Life

Assassin's Creed Origins, Ubisoft

The phrase “life imitates art” has been thrown around many times, and in most ways, it’s true. The art of a time period, whether that is music, mixed media, film, television, or any other art form influences how we as a civilization look at the world around us. Creative, artistic minds take things they see in the world and stylize them in ways to make them more appealing while still evoking an emotional response.

As the Editor in Chief of BagoGames, I enjoy seeing the opinions of our staff, so editing editorial work and reviews is always fun for me, because whether I agree with my coworkers or not on any number of topics, getting an insight into their mind and the way they feel about issues always makes me feel like I understand them a little better. So, when I was editing Jerry Dobracki’s most recent editorial about his experience with Yakuza 0, I found myself in equal parts curious and conflicted.

In his article (which I will link here for you to read) he discussed how Yakuza 0 hit him a little too close to home in its realism and its discussion of various real-world elements. He made a point of saying that when he is gaming, he wishes to escape from his daily stress and his day-to-day life, a point that many gamers would probably agree with, myself included. However, I think that for gaming to be taken seriously as an art form (something that seems to edge closer and closer to fruition every year), I would have to in part disagree with that statement.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo

For gaming to be taken seriously as an art form, it has to do what art is meant to do: evoke an emotional response from the person observing or participating in it. That isn’t a difficult thing, and I would venture to say that not all video games can be considered art. I don’t think anyone would say that Tetris is an artistic game (despite it evoking anxiety or frustration in the player at times.) Yet when I look at games like Super Mario Odyssey, which has brought joy to so many Mario fans, or Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which is so incredibly breathtaking in its scope and artistic design, I can’t help but think that video games are an art form that should be allowed to flourish. In order for this to work, there has to be some degree of realism in the game, even if it’s something as small as the way a storyline plays out to detail a certain issue; it has to provide immersion and gaming realism in some small form.

Now, instead of getting into a back-and-forth discussion of what is or isn’t art and why gaming should be treated as an art form, I want to focus on the aspect of gaming realism. Games like The Last of Us, Outlast II, Final Fantasy XV and a host of other recent games with a focus on storytelling have tackled real-world issues. The Last of Us’ Left Behind DLC (something I have talked about at length in articles before) brought to life a budding lesbian romance, while Outlast II delves into the concept of sexual assault, and Final Fantasy XV (during the latter half of the storyline and one of the story DLCs) discusses personal identity issues.

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Prompto, Square Enix

These things are important, and if a story is told well enough these things might even be a seamless set piece. It is important because people that aren’t affected by issues such as assault, mental illness, or a struggle with sexual orientation may not understand what people are going through. In video games it at least allows them to walk a mile in a character’s shoes, even if that story isn’t told 100% accurately. Assassin’s Creed Origins is another example of gaming realism, detailing the quest for vengeance of a father that has lost his son. There are tons of games that touch on a large number of real issues, and I hope that the importance of that is not lost on people.

I’ve seen older people ask why LGBT relationships are so prevalent on television, and the answer to that is because for years television was an entirely hetero-normative place. A straight (often white) couple was portrayed on screen and there wasn’t much said about it because no one really cared. Now we live in a world where there are people from all walks of life wanting their experiences represented in art forms like television and film. Why shouldn’t video games carry on with that trend? Films detail illness, death, struggle, and all kinds of things that don’t take away from the entertainment value of the film industry.

I myself am not always in the mood to be confronted by serious issues and gaming realism when I need to unwind, but the great thing about the gaming industry is that if I’m in a tough place mentally or emotionally, I can play something that doesn’t require me to invest that much in the story or world. Super Mario Odyssey, Minecraft, Sonic Mania, roguelike games, and a ton of other games are just meant to be fun, enjoyable distractions from our day-to-day problems.

Sonic Mania, Sega

The idea of being a fan of gaming and the concept of gaming being an art form aren’t mutually exclusive. If you find a game that hits a little too close to home and dives too deep into gaming realism, step away from it and play something else either until (A) you feel like you can go back to the game you stepped away from or B) you find something else to scratch the proverbial gaming itch. I think in the coming years we are going to see more and more cases of games tackling difficult issues, as well as perhaps a division of sorts in the genres. Perhaps we’ll see a genre of games that are more geared toward storytelling and realism, while other genres will be more focused on entertainment for entertainment’s sake.

In the chaotic world we live in, I think there is a place for both sides to find common ground and a place for gaming realism to flourish. These issues need to be discussed, but we also need to have a safe place to get away from our problems for a while.

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