The Differences in Realism in Video Games

For as long as video games have existed, there’s been a graphical arms race. The Intellivision claims its superiority over the Atari 2600 due to its much more accurate-looking versions of Basketball and Football. The Sega Genesis has 16 whole bits, twice as many as the NES, a number whose significance in marketing was always accompanied by images to show much better Genesis games looked. With the rise of 3-d graphics, particularly with the era where the original Playstation was king, there’s been a push towards manufactured realism. While it’s not like the pursuit of realism didn’t exist previously (Mortal Kombat’s digitized graphics looked amazing at first), it was with 3-d graphics that the foundation was laid due to the simple if faulty logic that a three-dimensional game is more like our three-dimensional world.

As we look at today’s graphics, we know that the pursuit of realism is still going strong, with improved lighting, increasing numbers of polygons per model, and just tons of work and money being put into getting a scene in a video game to look like a photo. While I’m not a fan of this push towards realism as I believe it to be somewhat of a dead end, what I am interested in is how America and Japan differ in their depictions of “realism” in video games, or at least what the perceived difference is. The reason why I say America and Japan of course is that these two countries are really considered to be the places where mainstream video games happen.

Let’s take a look at male characters in games. In essence, characters in “realistic” games made in America are stereotyped as a bunch of square-jawed tough guys who have to drink beer and shoot enemies with automatic weapon fire as a display of their manliness. The male characters of Japan are criticized as being overly effeminate, sometimes to the point that people wonder whether or not it was necessary to make them guys in the first place, and even the more muscular and masculine guys in Japanese games tend to have a bit of beauty to them. Neither category is actually true and you can find a million exceptions, but these are where the stereotypes stand. And as I looked at these generalizations, they seemed oddly familiar, as if I’d seen this argument happen before, and it also occurred between Japan and America. And then I remembered: Comics vs Manga.

The same complaints that are leveled at the male characters of Japanese and American games are given to the characters of comics, from complaints about superheroes being too musclebound to bishounen being too much bi and not enough shounen. And so I have to wonder, how much do comics play a role in the depiction of realism in games for either culture?

By now, we know that the realism from games isn’t meant to actually be “like reality,” but rather a sort of hyper-realism where things we consider to be part of the actual world like muscles and sweat are emphasized and exaggerated. The difference then comes from what is perceived to be important to realism, and when it comes to non-abstract comics, I believe these elements are also very present and perhaps even more prominent. Of course, I can’t completely ignore the idea that both comics and video games are simply influenced by the reality of society. Most likely, it’s not a unidirectional relationship and at this point, especially as video games enter the mainstream more and more, and they will affect the aesthetics of video games and the environment around us in even more profound ways.

4 thoughts on “The Differences in Realism in Video Games

  1. “and even the more muscular and masculine guys in Japanese games tend to have a bit of beauty to them.”

    Ah yes, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure comes to mind. Though those characters are way beyond “bit of beauty” and are deep into the realm of “fabulous!”


  2. I am suddenly reminded of a poll not too long ago at Sankaku: the gnarly and gritty manly men with voices like tractor engines from Gears of War, or the wispy-haired, effeminately spoken, airbrushed male models from Final Fantasy? There’s just a difference of design paradigms concerning male characters.

    I wouldn’t say comics influence games as much as cultural norms influence both comics and games. The Kawaii culture Japan fosters a stark contrast to the cowboys, lumberjacks, and general tough guys image that Americans idealize.


  3. Pingback: Abstract realism in video games and aggression (Barlett & Rodeheffer, 2009) « VG Researcher – Psychology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.