Graphics in Gaming: Realism Isn’t Everything

Lexi Herbert
5 min readSep 6, 2021

Hello fellow internet nerds. Today, I wanted to talk about something that bugged me when I was younger and that still exists today, much to my annoyance. The topic today is realism in video games and why it never has to be the standard or goal of new releases to push the graphical limits of current systems.

Gamers complaining about a game’s graphics being not realistic enough, or stylistic games being inferior to such design decisions has been a thing for a long time now. I’d say, the majority of the community understands that art style means exponentially more to a game’s identity than if it’s realistic or not. That being said, there was the recent Halo: Infinite incident that found that shooting a fruit stand made all fruit explode, instead of having each fruit be its own model that can react to gunfire. This was a comparison more directly with the most recent Call of Duty game. If you’re curious to know a little more, you can read about it here.

Now, I’m not new to the internet, so I understand that the fruit thing is really more of a joke than a legitimate concern for most, but it does stand as a good example of my subject in this article.

Because of this incident, people are looking at Infinite’s design with a more critical eye, trying to see what the quality level is before full release. While there’s nothing wrong with speculation and curiosity toward a game’s development, I feel like people who are nitpicking things in modern game are missing the point entirely.

Games are meant to be immersive, yes. Does that mean they need to mimic our world to do so? No. This brings me to the real point of the article. I’m here to share some styles I truly enjoy in gaming and how their distance from the real world actually helps with immersion.

Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler is my first example. The game takes a design direction toward JRPGs of the SNES era, but polishes them up by adding depth through 3D backgrounds, gorgeous lighting, and camera angles that give me a rush of joy so pure it could make my heart explode. The game oozes nostalgia while also adding in flavor for those who’ve never experienced the style this game is based on. To this day, this has to be my favorite stylistic choice any game has taken in the modern era.

In a way, this game brings Square back to their golden age, back when they worked with Nintendo for everything. Retro gaming has been in style for some time now and I would love to see more in the future. Of course, I won’t have to wait too long to see more, as Square Enix is releasing a remake of Dragon Quest III in the same style in the near future.

Hollow Knight is another good example of style over realism. It has a very dark, but cute art direction that sparks intrigue and tells a lot of visual storytelling. There’s attention to detail unlike so many games before it and that detail makes it that much easier to get pulled into its narrative and sense of adventure. In my opinion, this stylistic approach to game design is far superior to that of realism, if simply to create a sense of wonder. Realistic games can make you relate to a game, but fantastical styles can transport you to whole new world altogether.

There are titles that attempt to be both stylistic and more realistic with their style, such as the gorgeous Dragon Quest XI. It blends its anime styled character and monster designs and contrasts them with a more grounded world surrounding them. In the wrong hands, this could be jarring to experience, but with a competent studio at the helm, this title manages to be one of the most visually stunning games on PS4, in my opinion.

The design of the game makes it welcoming and more recognizable to newcomers, while giving fans of the character designs more of what they’ve come to expect from the series.

The last game I’d like to mention is the visually popping, highly stylistic Stardew Valley. While the game boasts pixel graphics and simplistic sprites in the overworld, it still manages to show so much personality with so little. The developers didn’t shy away from adding as much detail as possible with the tools they had and I don’t think it could have paid off more. This title is far easier for me to get immersed into than something like Call of Duty to me, because it’s down-to-earth in its setting and style. This feels more like a place I’d like to be.

Game designers don’t need to push the boundaries of realism in gaming with each new release to have their games be considered immersive. They only have to make a world worth exploring and living in for the player, no matter what visual style they’re going for.

There’s more to gaming than graphics, as well. It’s about character interaction, game mechanics, and how the developers engage you in the narrative they’re telling you. While most gamers know this to be true, the few who still cling too heavily to realism should wake up soon, because they’re missing out on a lot if they’re only satisfied by the graphics of something like CoD.



Lexi Herbert

A queer, enby gamer who has thoughts and opinions on stuff and things.