Video games often strive to be as realistic as possible. They strive to make characters look real by emulating the facial expressions of real people in everyday life and they try to make objects in the game (trees, buildings, characters, etc.) as lifelike as possible. In doing this we are attempting to create a wholly engaging atmosphere – one where escapism is achieved merely by picking up the controller and playing the game. You can see this in games like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and many other AAA-titles.
But the irony is that video games achieve perfection by recreating the imperfection that is life. Trees are not symmetrical, people’s skin is asymmetrical along with their faces, and things in real life just aren’t as perfect as we wish they were. Even when you sand wood down so it feels completely smooth to the touch there are imperfections in it. Video games, in their attempt to be as life-like as possible with the computing power that they currently have, are striving for perfection in imperfection.
These machines are capable of creating perfectly symmetrical faces, flawless skin, and perfect buildings that are without flaw. However, that’s not the trend that video games are taking. Games which attempt at realism have moved beyond the attempt to make characters perfectly flawless in design and are now programming the flaws they see in real life into video games.
Assassin’s Creed III is one of the best examples. The buildings in the environment are filled with flaws. Boards are damaged on the sides of buildings, weeds are growing tall along properties, and trees are varied in design (with the exception of the ones you can climb along). It’s about mimicking the asymmetrical imperfection of real life – even though you can create this symmetry.
Many philosophers talked about the idea of an object. When one pictures a tree in their head they see THE tree or the perfect tree. In our minds we see this one iteration of an object which is perfect in its design – and video games are set up so that we can recreate this. All trees could look the same, all chairs could be perfectly set up, and houses would be without flaw. We could create THE environment where everything is a perfect representation of what it should be. THE environment would be completely devoid of imperfection. It would be a Utopia of the mind.
It’s a strange idea that we, as gamers and developers, would prefer to mimic the imperfection of the world – even if for emersion. Rather than attempt to make THE ideal world we choose to mimic the real world. We choose the imperfection of the real world rather than a Utopia. We’re escaping to worlds that increasingly mimic the things that we are trying to escape from in the real world.
It lends itself to this idea – maybe our world, despite how imperfect it is, is highly desirable. Especially when our world is juxtaposed to how terrible the world could be. Maybe we’ll create the most perfectly imperfect virtual world someday – where everything is perfectly imperfect and we can no longer determine the lines between the real life and our virtual world. But once that happens maybe people will just start going outside again.
Your Resident Anthropologist
*It should be noted that in my mind I see the idea of a tree as it would look to me, and it would be the perfect tree. However, if you attempt to do the same thought exercise your idea of a tree would differ from mine. If someone does the same thing from halfway around the world their idea of THE tree might be a completely different type of tree than mind.