Don’t judge a book by its cover. We’ve been taught this at an early age. Of course, we all know what it means. Don’t let appearances fool you. Don’t let first impressions influence your full opinion. Now that’s all well and good, but what this idiom really implies is those first impressions are based on appearances. Hence, the cautionary tale involving books and covers of said books.
So…how does this at all relate to games?
Perhaps the single biggest reason why I love video games is because of technology. Technolgy is everything. Without technology, human beings wouldn’t have bothered inventing spears to hunt. We’d still be in caves, too terrified to move forward, to explore, to advance.
Technology has allowed man to walk out of that cave, to drive industry, to set foot on the moon.
Technology has amplified man’s own ability to do in ways never before possible. It is the constant force that propels man forward, the persistent carrot which we happily chase.
My critics (of which I have many) will be quick to point out that this is all hyperbole. Typical me being me. Making something out to be greater than it really is. I simply ignore them.
Fortunately, in the games industry, technology boils down to something very tangible and simple to understand. Of course, I’m talking about graphics. If I were to be more specific, I’m talking about the technology driving graphics.
Image via Nvidia
So revisiting the question I posed at the top, how does “don’t judge a book by its cover” relate to games?
Whether we like it or not, and more importantly, whether we realize it or not, a game’s visuals are the first thing we notice whenever starting up a game for the first time. This isn’t some outlandish statement to make.
Some people, like me, are consciously aware of this realization. Pretty much everyone else, like most of you, aren’t. You take in the visuals at a subconscious level before continuing past the main menu and playing the game.
Now, I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. There’s no right or wrong way to initially perceive a game. But what I will say is that for me, graphics are the single most important thing about a game.
Of course, this does not mean that graphics are the only thing I care about in a game. I love a game with a fantastic story, for example. It just so happens that I prioritize graphics above a good story. If graphics were the only thing I cared about in a game, why would I play and enjoy games like Limbo, Superhot, and Firewatch?
Image via Firewatch
For those who don’t know me very well, let me be even more transparent so as to provide this whole thing with more context. I used to be a huge console gamer but now, I’m now primarily a PC gamer.
Before I even knew what graphics were, I remember playing Tomb Raider on my PS1 and wondering why it didn’t look better. The gameplay was fun, yes, but why didn’t it look better? Even back then, before I even understood what the word “graphics” even was, I knew that the game didn’t look good enough for me. Without me even realizing it, graphics were clearly my priority.
As I grew up and understood games and the industry more and more, I realized that graphics were my real passion. Graphics were why I loved video games so much. And so, in 2012 after watching my friend play (an unmodded!) Skyrim on his PC, running at a fluid 60fps maxed out at 1080p, I knew I had to switch to PC gaming.
Today, I can chase this passion unfettered. I have a PC equipped with an i7 6700k, 16 GB DDR4 memory, and a GTX 1080 Ti. All of this is in the pursuit of the highest fidelity graphics and smoothest performance.
For me, photorealistic graphics are the ultimate goal. Graphics genuinely do affect my enjoyment of a game.
And it’s this fact that drives my passion and love for video games. It also allows me to distinctly know whether or not I’ll enjoy a game. For example, I know for a fact that I would hate Persona 5. Visually, it looks absolutely awful. It looks like complete trash. Why would I subject myself to that, regardless of how good the story or soundtrack may be?
This is why I will never play Witcher 3 on a console. The degradation in graphics is something I definitely do notice and am legitimately bothered by. That degradation will and has negatively affected my enjoyment of a game and thus, my gameplay. I just won’t be as immersed. The game world just won’t seem as real. It just won’t be as fun.
It’s the reason why, despite how much I do love Horizon Zero Dawn and how I do find it pretty, it still remains a disappointment. The Decima engine’s true potential (the engine powering the game) is shackled by the lack of power on console, and I dream of how good that game could look and run if it were allowed to run on PC with the latest industry-leading hardware unleashing it. In other words, the technology driving the game is inherently compromised because I can see exactly what those compromises are whenever I boot up the game.
Image via PlayStation
To many, if not all, of you, this will all seem very petty, completely irrelevant, and elitist.
“Who cares about graphics? Graphics don’t matter. Gameplay is what really matters. Story matters. Real gamers don’t care about graphics. After all, Minecraft has very simplistic graphics and has a massive player base.”
Yeah, I’ve heard these “arguments” all before and have dismissed them just as quickly. I do have to chuckle whenever these “points” are brought up because people who state these things simply don’t understand their own hypocrisy.
If graphics don’t matter, then why aren’t we all still playing games on an Atari? Why are Microsoft and Sony selling consoles on the promise of 4K, “spectacular graphics,” and “life-like detail?” If graphics don’t matter, why are people then buying these consoles in droves?
The question isn’t whether or not graphics matter. Graphics and graphics technology do matter. The question is, how much do graphics matter? This is, of course, an entirely subjective question. Graphics will matter to each gamer differently.
Remember, graphics and graphics technology are simply just another facet of a game, just like the sound design, story, gameplay, writing, etc. Graphics, then, are just one of many components that comprise the total package.
The difference, I believe, is this. You can create a game without sound design. You can create a game without any real story or writing. In my opinion, these would be somewhat boring video games, but it can be done.
But what you can’t do is create a video game without technology. Even in a visually simple game like Minecraft, that game exists because of the technology it’s built upon. Without technology, there isn’t a video game.
Again, people will scoff at this and claim I’m petty for dismissing a game because of how it looks. But, remember, graphics are simply another facet of games. I may dismiss a game because of the way it looks, but others may just as easily dismiss a game because it has microtransactions, or if the game audio in a Japanese game is only English, for example. These things, microtransactions, and audio language, are just another facet of what comprises a game, just like graphics.
We can sit here and argue again and again. But at the end of the day, I simply don’t care. My passion, my love for this industry is borne by a love of technological progress. Graphics and the technology driving graphics are what push tangible innovation forward in this industry.
For example, a game from 1998 could have brilliant writing just like a game from 2018. But what it inherently cannot have is the same graphical fidelity and technological underpinnings.
Graphics and graphics technology are the one thing that can be constantly improved, constantly progressed. It’s this unrelenting unapologetic progress that I love. Without advancing, without pushing the limits, there is no progress. There is simply stagnation.
No matter what, graphics matter.