Matthew Sawrey

a portfolio of videogame writings

The False Economy of Photorealism

falseeconomyofphotorealThere’s a short story a teacher once read to me in Primary School that comes to mind when I hear the word photorealism, that of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Here’s a summary:

The Queen of Sheba had heard great tales of King Solomon’s wisdom, so when she first visited him she decided to pose him a difficult riddle. Upon her arrival the Queen held a wreath of flowers in each hand, both of which looked identical. One, she told the King, was made of artificial flowers, crafted by a skilled artist. The other was made of real flowers. Solomon’s challenge was to identify the wreath made of real flowers without moving from his throne. The King pondered for a while before asking his servants to open a window. A group of Bees flew in the open window and all landed on one of the wreaths, thus solving Sheba’s puzzle for Solomon. (Link.)

Now recall the header image for this article. In it there are two pictures of grass. One is real, the other is a 3D model. Could you tell me which the real grass is? Left or right?

I doubt that you can, you don’t have any cows at your disposal. But a videogame equips its players with various means of interaction that can be used to poke and prod at prettily detailed scenes, indicators to tell us that the world we’ve temporarily transported our consciousness into isn’t real.

What we so often find when we test their limits is that for all of their purported aspirations towards realism, videogames are crassly abstract experiences. What is usually meant when a marketing campaign claims that a game is ‘realistic’ is that the game is visually realistic. But looking realistic doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘being’ or ‘feeling’ realistic. Grand Theft Auto 4, for example, was an obsessively detailed depiction of a modern day New York-like city, but you couldn’t drive through any of its iron-rigid small trees or enter most of its buildings. It looked convincing, but the illusion was shattered every time it didn’t feel real.

Read on over at Thunderbolt.


One comment on “The False Economy of Photorealism

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    April 15, 2014

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    I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

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This entry was posted on August 16, 2013 by in Articles and tagged , , , , , .
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