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Realism: The Glass Ceiling of Gaming

Most gamers are at least casually aware of the Uncanny Valley – the point at which a character in a game looks close enough to photo realistic, but because of the infinite little movements and expressions a real human emotes, seems unsettling because the game does not emulate it well enough. The Uncanny Valley is something game developers have to battle any time they make the choice to go for realistic character models. At this point in time, it seems that the UV has only one definition, but is there another version of the Uncanny Valley coming around? Are games going too far to capture realism?

Oh Snap! She's got a...wait, those wrinkles don't look right.

Obviously graphics have become one of the most, if not the most, important part of games in the eyes of the average gamer (especially the younger crowd). It would be foolish to deny that developers largely focus on making sure their game looks amazing before they worry about gameplay, but lately there seems to be some spots of light poking through the darkness. Games like Grand Theft Auto 4 that strive to give a more realistic world to play in, for example, lead the way of the sandbox.

I think as we move forward, we're going to start seeing more genres incorporate the sandbox ****of gameplay. The Mercenaries series, for example, has melded third-person action with the sandbox. In a similar vein, the Far Cry and Crysis games have thrown the First-Person shooter into the sandbox. Even sports games like NHL 09 have flexed their realism muscles when the "be a superstar" mode has you play as one player from a dynamic angle, and even has you sit and watch from the bench when your shift is over (now that's entertainment). Where is all of this going, and how does it relate to the uncanny valley?

Let me answer that question with another question: When does a game stop being a game? I don't know about the rest of those who played GTA IV, but the novelty of having anyone but Bruce blow up your cell phone every five minutes wore off really quickly (and even Bruce, however awesome he was, got annoying after a while). Rockstar was shooting for a more realistic world, but it kind of backfired. It isn't any more fun to have your cell phone being called constantly by needy friends in a game than it is in real life. The same kind of deal happened with San Andreas when you had to eat and workout, or suffer the consequence of morbid obesity. Developers probably aren't going to stop though, so long as they know realism is the thing that's cooler than sliced bread, and so some time down the road, the next definition of the Uncanny Valley is going to come roll up on us.

Psht, show me my muscle tissue and tendons.

Sometime in the future, maybe when GTA VII graces our shelves, we may be in the position where a game world seems almost too real, much like a character model that looks too real, but something will be off enough to creep you out. The other scenario is that it will be so real that it'll be boring as hell. GTA VII will have you buying groceries, using the washroom, showering, and perhaps most shockingly, putting on a condom before rocking the car. It's going to bring together so much of what you do outside of the game that it will probably stop feeling like a game altogether (assuming you shop, relieve yourself, bathe, and wrap it up of course). On the other side of things, Far Cry 9 will probably have a feature where once you die; you're done, back to square one – just like the RL! Or maybe you'll have to manually stitch your arm up with a motion sensing controller (ok so that last one sounds awesome, but you get the picture).

It's kind of ironic, really. Gamers are dying for a realistic experience, but there are those ever present limits that will remain as roadblocks for developers and "Uncanny Valleys for both themselves and gamers to try and get over. It's one of the few glass ceilings of gaming, and one that doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

What's your take on realism and games? Is there a stopping point where anything beyond it is too real? Will developers even take it that far?

Have a good one,