Critic Opinion: Saying “Graphics Don’t Matter” is Idiotic
We hear it everywhere: “Graphics don’t matter, gameplay matters!”
In point of fact, the gameplay will always be most important simply because this is an interactive entertainment medium. However, the idea that graphics don’t matter at all is just plain idiotic. We’re usually a bit more diplomatic in our approach to op-eds at VGRHQ but this is so devoid of logic that it must be labeled appropriately.
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” That truism operates on a number of different levels, and several of them apply to video games. Video games are virtual worlds, designed specifically for the sake of immersion; the player wants to become absorbed in a fantastical environment every now and then. Immersion is highly subjective, of course, but the bottom line is that if you’re not emotionally invested (in some way), you’re gonna be pretty bored.
In the old days, one could barely distinguish the human characteristics of a video game avatar. For the most part, we had to use our imaginations. Now, there is the argument that this lends the game a more mystical aura, in that the player must infuse more of himself (or herself) into the experience. For instance, if you asked ten people to draw Terra from Final Fantasy VI, you’d probably end up with ten distinctly different sketches.
That being said, it’s difficult to portray emotion with a sprite. The best they could do is toss that little heart up there in the dialogue box. Nowadays, we can see authentic human emotion on the faces of game characters, and we’re instantly more in tune with the story. Beyond the story, a similar thing happens with the environment: The more we see and clearly recognize, the more our brains accept it as impressively “real.” Our brains aren’t working to fill in the blanks, so-to-speak.
We’re not saying graphics are essential for a great game. We’re saying they can’t ever hurt. We’re saying that good graphics can only help. They can’t make a broken game playable because gameplay does indeed reign supreme. Awesome graphics can’t contribute to immersion and emotional investment if we don’t give a fig about the story or world; it falls to the developers to make that work. No, graphics aren’t the “be-all, end-all.”
But what they do for our virtual experiences should be obvious. From a critic standpoint, you only have to decide how much weight will be given to the visual presentation. It would only be wrong if the critic discounted graphics entirely. All graphics, from the retro style we see in games like Hotline Miami and Lone Survivor, to the nigh-on photorealism we see elsewhere, have an impact on the interactive experience. Always. It’s merely a matter of determining that impact.