Kyle Orland on the need for photorealism in order to make emotionally resonant games:
But even without perfect technology, developers are managing to experiment with the medium in some very interesting (and occasionally very successful) ways.
Photorealism is the Holy Grail of gaming, but not for the reasons Christoph Hartmann (whom Orland quotes) thinks.
In the console generations leading up today, there has been a common trend. As developers reach the technical limits of a system and the wonder at the generation’s graphical prowess wanes, games begin to emphasize story, characters, and experimental gameplay ideas.
In the past, this meant an influx of RPG’s which focused more on talking, reading, and (in some cases) thinking. It happened with the 16-bit, 32-bit, and PS2 generations. If your audience no longer cares about the graphics beyond an accepted minimum, they cease to be a focus for the medium.
And that brings us to the benefits of photorealism. If technology advances to a point where we cannot distinguish between real-time 3D and say film (or video), designers will no longer have to worry about graphics in the sense that they are always improving. Instead, creative energies could be redirected toward a number of neglected targets.
Art style would certainly become more prominent as pure realism would become a sort of default setting. Character development would be forced to improve if only to support the visual accuracy of which such hypothetical technology would be capable. Stories would take center stage as flashy graphical flourishes no longer hold the same novelty.
Photorealism takes graphics out of the equation. If what you want is more subtle gaming experiences, pushing technology (though seemingly counterintuitive) may be the best way to get there.