Immersion and Realism - Gaming’s Biggest Hurdle
Over the past couple of console generations, one issue has become increasingly present within the AAA gaming scene: the obsession with realism and immersion. Graphically, we’ve basically plateaued, and the technological leap between console generations has gotten less and less. In many ways, it seems as though gaming has hit a brick wall with no direction to go. Even now, many of the big improvements are incredibly minuscule, such as the strive towards ray-tracing and path-tracing. While this looks great, the change isn’t as huge as many would have you believe. Now that we’ve hit this point, growth in the industry is increasingly hard to predict.
Not only is the issue hitting a wall in terms of actual technological growth, but I personally feel the overreliance on realism can make certain games feel incredibly tedious. The biggest culprit of this, for me at least, is Red Dead Redemption 2. There’s no doubt in my mind that the game is fantastic and was an incredible showcase of the technology, but I found myself getting tired of many of its mechanics. For example, the hunting was fantastic, but the longer I played, I found myself getting incredibly sick of the long-winded skinning animations. Recently, I saw a tweet discussing Rockstar’s recently teased Grand Theft Auto VI and its potential for growth on RDR 2’s mechanics. The tweet mentioned how great their previous title was with a showcase, yet this showcase was purely just a demonstration of the realistic and interesting physics engine. I won’t put this system down; it was obviously a product of hard work and insane amounts of effort, but there are only so many times I can see realistic spreading fire or someone butchering meat well before it loses its charm, and I’m already beginning to reach that stage.
VR and AR are some of the more mainstream and well-developed concepts within gaming and are a potential direction for this to take, but personally, I don’t see it being the next mainstream avenue. While I absolutely love VR, it lacks the convenience of traditional gaming: it takes more time, space, and far more effort in the long run compared to simply being able to get comfortable on a couch for an hour and play something. The technology is still growing and has a lot of room for growth, I can’t see it reaching the same level anytime soon. AR is a similar issue, yet has more hurdles to reaching the mainstream than VR does. It’s currently a far less developed technology, making it seem less likely than ever. Nobody seems particularly interested in trying to develop this into being much more than a simple gimmick or something for other industries. The newly released Meta Quest 3 does utilise some features combining VR and AR, yet it still has the downfalls of both of these. While the Meta Quest 3 has fantastic capabilities for VR and some interesting utilities for AR, the whole package still feels like a VR machine, with AR possibilities, instead of a purely mixed reality device.
The most recent console generation did try to innovate in other areas, such as with the PS5’s incredibly fast SSD and the Xbox Series’ Quick Resume feature. While these features are brilliant, there really isn’t anything left for them due to the essentially eliminated loading times in many games. There are also a lot of leaps towards cloud gaming, which could, in theory, eliminate consoles altogether. A cloud gaming takeover, however, is far too reliant on a vast magnitude of other systems to become reliable as a main source of gaming for most people. Internet reliability and quality are still incredibly limited in many areas of the world, and this wouldn’t work without vast improvements to network and server infrastructure. Also, the potential cost for servers of that magnitude may just make the change pointless (I have very little idea how much servers at this scale would cost, so this is nothing but theory). Despite all of this, though, I feel the biggest hurdle to cloud gaming is the gaming community at large, and for mostly good reason. Due to its very nature, cloud gaming would require a consistent network connection, and this online-only requirement has proven to cause an insane amount of issues in other games already, so scaling up to such a degree would likely be a lot more hassle than it’s worth.
Games themselves still have ample room for growth and it’s mostly apparent within the indie scene. From simple changes, such as unique art styles found in games such as PAPERHEAD and Melatonin, to even entirely new concepts formed around bizarre control schemes, such as Behind Your Eyes, the indie gaming scene has so many unique ideas. I can’t ignore the insane amount of talent behind many AAA studios but many ideas seem to have stagnated, whether that’s due to the need to please shareholders, or purely due to creative burnout, a lot of these could do with learning a little from smaller devs.
For all I know, nearly everything I've said here could be wrong; VR could be the big next thing, and cloud gaming might take off. This is purely theory based on my own personal observations and opinions, so I’d love to hear any other ideas people might have!