The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Editorial: Graphics in Wargames

Do good graphics matter to traditional wargames

Published on 17 MAR 2014 11:48am by Wargamer Staff
  1. business and industry, english

Graphics in computer wargames, do they need to be any good? A lot of time we hear things like “Wargames are all about the gameplay so you don’t want to be distracted by images no matter how pretty.”, but is that wholly true? Now I’m not going to suggest that a traditional computer wargame needs graphics that get close to virtual reality, however, I am going to suggest that they really do need to be above the level of the “functional” – although I accept that what constitutes “functional” is pretty subjective.

First off though, why do many games focus so much on their graphics. An obvious question, perhaps, and the answer comes down to suspension of disbelief. So what does suspension of disbelief mean? A quick bit of research came up with:

The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.”

Also:

“A state where awareness of physical self is diminished or even lost by being surrounded by an engrossing environment.”

And:

“The state is arguably an essential element when experiencing any drama or work of fiction. We may know very well that we are watching an actor or looking at marks on paper, but we wilfully accept them as real in order to fully experience what the artist is attempting to convey.”

(For those interested in such things the term “suspension of disbelief” was apparently coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 with the publication of his “Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions”.)

Now clearly these definitions are looking at the situation as it applies to things like films, TV and the like, however, Coleridge was talking about poetry which many would hardly think of as an immersive medium, albeit a creative one. So again we ask why does it apply to traditional computer wargames where players are mainly interested in the gameplay? Indeed, it is often suggested that graphics can get in the way of the game for these, rather than assisting it or being a core feature as you might get in a FPS. The answer is because with a degree of immersion brought on by engaging graphics you can “get lost in the game” as you become less aware of external factors. If the graphics are good, nicely rendered tanks and the like, it adds to good gameplay as you identify better with what is going on and there is the opportunity for the graphics to provide visual feedback to what you are doing in the game (picture worth a thousand words and all that).

Conversely, poor graphics provide a barrier. You spend time trying to work out what you are looking at, and are more easily distracted by external factors from the real world as you are less immersed in the game. Additionally I think we must accept that we live in a very visual world these days compared to the case when the format of the traditional wargame was devised. We expect more, and are a lot more inclined to make quick decisions based on initial impressions – even all but the hardest of the hard core wargamers do this with the look of a game, so why put your game on the back foot in respect of sales with graphics that are somewhat sub-par?

Therefore, I would suggest that it is wholly in the interest of wargame developers to make their graphics look good.