Do better graphics necessarily mean more enjoyable gameplay?

“I keep going back to it.” Photo by Chris Waits (Flickr Creative Commons)

Would your favorite games be more enjoyable with better graphics? Well, probably some of them.

There are numerous variables that determine how satisfying a game is. Graphics play a role, but so do art style, story, character development, controls and setting. The reason some games succeed in rebooting their franchise is because they’re able to update their graphics without subtracting from the other variables.

Take games like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, DuckTales Remastered and the HD remake of Age of Empires II, all of which showcased updated graphics without loosing the stylistic charm of their originals. These games may suggest that video games are fundamentally better with more advanced graphics, eteris paribus (all other things held constant)

But on the other hand, there are games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, released in 2009 on the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360. Re-Shelled succeeded in updating the graphics with a more 3-dimensional style, but failed to successfully bring with it all of the artistic appeal and fluent controls that made the original such a classic.

So would I really enjoy remakes of my favorite games–Super Mario Bros 3 (NES), Pokemon Yellow (Game Boy), Rollercoaster Tycoon (PC)– in higher definition? Maybe. It might depend on who remakes the game and how it’s executed.

But then again, would I really enjoy my favorite films if they had bigger budgets, more elaborate set pieces and more attractive performers? Probably not. Because visual charisma doesn’t always come hand-in-hand with deeper enjoyment. And in the case of many video games, movies, songs and books, the splendor lies in the viewer’s imagination.

So the bigger question may be: does our fixation on graphics have a negative impact on how video games are made and marketed?

The PBS Game Show, a relatively new YouTube program that provides relevant commentary on all things gaming, posted this video on Dec. 5 2013 about how much Playstation 4 and XBOX ONE’s graphics really matter: 

In this episode, the show’s host Jamin Warren discusses the resolution disparities of certain games on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, also known dramatically as “resolution gate.” The episode puts the race to better visual and technical capabilities in gaming consoles into historical perspective, as graphical one-upsmanship is really nothing new.

Warren makes clear the difference between graphics (the number of pixels on the screen) and aesthetics (the artistic vision of the game’s developers), which is an important factor to consider. 

“Think about it this way: graphics are the paints that an artist has available, while aesthetics is what separates Picasso from Bob Ross,” Warren says.

Furthermore, many of these variables add up to whether or not the player feels immersed in game. Warren stresses the importance of loosing yourself in the gameplay to the point of feeling that you’re in the game.

In the case of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, gamers were initially upset when the first demos showcased a more cartoony link, instead of more realistic version that we’d later see in Twilight Princess. Nevertheless, Wind Waker has become known as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Warren suggests that this is due to the game’s seamless sense of immersion.

Ultimately, Warren suggests, graphics (or our obsession with graphics) might be holding us back from spreading games into other more artistic avenues.

Last week, I took to the My Vinyl Muse Instagram page (@myvinylmuse) to ask gamers what their favorite games are and if those games would be more enjoyable with more advanced graphics. Here’s what they had to say:

“I’ve got no beef with graphics being good. But I feel it’s more important on some games than others. When I’m playing my favorite genre, RPG, I’m more concerned with making connections with my characters and becoming submerged into their stories and battle system that will keep me interested in the game. For shooters I’m looking for the same successful recipe for any shooter with new add-ons or content to provide rewarding gameplay. I feel action games is where graphics matter most. Games like Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto are where I’d like to see top notch graphics work. But that may just be because it’s hard for me to get into that sort in general. My favorite game is Final Fantasy 2 and 4, and they did do a remake with better graphics. And it my just be nostalgia, but I find the original better. I’m sure someone playing it for the first time would prefer the new one.”
-Rob Fowler, @robfowler

“Chrono Trigger for me. As for better graphics, I don’t think I’d like it. I love the feel of the old RPG-style games. Like Final Fantasy 3 and what not. I love them just how they are. I still pick up my Nintendo DS and play Chrono Trigger a couple times a week.”
-Ray R, @rondeau04

“As a long time Pokemon fan, I have found that the originals are the best. As gaming has become more advanced, in my opinion, the quality of the games has gone down. Take the most recent Pokemon for example, I feel that the only thing Nintendo improved was the graphics. And for me, it was a let down that, after adding in all this new stuff, they weren’t able to get me hooked. Whereas with a game like Pokemon Gold, it doesn’t matter how good the graphics are, because the gameplay is engaging. Just my opinion.”
-Will Crowther, @willcrowther

“My favorite game is a tie between the two main Kingdom Hearts games for Playstation 2. I think they’d be better with better graphics, but I think any game would be. What defines what “better graphics” are depends on the game. For instance an older game for the NES might mean 3D or more detailed 2D graphics, whereas a game like Call of Duty it might just mean more in depth or realistic.”
-RJ Moore, @therjmoore


So what’s your favorite game? Do you think it would be more enjoyable to you if it were updated with better graphics? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. 

  • Robert Fowler

    Awesome job on this article!