Thesis: Realism


Organizing Ideas

It seemed like the more I research, the more I spiral into hours of reading potentially relevant books, the more related terms I find. I made this diagram to try to understand all these connections I was uncovering and how they relate to my game/piece.

The sentence in black describes what I have been making, and certain words relate more to certain concepts from my research (and ultimately, certain areas of study). For example, the ideas of illusion and perception of space relate more to the element of surprise and the element of space in my project. Basically everything relates to “visual”, so assume that there are a million lines branching off from that word. I left those out for clarity. 


I think it’s ok that the word “affect” is vague, at least for now. Right now it just means interesting reactions, whether they are emotions or unexpected ways a player understands their own perception or something else. A lot of the research I’ve found in design, film and animation theory connects perception to realism. This is something I want to pay more attention to, because the overlap in questions of realism between different mediums has been really interesting.


I’ve previously mentioned my class on cognitive sciences. I’m also taking a helpful class on animation theory and history. The class has been great for helping me find more concrete/searchable connections to my thesis and understanding their context. Recently, we’ve been looking at how animation was changing after World War II. Animators such as Chuck Jones and those from the UPA were taking inspiration from new art movements and exploring things like flatness, self-referentiality, abstraction and illusion. I plan to read more on why animation is argued by some to be a particularly effective form for exploring these ideas. What are the functional and convention-related differences between animation, games, film and paintings that change how we perceive realism and abstraction? 


Realism and Rules


Here’s a potential transition where the two images on each end are representational and relatively realistic. The middle is more abstract. It’s not meant to represent anything except the formal middle point of two scenes. What is the difference between transitions like this and transitions where there is an illogical/surreal shift but there is no point where anything you see is not “referentially realistic” (Prince, 92)? Will the latter feel more or less like a violation of the established reality? My theory is that in a medium where fantasy is common and accepted, maintaining “reality” is less about having real references and more about consistently following rules. A player will accept that flying is possible in the game world as long as they know how flying fits into the logic of the world. In this way, they can create expectations of future events in this world based on a kind of consistency they are reasonably comfortable won’t be violated. 

Research on Realism

I am finding a lot of sources that connect perception, space and realism together, especially in the areas of film and design theory.

I found an essay by Stephen Prince called “True Lies: Perceptual realism, digital images and film theory.” The essay is from 1996 and Prince mostly writes about the rise of photo-realistic imagery and how this should effect film theory. He breaks down the realistic imagery label into “referentially fictional”, “referentially realistic” and “perceptually realistic” (92). Breaking down realism is really important, because it can mean so many different things. In the same book, I found an even older essay by Rudolf Arnheim (film theorist, perceptual psychologist; basically a key theorist on the perception of media) who writes about relationships of spatial continuity (32) and “constant of size” (27) to realism in film. 

Another source is Justin Morris’s “Then one day I got in” (2012), which is specifically about games and realism. It connects some previously mentioned Lev Manovich writing to film theorist André Bazin’s ideas of “cinematic reality” (23).

Work Cited

Arnheim, Rudolf. “Film and Nature.” 1933. Trans. L.M. Sieveking and Ian F.D. Morrow. Film Theory: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. N.p.: Taylor & Francis, 2004. 25-39. Print.

Morris, Justin. “”Then one day I got in.” Computer Imaging, Realism Tron.” Cineaction 89.89 (2012): 22-28. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

Prince, Stephen. “True Lies: Perceptual realism, digital images and film theory.” 1996. Film Theory: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. N.p.: Taylor & Francis, 2004. 85-97. Print.