Realism in games has always been a personal controversy to me. On the one hand, we see exactly how far graphical development has come. What used to be an assortment of clearly-defined, minimally-coloured pixels on a small screen has morphed into the ability to create a fantastic reflection of reality in which a gamer may co-exist. With recent technological advances, even, the old polygon limitation for fluid motion has been antiquated by the use of atom-mapping, which can potentially be as in-depth as programming and designing every single grain of dirt in a virtual universe. On the other hand, we clearly see the end of gaming as a fantasy realm as what once was clearly not real is now growing ever more real.
Let's support the first stance first, as would appear to be proper. Games with old graphics tend to be difficult to look at; without the proper amount of imagination, they don't appear to be anything at all. Think back to when we were all young, likely playing Pokemon Stadium and Ocarina of Time on the N64. Remember how great everything looked compared to the SNES and its pixel-based looks? Looking back from modernity, it's hard to take the original graphics all that seriously, especially when looking at games older than with what we grew up. The fairies in Zelda were pyramidal, and it was impossible to tell a chest from the background forestry in Legend of the Dragoon, yet those games were cutting edge. Now, their graphical advancements are archaic and often detract from the gaming experience of those who did not grow up with the game. When things aren't visually pleasing, we as humans lose interest, and we have certainly heightened the standard of what constitutes visually pleasing. We now have the ability to scan a real-world rifle with three-dimensional laser technology in order to literally import reality into fantasy. That real rifle can be used in a game and is only as limited in quality of appearance as the programmers and designers who put together the rest of the game's visuals. Now fantasy is potentially as visually pleasing as reality, and, with enough time and scenario changes, it can become even more so.
To support the second stance, though, the development of what is visually pleasing is potentially harmful. The clear short-term effects appear to be the diminishing of the imagination. When graphics were not quite as modern, gamers had to intuitively connect what they were seeing with what they were expected to see. They had no legitimate experience observing a cell-shaded Link sailing across some vast, Great Sea in a talking boat, but they were able to overcome this using imagination and still enjoy The Wind Waker. Now, that imaginary reliance is hardly needed. Players do not need to connect with some visual medium between fantasy and reality, they merely observe reality projected fantastically. Battlefield 3, for instance, will utilise highly realistic graphics, but will not represent a real situation, only what has been created by the story-forming imaginations of its creators. As time goes by, new stories and fantastic worlds will cease to exist in the realm of imagination, only what-if scenarios for the current world. Imagination is under attack. As imagination decreases, and as these new fantastic scenarios for reality continue to grow, we begin to see fantasy as preferable to reality, and are extremely tempted to revert into that fantasy. Imagine a world where you are a champion, a rich warrior with more skill than any other, who is widely respected as the greatest man in all of a particular region, or perhaps the world, and as a result you are given wine, women, and song. Even if you cannot actually drink that wine or love that woman, it's a lot more fun and entertaining to a lot more people, as well as plenty easier, to do this in the game than in real life, particularly since there are real consequences in reality. Highly visual gaming detracts from reality and thus injures society in general.
For now, I welcome better graphics. They're certainly refreshing. However, I can see the dangers they may pose. Whereas reality is great, I still enjoy a cartoonish game every now and again, to remind me that gaming really isn't as realistic as it appears to be. I think we all need that jolt, that realisation that there is life outside of your PS3, 360, Wii, or whatever gaming device you use.