If you’re asking me

Charming imperfection vs uninspired sanitation

More stories from Winter Heffernan

April 3, 2023

Photo by Marisa Valdez

Fall time is the best time for improving your mental health.

I love trading card games. I play and collect Magic: The Gathering and have a mild interest in Flesh And Blood.

These hobbies mean I am exposed to a lot of fantasy art nowadays, and honestly, most of it seems tired and generic. Maybe I just don’t have good taste, and I can’t deny that this art can be very beautiful and a lot of effort goes into creating these pieces.

But, maybe, there is such a thing as too beautiful or too perfect? When every piece of art created for a game is a polished, slightly photorealistic movie poster, some part of the game’s soul gets suffocated. 

In Magic, for example, I find myself drawn to the art of old cards like “Sapphire Medallion” and “Orcish Settlers” instead of some of the contemporary card art. Board Game artists like Kyle Ferrin also have this magnetic charisma to their works compared with generic alternatives.

To illustrate this point, all you need to do is open the mobile games section in your app store. What games stand out to you? Is it the ones that use a very polished and realistic art style, or is it the ones that have a more stylized or simple aesthetic?

Personally, I am drawn to retro or very stylized art. It shows much more about how the creator views the world and what their creative process looks like. The alternative to this feels sanitized and without personality.

This philosophy doesn’t just extend to games however, it applies to anything that needs a visual front.

A good example of something that embraces its faults and oozes personality would be “Wallace and Grommit.” All their props are handmade and you can really feel a connection with the people who created the models.

The artists behind both “Orcish Settlers” and “Wallace and Grommit” are talented, very talented. The choices they made weren’t out of laziness or amateurism, they were created out of the refusal to lose what makes them unique.

This push for visual perfection is a trend that not only hurts the personality of the art itself but the quality of the product itself. 

From a technical standpoint, video games have been pushing for higher visual fidelity since their inception. At some point, this became an arms race where how good a game looks supersedes gameplay or narrative. 

Some of the best games I have ever played have very simple visuals. Off the top of my head, I can mention “Minecraft,” “Caves of Qud” and “Undertale.”

All of this is not to say that visual fidelity is not worth pursuing or that realism isn’t artistically valid. Both of these things have their time and place; I just believe that they are overdone and milked to the bone.

Nowadays it seems as if some game companies are locked in a cold war to look “the coolest” or “the most epic” and in the process, they are suffocating creativity and leaving the husks of what could have been in the wayside.

Heffernan can be reached at [email protected]