The difference between Graphics and Aesthetics

Graphics… I don’t think that means what you think it means…

I follow quite a few game reviewers and while I wouldn’t like to name anyone in particular I can tell you that most of them make this mistake: While conducting their reviews they very often use the word Graphics when actually they are referring to the game’s Aesthetics and this causes confusion within the industry and misleads the content makers.

But what are the differences? And why would the misuse of a term be causing damage to the industry? Keep reading and you’ll find out.

Graphics are actually a part of Aesthetics, but they do not define them. Graphics is what we talk about when we refer to the graphic fidelity and level of detail within a game’s visual design. Graphics are the quality of the textures, the lighting effects and how detailed they are, the particle effects (like smoke), the draw distance and the number of polygons.

Amusingly enough, when the consumer base asks for better graphics and praise the graphics of a particular video game that’s exactly what they get in future releases, better graphics! More particle effects, better detailed textures and so on but this is actually not what the consumers want. They want Aesthetics.

The game Aesthetics are the combination of the Graphics used, the artistic style of the game and the level of immersion it provides. When we talk about Aesthetics we talk about how the game looks, as a whole, and how that look makes us feel and captures our imagination and interest.

Let’s look at Battlefield 3 and something less Graphics intensive like Don’t Starve:


Great graphics, poor aesthetics.

Basic graphics, excellent aesthetics.

Basic graphics, excellent aesthetics.

You don’t need a PhD to tell me which game has the better graphics, but which game is actually better looking? One is a 3D modern shooter with very detailed level design and high resolution textures, while the other is a 2D point and click survival with no particle effects. Hell even the water in Don’t Starve is just a simple moving texture.

Did having all these technologies improve the experience in Battlefield when they couldn’t even bother to have a more diverse color palette than GRAY (light gray, dark gray, orange gray and some brown dust)?

Both are decent looking games but as you can see Don’t Starve is lacking very much in Graphics but not in Aesthetics. It has a distinctive art style to it thanks to cel-shading which gets you immersed into the fun game play. The music, the atmosphere, the rush to find your next pace of food without being eaten by the night, they all intertwine perfectly to create what makes the game so great.

Here is an even better example of why graphics serve aesthetics:

This is an excellent video illustrating the differences between Watch_Dogs at E3 2012 and Watch_Dogs today. The two are identical in a lot of senses yet the E3 has a looks a lot better but why? The number of polygons hasn’t changed, neither have the textured so what happened?

It’s how you use these tools to create the immersion that differentiate the two videos. There is a heavy wind blowing into the trees, the light falls in much more realistic way, the umbrellas that used to be above the coffee tables also being affected by the wind, the leaf textures on the floor that were not completely flat, all of these combined gave the game a beautiful aesthetic and once they removed these small details, the magic was gone.

And finally look at Borderlands and Team Fortress 2. None of these games are graphically intensive but their art style, their goofiness made them a pretty site to see.

So kindly stop demanding Graphics, yes we need them but they should be serving aesthetics and not the other way around.

Till next time! Ta-ta…


Howdy y'all! I'm a Systems Engineer working day (and sometimes night) to fix all of your VoIP communications problems but my heart resides with the over-captivating world of gaming. Although I can't say too much about gaming engines and raw usage of the GPU, when it comes to multiplayer LAN, WAN, MMO or CO-OP (local or otherwise) I'm your guy. Follow me on : Google + , Twitter, Facebook

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