In Alexander R Galloway’s article Social Realism in Gaming, he argues that polygon count is a less-than-accurate way to characterize realism in video games. In his words, a game achieves realism by,
“constructing a one-to-one relationship between the affective desires of gamers and the real social contexts in which they live.”
His argument throws out games he classifies as fantastical, since most would agree that fantasy is the opposite of reality.
However, I would like to pose a counterpoint to his argument. Reading this article 12 years after it was written, I don’t recognize most of the games he mentions… The Madden NFL and Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchises are still known, but the games that make up the core of his argument have not left a history for those of us who were too young for them back then. The games like NARC, Toywar, and Under Ash, may have injected gamers into the worlds they inhabited, but they failed to leave a mark on history.
The games that really stick with people are the ones they can immerse themselves in. Like the protagonist in the video at top who can more easily exist in the text-based [How do you like that, McLuhan?] worlds of Zork or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he defines his reality based on what he can metaphorically surround himself with. Series like Donkey Kong, Final Fantasy, or Sonic the Hedgehog are still alive and well whereas more ‘realistic’ games like first person shooters are even tending towards the fantastical with games like HALO and Call of Duty: Ghosts.
In a similar medium, how many people have you heard of who liked M*A*S*H so much they went out and learned Korean? And how many people have you heard about who liked Star Trek so much they went out and learned Klingon? I can tell you that the fantasy game Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time left such a big impression on its fans that one made an entire rap album narrating it.
Media can reflect the physical world, but the physical world also reflects what we take from media and the most impact comes from media with legacy. Whether it be Star Wars, Super Mario, or Game of Thrones, whatever can bring its viewers/participants in deeper, will last longer.