Games Studies: A Cross Analysis of Realism in Games

This is a piece of work I wrote for my BA (Hons) Games Studies Degree at Staffordshire University in 2019.

Cross Analysis of Realism in Games


This analysis will be looking at two different theories relating to Realism in Games. These will be GNS theory and the Magic Circle. From here the analysis will look at how these theories relate to multiple different genres and games within those genres. Finally, there will be a comparison made between the two theories and whether either of them are accurate at supporting the idea of realism in games. GNS theory revolves around three key aspects. These are Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism. Other than the core GNS, there is the exploration element which involves; Character, System, Setting, Situation and Colour. Edwards’ believes that without all of these there would not be realism in a game.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Naughty Dog, 2009) centers around the main character of Nathan Drake as he explores hidden cities and temples around the globe to find treasure and includes your usual adventure game tropes of gunplay, and platforming as well as the occasional bit of puzzle gameplay. The Wolf Among Us (Telltale Games, 2013) however, whilst also an adventure game; plays like a point and click adventure with decision making. In Ron Edwards theory of GNS he believes that for a player to be engaged “He or she relies on imagining the following: Character, System, Setting, Situation and Colour” (Ron Edwards, 2001). This would mean that all of these aspects need to be found within a game to immerse the player in its world.

In Uncharted 2’s situation, the character is given to the player rather than creating their own; this means the player should take the actions they believe would fit Nathan Drake’s character, instead of placing themselves in the characters shoes. This is also the same with TWAU (The Wolf Among Us) where you are placed in the shoes of Bigby Wolf. The system is the means in which in-game events are determined. This is found in most adventure games due to the usually linear approach to gameplay which means it is easy for the developer to force certain situations onto the player, this tried and true in both Uncharted 2 and TWAU. The setting is explained within the narrative of Uncharted 2; and so there is not as much backstory or history of the location given unless it is specifically needed for the story, so this aspect may not be as important. Whereas, in TWAU pieces of lore can found throughout the episodes to expand upon the setting and world you are playing in and increase immersion.

Figure 1: Face shots of Nathan Drake and Bigby Wolf

The situation is a problem that would have to be faced by the character. In most adventure games this could be a defining moment for the character that may occur mid-way through a story. In the case of Uncharted 2 this could be when one of the side characters Jeff is shot and you are forced to pause your treasure hunting escapades to assist him and escape the area. In TWAU this could be the ending of most episodes throughout the game due to their cliffhanging nature that puts a different perspective on what has and will happen to Bigby. The final aspect that Edwards’ provides is colour. Now in some games this may not be as important but in games such as Uncharted 2 this is extremely important to get right. This is because you are exploring and investigating the environment. Having extra details throughout the world just helps to create that extra piece of realism to immerse the player into the game which is exactly what Naughty Dog try to achieve. With TWAU it uses a much more comic based art style and so whilst not looking realist having details in the environment such as empty beer bottles or cigar butts all over the room creates a background to the character it relates to and gives a wider idea of the world and its people. In this case, Bigby’s apartment.

Figure 2: Bigby's Apartment

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD PROJEKT RED, 2015) is an RPG centering around the character Geralt of Rivia as he travels a fictional land searching for his adopted daughter who has been hunted down. Whilst you may find this to be similar to the adventures game where given a character. Instead of being placed in the middle of the story with little backstory. Geralt has two previous games which can be looked at through notes as well as many sources online detailing even earlier information. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011) is also an RPG, but instead of being given a character with a large backstory and character you are left to create your own and make your own path whilst following a quest to kill dragons and save Skyrim. Whilst this is different to the previous games mentioned, this is a much more typical format to be given for an RPG. This is because the developer, Bethesda; feels like the player is much more likely to become immersed if they create the character themselves. Unlike adventure games both Witcher and Skyrim have many different paths that can be taken alongside the main story, so it is much harder to order in-game events. But there is a critical path in both games that can be followed to continue on the main running narrative.

Figure 3: Skyrim Opening Scene

Due to the open-world nature of both Witcher and Skyrim there are many more pieces of lore and backstory to uncover more information about the world and people in it that you are exploring. This leads to a greater sense of immersion and realism as you are able to uncover the secrets of the world much like you would if you were truly there.The situation much like adventure games is the defining moment for the main character. In both of these games the most note-worthy moment is towards the beginning of the games where you learn a big twist that pushes you forward. In The Witcher this would be when Geralt discovers that his long-lost adopted daughter Ciri is not only alive but being hunted down by the Wild Hunt. In Skyrim it would be when you first discover that you are the dragonborn. Finally, whilst there is not a massive amount of detail in the world itself due to the sheer size of what can be explored. The variety of environments in both The Witcher and Skyrim tell stories in of themselves about who lived there and what sort of people they were and help to immerse the player in its worlds.

Overall, GNS does a very good job of explaining realism within both Adventure games and RPG’s. This is because it covers all bases on what a game needs to include to immerse the player into its worlds and what they need to do to make sure that the player feels like it could realistically present realism within the game.

The second theory that will be discussed is the idea of the Magic Circle which was created by Johan Huizinga. Unlike most theories Huizinga designed the name of the theory based upon the actual image that he created. He presented the idea of the Magic Circle as one of the main factors of learning as a human being. This is because he believes that we take into the Magic Circle certain beliefs and ideas that we have and come out with new ones and more confident on what we initially thought.

When relating adventure games to the magic circle, the idea is that everything that would allow a player to be immersed in the world should be found within the circle. In this case it would be the idea that the characters you play as, Nathan Drake or Bigby Wolf, are fully realised with aspirations and backstory so that you are able to immerse yourself as a player into the role of that character. The main problem with Nathan Drake in this situation is that he can be compared to a generic action hero and so is harder to understand how the character should act if you have no previous experience with the series. The world that you are interacting with also needs to be detailed so that the player understands where the action is taking place. For example, in TWAU the player must understand that whilst set in a twisted version of 1980s New York City they can see clear inspirations from it to create a template as to how the player should feel about where they are. In Uncharted 2, the game is set for the majority at least in locations around the world so this means the developers have to make sure the work looks realistic and accurate so if the player either knows what that place looks like or goes there then they would be able to make comparisons. This then allows the player to be more immersed in the world and makes the world much more believable.

Figure 4: Uncharted 2 Nepal Location

Another aspect of the magic circle that could be very important is challenge. This is because if the game is unnecessarily difficult it will frustrate the player and potentially ruin all sense of realism the game could provide. This is why in games like Uncharted 2 the give you difficulty options depending on the kind of experience you want. This means the player could choose an easier difficulty if they would want to experience more of the story or increase it if they would want more challenging AI enemies. Due to the nature of TWAU gameplay there is no difficulty option so that the player can become fully immersed into the world and story of the game.

When it comes to RPG’s the basis for the magic circle will stay the same but the ideas, they give to the player may change. RPG’s tend to have the ability to give the player a greater sense of immersion than adventure games due to the nature of their progressions. For example, in The Witcher 3 even though you are given a character; unlike the adventure games mentioned you are given large amounts of backstory for Geralt such as who he is, where he comes from and his motivations for the rest of the. This allows the player to become more immersed and connected with Geralt’s character. In Skyrim however since you are given a basic template for the character it is emphasized that you should place yourself into the shoes of the character that you create to give greater realism to the player. The world much like adventure games is also very important as in most RPG cases you are going to be exploring a lot of the world and so if it all looked unrealistic and have little detail all realism would be lost, and the player would not be immersed in the game. With both Witcher and Skyrim the worlds and detailed with many different cities and characters that you can find around the world to give the player a greater understanding of the world that they are playing in.

Finally, when it comes to challenge, both Witcher and Skyrim give the player the initial option of what difficulty they would like the play the game on depending on their play style. Due to the nature of RPG’s however as you progress through the game it will become more challenging with higher level enemies so lots of time and practice are asked of the player to progress which would mean the player would need to be invested in the world and characters to continue giving greater realism and immersion.

Figure 5: The Witcher 3 Difficulty Options

Overall, Huizinga’s magic circle is an interesting idea it is a bit too broad to show how realism is needed in games as he believes the magic circle encompasses everything in a game to provide it which in a lot of cases would not be the case. This is why in this argument GNS would likely come out on top. This is because it provides a much more specific set of rules that are needed for a game to provide realism which in this investigation seems to be very accurate. After this argument it is also clear to see that realism is important in games. This is because it allows the player to become even more immersed in the world and characters if they are able to make comparisons to the real world.




Edwards, R (2001), GNS and Other Matters of Roleplaying Theory [ONLINE] Available at: , [Accessed 7 December 2018]


Naughty Dog (2009) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Video Game]. Sony Interactive Entertainment

Telltale Games (2013) The Wolf Among Us [Video Game]. Telltale Games

CD PROJEKT RED (2015) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt [Video Game]. CD PROJEKT

Bethesda Game Studios (2011) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [Video Game]. Bethesda Softworks


Uncharted/The Wolf Among Us Face Shots -

The Wolf Among Us Bigby’s Apartment -

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Opening Scene -

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Nepal Location -

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt -

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