The Realism Error

I've read the points and counterpoints about realism going around. The polls, the feuds, the civil discussions. And I want to just drop an idea here as part of the ongoing discourse.

My thesis is simple: the claim to want realism is an error. The request actually being described by the ED Realists is for naturalism, not realism. And that difference is crucial to understand, because it resolves a fruitless and misguided dispute with ED Gamists.

What is the difference between realism and naturalism?

Realism is a style that is meant to reflect the hard realities of whatever is depicted. I'll make comparisons to visual art, because that's my wheelhouse. Realism is a "warts and all" style. It is an unflinching look at the way things are, without any adjustment or decoration beyond what cannot be gotten rid of in the medium. Paint is still paint, photos are still photos. For that matter, games are still games.

Naturalism is a style that sticks close to the appearances of the world, but smooths over some of the unpleasantness to create a more attractive experience. All those portraits of the famous and wealthy that dot our history, all those believable illustrations in books, all those landscapes, all those NASA Photos of the Day with color adjustments to make them more appealing wallpapers - those are all naturalistic. They show us things we immediately recognize because they're rendered believably, but are not interested in showing the blemishes or unappealing angles.

In short, realism is a style that unflinchingly shows what is, and naturalism is a style that shows what is believable.

How does realism versus naturalism matter in ED?

Because ED is a game, not a job or a lifestyle or something meant to be anything other than an entertaining diversion, virtually no one truly wants realism. Not even the ED Realists. We want the splendor and excitement of space travel, of starfighters, of stunning interstellar vistas. ED Gamists don't want to give up that level of game experience, either. On the other hand, neither ED Realists nor ED Gamists want the tedium of flight checks, weeks spent in dock for repairs, hours spent loading and unloading cargo, and so on.

What both ED Realists and ED Gamists want is a naturalistic experience of being a spacefarer in an open-world galaxy. We want a naturalistic style of play that feels like space without getting bogged down in the work that being a spacefarer would realistically require. The minutiae of space travel are papered over so we can get on with the experiences that are relatively high-yield with respect to enjoyment. Traders bang out trade routes, chasing credits/hour. For them, the game is perfecting a run from station to station in minimum time. Combat pilots "git gud" and play a competition within the believable but patently artificial physics of the game. Explorers become experts of navigating a galaxy map that is a naturalistic, procedurally generated extrapolation from real-world astrography and revealing the aesthetic treasures FDev has hidden within.

How does the view from naturalism help?

It gives us a more balanced viewpoint to do away with fallacious arguments. For example, ED Realists say, "If you don't like load screens and long travel times, it's not the game for you," because those things are "realistic." But, they're not. They're design decisions that need criticism to be improved and create a more enjoyable - even a more naturalistic - play experience. Meanwhile, the ED Gamists need to let up about "muh immersion," because we do also want to feel immersed in the fantasy of spacefaring in a 3303 that never will be.

In sum, naturalism is what we're craving in ED, not realism. The challenge is for us, as a community, to understand that this what we say we want and help FDev by providing feedback about how their design is creating or could create more immersive and enjoyable gameplay.
Interesting points, there, OP, and a nicely written post. Rep for you.

I'm a big advocate of "playing the game your way" - it's kinda my unofficial mantra.

For me, it's all about a willing suspension of disbelief, like when I read a book: I like to immerse myself in stuff, letting my imagination fill in the gaps (and my imagination is the best GFX card I've ever installed).

To this end, Elite for me is about a type of gamified realism, which you've nicely dubbed 'naturalism'.

Naturalism is one of the reasons I don't use massacre exploits, or mission-stack relogging, or whatever the latest "get rich quick" scheme is: Heck, it's the reason I mostly play in Solo, so I'm not bothered by PCs who most likely will only serve to spoil my ED world-view by doing or saying something out-of-character. I know that, in-game, I can allow myself to be part of the ED world without all that tedious reality.

On a very basic, geeky level I'm pretending to be a space-ship pilot - even though I know I'm not really. I use a keyboard & mouse, so my imagination needs to do a bit more work, but having been brought up from a very early age on sci-fi and books, I'm pretty good at suspending that disbelief. I'm having fun pretending to fly a space-ship like I did when I was five, crayoning switches and dials on cardboard boxes, just with better grown-up tools.

If I start "cheating" (a very broad brush for a discussion full of minutiae), then the immersion - the willing suspension of disbelief - is ruined and I might just as well be doing something else like cheating at online poker or one of those freebie tower defense games. There's literally no point in soiling the experience I want to have with this sort of bypass to my ED story.

I'd probably quite enjoy even more realism in the game, if I'm being honest. I wouldn't mind if it took a minute or two for cargo to be shipped up or your new power plant installed. If I could see robot arms whizzing about the docking bay doing stuff, or surly dockers driving power-loaders, it would make that delay even better, even more immersive... but I don't want more realism at the expense of naturalism if it spoils my game experience - as you say, it's a game, and it needs to be enjoyed: Balance is the key.
Top notch post.

Summarises everything we've all been telling the "realists" for a while now.

Now if only they could read this post with an open mind,
Thanks for the kind words, all.

yobrotom, to be clear, I think ED Gamism is not the way forward either. We need both sides to get clear about what they're asking for. Some of it is about design, and some of it is about ease of immersion.

Sleutelbos, thanks! I have background in history of art, game design, and experiential design. So, I take this stuff pretty seriously :)
Realistic or not, the point of (good) science fiction is it sticks to its own internal rules, and, where flights of fancy HAVE to happen, it is done it such a way as to have at least a plausible sounding "thing" to cover it up (i.e.Heisenberg compensators)

where something cannot be covered up in such a way, then the other option is a "nod" to realism, so imagine a short 2 min sequence on destruction where we eject from our ship and have a short transport sequence, or when in dev mode view a large crane drops a bit palette of cargo cans at the back of our ship when then get pushed in, again just taking a minute.

those wanting immersion get their itch scratched and hopefully those just wanting action on tap are not too put out

btw I agree with the OP... good post!.
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Top notch post.

Summarises everything we've all been telling the "realists" for a while now.

Now if only they could read this post with an open mind,
I think the OP nailed this well here for both the "ED Realists" and the "It's just a game" players both. Both need to take on board what is said here.
Personally I'm a "Realist" or "Naturalist" I suppose, in that I bought into the vision of ED as more of a sim than a "game" in the strictest sense of the word, and yes it grinds my gears to see so many updates introducing what I see as "pew-pew" elements that cater exclusively to the "gameplay is king" crowd. This is why I play mostly in Private Group (with like minded players) or Solo mode so that I can attempt to maintain my internal consistency of the game.

My biggest issue with what is happening in the game at present is nothing to do with "immersion" or "gameplay" it is the fact that FDev are breaking their own internal consistency, they are changing the "rules" of the game to suit their latest updates.
Let me expand on this...
I voted for a delay on ship transfers, not specifically for "realism" but because in the internal consistency of the ED universe there was no sensible mechanic for having instant transfer.

I chose to overlook the "instant" recovery of an ejected pilot because it is loosely explained in the manual, and I can accept the fact that no-one wants to spend 3 days floating in an escape pod waiting to be picked up. In EVE for example the pilot has to fly his own pod back to a station and buy another ship, ED choses to circumvent that, but would it kill them to develop a loading screen that shows an escape pod performing a hyperspace jump? (Again maintaining internal consistency)

I loved the idea of ship launched fighters and the NPC crew to pilot them, but if we can hire NPCs to pilot the SLF (and our ship if we choose to pilto the fighter), why can we not hire NPC crew for mulit-crew? (Consistency)

I can swallow telepresence as a way of piloting the SLF, but in that case why not also use if for the SRV? (Consistency)

If the telepresence of the SLF has a limited range of 30Km, why does the telepresence for Multi-crew span the entire galaxy? (Consistency)

If you are going to introduce "telepresence" at that level, does that mean that none of us are actually flying any of our ships? We're simply sat in a darkened room on some station, telepresencing into our ship? (Consistency)

You will probably never reconcile the "Realist" and the "Gameplay" pilots and that's fine, each to their own, but ED should stop trying to please one group at the expense of the other. Simply present us with a consistent, believable universe and let us play in it. Sure, you'll possibly lose a few players from both groups, but you're not going to lose an entire group, and that's where the current danger lies.
Until the story, plot and narrative of the game, together with its lore is presented in a more meaningful and engaging way, then I don't even care about consistency in the gameworld fiction.

You can purely file me under the category of "Gamist" as the OP so nicely puts it.

Elite just doesn't provide enough for me to be able to role-play. It would be like trying to immerse myself in a movie when every 5 mins I see the furry microphone dropping into the shot, passersby stopping and waving at the camera and the lead actor tripping up in his delivery and having to check a copy of the script to remember his lines.

As pretty as Elite Dangerous can be in place, the "production values" just aren't there to allow me to willingly suspend my disbelief. So I simply resign myself to the knowledge that its a game and I enjoy it on those merits alone.
Excellent Post OP!

I just hope folks can realize that much of outer space is unknown, And certainly not known as far as what system objects look like in their native star light. So I would hope that FD is willing to take some "Naturalism" liberty to the Milky Way, and add some much needed diversity.


+1 rep.

I've argued the same thing many times under another word - verisimilitude. Treating an unreal situation as if it was real.

I use that word because Richard Donner famously had it hanging up over his office door (if I remember the tale correctly) during the making of Superman, and it's part of the reason it was such a success. It's giving the material a level of respect, even if it's patently silly, and that helps you buy into the fantasy.

Same applies to ED, there we want things that add to the illusion, which is why some people balk at changes that they feel show the strings too much, even if it makes sense from a strictly gameplay standpoint (like the current multicrew debates).

The key, to me, is not necessarily forcing more realistic gameplay on us or pandering to the instant gratification crowd, but to do what is nessesary for the game, while never forgetting that plaque on Richard Donnar's door.

Approach it with an eye on this, and things should work out fine
Meanwhile, the ED Gamists need to let up about "muh immersion," because we do also want to feel immersed in the fantasy of spacefaring in a 3303 that never will be.
I've never seen those people (myself included) ever argue the game shouldn't strive to be "realistic" or "immersive" or "naturalistic" when it makes sense. Just that for SOME THINGS they should allow gameplay > everything else.

Nice original post, but for me it is nothing to do with realism or naturalism, but consistancy within the game lore.
*rolls eyes*

Here we go.
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