The eternal Race after the Real

You're sitting in a massive auditorium, densely packed with people. All of you are here for the same reason - your favorite publisher is having an expo. They're about to show you their newest, shiniest game. The director steps on stage and tells everyone: it'll have 16 times the detail, it'll be 4 times bigger than the one that came before, they've reworked the weather system, optimized their engine and all of this just works.

This may seem like me ragging on a 3 years dead horse, but trust me, that's just the most obvious example of the Race; the misguided pursuit of realism. Every time a game comes out, it's marketing team loves to highlight their 8k textures, high fidelity shadows, perfect reflections and every time, I wince. I pose to myself the question: "Why are you trying to reach reality?"

Especially since we're already in reality. If I want a realistic sunset I can stay awake 'till 8 PM and watch as it falls below the horizon. If, however, I'm playing a video game, I've decided that I'd like to shorten my time spent in reality and replace it with time spent in a fake digital world. The philosophical connotations of such a statement can be left for another day, I'd like to focus on why they insist we should care about their realism.

I think that marketing teams love to throw realism around so much because they think it means immersion. Immersion is, to quote Yahtzee: "When you finish a long session of Thief, go outside and quickly check your light gem". It is being wholly enveloped by another world, to the point that you forget that you ever existed in your own. Being immersed in a game is a wonderful experience, one which a big publisher might describe as "engaging". The main problem is that achieving immersion is actually quite hard.

Immersion is most easily found within the immersive sim genre, as it so happens. That's because immersion comes about from a very specific combination of (seemingly) effortless worldbuilding, great environmental interaction, smooth gameplay and freedom. Not the freedom to "climb that mountain", nor the freedom to "do it your way!", especially if your way can be  to either shoot it up, stealth it up or stealth it up, cock it up and then shoot it up. Freedom means that instead of an objective marker you  have an objectives log, maybe a somewhat inaccurate map and some pepper spray. Pepper spray?

At one point in Deus Ex you have to enter Hong Kong while on the run. The forces pursuing you stop your helicopter in a military base and lock it in. You have to find a way to unlock it. You aren't given any maps or any more specific sub-objectives. Hell, if you didn't recover your gear after <redacted>, you may not even have that. I snuck around for a good while, crawling through vents in order to find some way into the control room that'd let me continue.
It's front door was locked and I either didn't have the lockpicks, multitools or hacking skill to open it, so an alternate approach had to be found.
I quickly crawled my way into a barracks. Some soldier had left his sniper rifle next to his bed and there were lots of lockers around. What if someone had left a datapad with some clue as to how to get to the control room?
Even with my underlevelled rifles skill, the sniper rifle would still blow the lockers wide open after one or two shots. As I was readying those shots however, I heard a guard nearby. I quickly looked around and realized there were three guards right below me, packing heat. My sniper rifle wasn't silenced, and even if it was I doubted that the lockers would be quiet enough when their doors tore off their hinges.
I gave my inventory a look to try and find some alternate solution and noticed a weapon I'd never used before. Hell, I don't even remember where I got it - some pepper spray.
It's description said that it would stun anyone I pointed it at and, starved for options, I made a rough plan on how I'd handle this situation.
I'd jump down in between all three guys, pepper spray in hand and start spraying. When everyone was nice and stunned, I'd use a baton to knock them
out. It was rough but, barring the as yet unaccounted for guard in a nearby bathroom, worked. Once I was done I'd knocked out four highly trained
guards, whom, I should add, I was fucking terrified of, acquiring a rocket launcher and assault rifle along the way as well as clearing the room, allowing me to pop all the lockers open and find the key to that control room.

Let's contrast that with the punching bag (which has 16 times the detail) from before. You enter a room and see a couple of ghouls. They try to bash your head in and you shoot them with one of your guns until they die. One of them was legendary, so he had a modified pipe gun on him, which has a 50% chance of dealing a critical hit. You also loot all of their ammo and bottle caps. Looking around, you also notice a toolbox, which you loot for some hammers, lockpicks (you now have well over 100) bottle caps and 5.56mm ammo. The room also has a safe, which you unlock with some of your lockpicks. Inside you find some old money, a new gun and some junk items.

The geometrically sharp and rectangular Deus Ex immersed me in it's world, whereas the cinematographically sharp and packed with detail punching
bag never will. The reason is simple. Deus Ex wanted to create a real world for you to inhabit, whereas the punching bag wanted to create a realistic
world for you to live in, with all the pointless wastes of time that brings.