Bad game design choices: Cartoonification

This phenomenon is a bit harder to describe so much that I had to invent my own word for it and it is about the intentional retardation of video game visuals to make them more cartoonish or children friendly. There are many potential reasons which can make this a bad design choice, so lets get into it.

Video games in general aim to be realistic and there is a constant push to increase realism which is primarily based on the visuals, but there are games where this is not the case, they are being intentionally cartoonified and I tried to collect the reasons that probably make game designers chose to do this and then make some counter arguments. Of course Cartoonification is not bad in general, but in many cases it is, as it is hard to get right, but we will get to that.

Reasons for Cartoonification of games:

1. Make them more children friendly.
This is probably one of the most common reasons. Designers think if it looks cartoonish, colorful and primitive, it will appeal to children. Well on the outside it does, because people associate those two things with each other. However I think this is a general problem with our society to think that children do not deserve the real deal, but instead a retarded dumbed down version of things. Yes for certain types of games it is probably better to have it more cartoonish, friendly and colorful so it will appeal to children better, however with computer graphics this is hard to do right. I can remember myself as a child when the first computer animated cartoons came out on TV and damn most of them were creepy. With computer graphics it is hard to get the cartoon look right, because even if you get it slightly wrong, it will look creepy, this phenomenon is called the uncanny valley, look it up if you want and this is probably already the best counter argument. If you have or are a good artist, you may go for it, but there is big potential to fuck everything up with this design choice.

2. Make an excuse for shitty art.
I just ended point one with the argument, that good artists can go for it, however the problem is, that most who go for the cartoon look are not good artists, but bad artists, who think they are good artist or want to pretend they are good artists or at least cover up that they are shit artists. This is especially the case in the indie dev scene, because most devs probably think "Damn I can't make the art realistic, but hey I will just make it intentionally shitty and say it is intentionally shitty, which then makes it good, because I succeeded in what I planned to do. The bigger problem with this is probably, that many consumers fall for this bullshit. I literally had people commenting on Uebergame, that the graphics are bad, because I intended them to be realistic and not perfectly met my goal or what the person thought was my goal and then they said, if I had made them intentionally bad, then it would have been good graphics. It was quite hard for me to understand their mindfuck, but this incident lead me to this article, but I waited with it, because I could not figure it out yet. I saw so many developers slap some shitty after effects on their game or chose some shitty art style just to pretend they are somehow creative and good artists, because they have so much "style". Well the reality is, cartoonification or similar is a valid design choice, if you can do it, but to be able to do such a style you need to master the normal realistic visuals first, then you can try out your own style or make a cartoonish version. It is similar with learning music, first you have to learn it for real, then you can do freestyle, you cannot just skip the learning it for real part and start freestyling.

3. Save time and resources.
This is somehow similar to point 2, but for a different reason, a more valid reason as it seems to be. However even there is a delusion coming with it, people think if they make art intentional retarded, it saves them resources to make, but this is not always the case. I mean if I take myself and my skillset and imagine I had to do some stylish abstract cartoonish art, I would probably just build something realistic and then degrade it using some modifiers in the modeling program or some filters in the image editing program. To me it is easier in many cases to build the real deal instead of some cartoonish version, because it is easier, in fact probably most professionaly do it that way. Modern art creation programs help you also with this and even if not, you can just buy proper art. Making things intentional retarded is only valid if you really want and can go for it, or are some genius but autistic computer genius, who is good at programming, but really bad at art. Sadly similar with point 2, there are consumers who fall for it and are impressed by this probably thinking "Wow this game looks so bad, the creator is probably a programmer genius" well even if they are, it is still a bad design choice.

4. Pretending to be a better artist then you are.
This I also covered in point 2, sadly also this works, but you may be able to fool many of the average consumers, but you cannot fool a skilled artist with this, he will quickly spot that you have no talent and some portion of the consumers as well, even if it is often unconsciously.

5. Hide bad visuals by making the art style incomparable to other realistic games.
This may be a semi valid reason for an indie dev, because he will not be able to compete with the big companies. I say to that, yes, but this should not hold you back trying to reach something great. If you aim high and reach only mediocre, then it is still better if you aim low and achieve low, at least to sane rational humans, not like those insane people I mentioned in point 2 rating the games quality based on what the creator wanted to achieve, where they claim aim low and achieve low = good. Well on some level I even agree with this statement, because of consistency, since if you don't exactly get where you aimed at with your games visuals for example, you can again arrive at the uncanny valley effect, which you can look up again if you want, but this describes it very good. For example, if you aim high and only partly achieve that quality, where some areas of your game are still bad quality it can feel weird to the player, that is where an aim low and achieve low mentality can win. However even there is a catch, because with modern game engines and modern graphics, it is sometimes very easy to accidentally create high quality art, which then fucks up all your game in a similar way. I saw this effect in some very popular modern AAA games, where on the first sight I thought "Damn this looks so realistic", but moments later I saw that it was supposed to be cartoonish and only thought "Wtf this is so wrong and hurts in my eyes." no idea how that many people can tolerate it, but I say this is definitively a bad design choice.

6. Getting away with low effort games to make more profit.
This is a combination of multiple reasons, with the big difference, that the company doing it knows it is doing it, but does not care, because all they want is profit, so they make it look cartoonish, to appeal to children which increases their potential customer base greatly and get away with low effort bad art etc just to make more profit. The reasons before were probably mostly used by idiots as a justification, but this one is more on the evil side, as it is intentional and often paired with pay to win and gambling features etc which is where it goes from being bad design to being evil.

7. You are a hipster and hate reality and its rules
There are still a certain kind of people, that do things intentionally wrong, just for the sake of doing it the wrong way and those people are commonly called hipsters. The hipster is probably the culmination of all the reasons I mentioned, he is the master of it all, by not being a master at all. Sometimes a hipster can become so good at being intentionally bad, that the result becomes good again, but this is kind of rare, think of the uncanny valley in reverse, where there is this small sweet spot that makes things creepy and in reverse it makes being a hipster cool if you hit that sweet spot of hipstering.

Well I think thats it and I coverd most of the issues with cartoonification. I write those articles mostly on the fly, based on some notes I made some time ago, this was a complicated one, but I hope to ony day a game dev or artist will read this and say to himself "Fuck this pseudo cartoonish art, I will create real art from now on"

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