[The following feature was written by George Johnson, who can be found on Twitter at @jaffameister. The feature was pitched, commissioned, and paid for using Patreon funds].
The uncanny valley is one of the games industry’s most significant struggles still to overcome. As we edge ever closer to achieving indistinguishable realism, again and again we are faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of perfectly recreating the subtleties and intricacies of both the facial features and body articulation, in such a way that does not breed subconscious feelings of unease and revulsion. But what if, in some regard at least, we have already managed to bound over this hurdle of authenticity? I would propose that there is an exception to the limitations proposed by Masahiro Mori, who first hypothesised the phenomenon in 1970, and I believe this exception to be butts. To support this theory, I will present some examples.
We shall begin with Beyond: Two Souls, the most recent title by esteemed emotional video game developer, David Cage. As you can see here, at an initial glimpse, Ellen Page’s character Jodie Holmes is rendered in-game with a very high level of detail and quality. But as we begin to more closely observe, there is something almost indescribably surrealistic and abnormal about the structure of her face and, commonly a feature contributing to the uncanny valley, her eyes.
The eyes feel lacking in any life or activity. They do not convey the subtle emotions that human eyes do. The vacancy in her default expression is also quite off-putting; as humans we do not have a default expression per se, as this would imply a state of complete emotionlessness, a considerable rarity. Rather, there is always an emotion of some sort present, merely expressed at different intensities. Even when very little emotion is present, we as an audience should still be able to identify some subtle feeling in the expression of a character if they are to truly mirror reality.
Alternatively, observe the buttocks. We can already see that there is a distinct lack of regularity in its structure. The absence of rationality in the face is compensated for with the honesty and fervor conveyed by Jodie’s behind. It could perhaps be suggested that the pitfalls experienced when attempting to recreate a face matching that of a real individual, such as the aforementioned eyes and their need of vivacity, are not encountered when producing other parts of the body.
In fact, I would argue that Quantic Dreams so very accurately mirrored the realism of Ellen Page’s rump that it successfully reproduces the thoughts and feelings that I would experience were I observing the genuine article.
The roster of WWE ‘13 is quite extensive and while the true absurdity can best be achieved through the game’s character creator, it is this roster that we can look at to find the best examples of uncomfortable renditions of humanity. I could have chosen any game in the WWE lineup, and likewise could have chosen any wrestler, but the one that I considered to best support my theory is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
It’s here we can truly understand the difficulty in creating eyes – there is little difference between Dwayne’s eyes pictured above and the eyes of Jodie Holmes, save a recolour and higher-resolution textures. It’s also to be noted that the proportions of his facial features are somewhat disproportionate, with certain aspects far wider than they should be, this width increasing as we move down the face.
It would seem that yet again there is a stark difference in fidelity when we look at his hindquarters. A significant first point of note would be the muscle definition present. It really adds texture and shape to the behind, something lacking in Dwayne’s face. Something else to add that’s not particularly indicative of the butt itself, is that the gloss on the briefs containing the bottom is quite suitable considering the material, less-so when said glossiness is also present on The Rock’s skin, making him appear oiled up or made of latex.
Dorian Pavus has to have one of the most believable realistic video game character faces that I’ve encountered in quite some time. Not only is the structure and proportion pretty consistent with real-world examples, but both the skin texture and reflection is equally detailed and moderate enough that it does not feel overdone; especially in comparison to The Rock in WWE ‘13, where it almost seems that light is hitting every angle of his face to the point of absurdity.
While still not equal to real human eyes in the feeling that they convey, I still feel that Dorian’s are some of the more emotive eyes in the games industry. Worth mentioning also would be Dorian’s facial hair, which ties all of the features together and compliments both his face and his personality in a way that sells him as a realistic character.
And it’s equally as clear that the ass follows suit. The form is on-point, with equal attention, if not more attention paid to the tone and muscle structure. Like the face, the combined reflectiveness and texture of the skin aid in creating a smooth, lifelike form factor. In the same way that Dorian’s facial hair is both suited to his aesthetics and to his disposition, the lack thereof of any hair on the rest of his body, especially the gluteus maximus, is equally as indicative to these elements.
The presence of body hair (excluding the face) can in some cases be reflective of one’s personality traits, and his clean-shaven body shows a pride in his quite frankly stunning muscle definition.
Dorian’s smooth physique falls in-line with this pattern, as is evident, especially in regards to the haunches, and so this aids in the authenticity of his realism in the sense that it further fleshes out his character.
To conclude, it is very much evident that the quality of the butt in video games remains ever exceptional, even despite the rampage of the uncanny valley. It matters not whether the other features of an attempt at a realistic character are disproportionate, discomforting, or downright disconcerting, so long as we focus on and remember that butt technology has clearly advanced enough that at least one part of the body has avoided the uncanny valley.
Just focus on butts, and immersion can be yours.