Ok, I had to get this off my chest. There was a statement from 2K games' Christoph Hartmann where he said that "Until games are photorealistic, it'll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now." which kinda provoked me. The game we're making, Project FoM, is a far stretch from photorealistic, but we're still hoping to stir some emotion in the player.
Don't get me wrong though, I like realistic games, I like designing stuff for realistic games, movies, what have you, but I do not think in any way that it is the only way to achieve an emotional response. Journey, also mentioned in the article I've linked to, took me through an emotional span I haven't seen in games yet to my recollection, and hell, that one was pretty far from realistic in its look! I think that by stretching it, pushing it outside of realism, it's actually easier to achieve an emotional response.
There is of course also the argument that if you achieve pure photorealism, what's the point in creating it digitally other than as practice? Why can't you just make a movie, that already delivers that? Take a picture? No fun as an artist to design an realistic AK47 down to the tiniest stud and scuffmark. Use a picture. Now designing something that is inspired by an AK47, but modified, looks like something from an alternate univers, the future, the past, that is interesting. Maybe make that mag larger, exaggerate the grip, longer barrel. Well you get the idea.
I watched a behind the scenes feature from "Finding Nemo" where Pixar had done render tests of a whale swimming. The tests came back indiscernible from video footage. They didn't say "Score!! We've achieved photorealism and can now properly convey emotion!" They dialed it back to a more stylized look in order for them to tell their story effectively. So Pixar, a huge billion dollar company which probably has the funds to do it photo-realistically, chose to not do so, again, to tell their story effectively.
Anyway.. I'm not gonna rant about it more. I'll sum up with this.
There is of course a place for more realistic games. I enjoy playing a lot of them, designing stuff for those kinds of games, but they are not the only way to trigger emotion. In fact, they might be the ones where I'm least emotionally engaged, at least of the recent games I've played. I think it'll continue to feel like that even if they can push games to "pure photorealism".