Realism is, in my mind, overrated. Graphics keep improving (which is good, don't get me wrong) but our interest in what we want to see keeps dwindling. Now it seems as if the game's graphics are only good if you can see the hairy mole on the character's right upper lip, or Marcus Fenix's lovely pockmarked face on every NPC you interact with.
Seriously though, do we need to see every dimple in Marcus's face to enjoy Gears of War? Of course not, yet the conversation coming up in forums is that things are getting "too stylized" or "too cartoony." What most people seem to be missing, however, is that just because the art isn't super brown and realistic doesn't mean it can't be extremely serious in places.
This is big with the eventual release of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Many fans are really disappointed that BioWare took the road of artistic design instead of making everything gunmetal grey and covered in lightsabers. It's as if there's something flawed or "wrong" about trying to make something colorful rather than something that mimics real life.
And that's where the problem lies. We keep pushing forwards with our graphics and one of the phrases we like to use is, "Look at how good it is!" rather than the phrase "Look at how realistic it is." Somewhere along the path of art design, people began to insert the idea that the more realistic and detailed it was, the better it was. Because that set of ideas is now the ruling mentality, everyone keeps demanding that the graphics should be on par with the latest technology.
So when people see graphics that are shiny, bright, and tweaked non-proportionally, they begin to react in a frothing panic. The graphics police seem to step in and whine, whine, whine because their new MMO doesn't stand a chance next to "next-gen" technology. But these creations invoke a sense of timelessness that their graphically advanced counterparts do not.
Case in point, let's look at one of the failures of advanced graphics. A tale I like to call "BrownQuest 2: Revenge of the Brown World." It's a game that launched back in 2004 to considerable hype over it's advanced graphics engine that made other MMO games look weak and undeserving when standing next to it. People thought it was going to be the most amazing thing released -- until it launched.