Chromatic aberration is an effect developers add to a game to make it look cool. It’s as simple as that. It’s an effect which attempts to mimic how the image or video could be seen through a camera lens.
The word aberration means a departure from what is considered normal or expected, often in a negative sense. It can refer to a deviation from the norm or standard, or to an error or mistake in judgment or perception. In the context of optics, aberration refers to a failure of a lens or optical system to focus all colors of light to the same point, resulting in a distorted image.
And this effect is being deliberately added to games.
What exactly is chromatic aberration?
Chromatic aberration is a problem that happens with camera lenses where the lens can’t focus all the colors of the image to the same point. This can cause different colors to appear misaligned, which can be seen as “fringes” of colour along edges of the image. It happens because different colours of light are refracted differently as they pass through the lens, causing a distortion.
Why did chromatic aberration get added to games?
As video game technology improved developers wanted their games to stand out from the crowd and do something different – it may seem novel now but not all games were 3D, not all games used to have voice acting and so on – chromatic aberration was just a new tool to make their game different. But why?
Chromatic aberration may be something that photographers want to get rid of but in video games chromatic aberration is added to make it look like it is shot like a film ‘faults and all’. Developers would add this effect to make the gamer feel like they are a part of a film and that they are are a third party watching gameplay through a lens. You could say that it is intended to add a cinematic feel to it.
This can often make a lot of sense when the gameplay is in third person as there is an active camera but it doesn’t make much sense for it to be in first person games as the whole point is that you are looking through their eyes.
The Reddit user xkostolny stated that the use of chromatic aberration in video games and movies is an attempt to make scenes look more photorealistic, and it has become a trendy visual effect that game developers overuse until they find the best way to use it. The prevalence of visual effects in games and movies is driven by artists finding ways to add visual punch with minimal effort. Currently, chromatic aberration is overdone (this was said 8 years ago) and looks bad, but it will eventually become more nuanced and used only when it makes sense. Similarly, other visual effects and technologies will go through a similar trend of overuse before they become more refined and used effectively.
So to conclude, chromatic aberration is something that photographers do not want to happen, with the industry spending billions to try and stop it from happening, but this fault is a part of the game so when game developers want to make things look ‘authentic’ they add it in.
Adobe explains in a comprehensive guide that chromatic aberration can be a problem for photographers as it can cause unsightly lines of color around objects in a photograph. While some photographers intentionally use chromatic aberration for artistic effect, it is generally something to avoid.
Does chromatic aberration use more resources?
Yes, chromatic aberration can use more resources from the PC or console as it is a post-processing effect that is applied after the initial rendering of the game. Post-processing effects like chromatic aberration require additional computing power to be added to the rendering pipeline, which can affect performance and reduce frame rates.
However, the impact on performance can vary depending on the specific implementation of the effect, the hardware being used, and the overall complexity of the game’s graphics. In general, chromatic aberration is not considered to be a very resource-intensive effect, but it can still have some impact on performance, especially in more demanding games or on lower-end hardware.
The resource requirements can be felt more in PCs than consoles, as the performance of console games are often ‘locked in’ and their FPS and resolutions capped.
Can you turn off chromatic aberration?
It depends on the game. The first games to use this the feature wasn’t always present but newer games which have received feedback from users have added the option, as well as similar effects such as motion blur and so on.