This is a really interesting discussion and I find myself agreeing with the sentiments that, generally speaking, less is more. Gaming is a lot like reading: the best games leave room for the imagination to fill in all the little details. Going for realism is a trap: once you commit to a "realistic" game, then you better well deliver it - something that is usually unattainable because of the limitations of modern hardware (as evidenced by this discussion). So, what you usually wind up with is something that has pretensions of realism, but never fully delivers on the initial promise, leaving a bunch of disgruntled gamers to gripe about realism shortfalls.
When you go for an abstracted, artsy look, you avoid that hopeless struggle entirely, as well as gaining far more artistic freedom (would it be wrong to say "realistic graphics" are the laziest graphics?). There were so many great games back on the ol' 8-bit and 16-bit machines that managed to achieve so much with so little (MULE comes to mind, along with some of the early Ultimas).
But this discussion about realistic versus artistic also applies to gameplay. Somebody mentioned chess - my favorite game of all time (sorry AI War
But after 1300 years of development, who knows?
). Chess succeeds where so many "realistic" wargames fail precisely because it is abstracted. With realism comes complexity and with complexity comes a gameplay burden. Chess, as one of the all time great works of human genius (and I suspect there was some divine assistance as well
) succeeds precisely because it abstracts the minutia of war while managing to successfully capture the strategic and tactical essence of it. Oh sure, there's no "realism chrome" to chess - no terrain, no logistics, no combat modifiers - but chess proves that you don't need such distractions as long as the gameplay cuts to the heart of the matter. The human mind is more than capable of filling in all the details.