I was recently having a discussion with a friend who found the visual effects applied to the camera in many games to be incongruous with his idea of seeing through one’s eyes, especially in first person games. The idea of treating the view into the game world as a camera seems logical enough, and lens effects had humble beginnings, like the lens flair that featured prominently in games from the late 90s. However, developers have been pushing these effects to even greater extremes lately, with High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting simulating more how a camera would react to differences in light than the human eye, and heavy lens dust effects in Battlefield 3 and ZombiU. Such effects reduce the visual fidelity of the information available to players, yes, but provide a more cinematic visual experience. This is the argument you would probably hear in favor of lavishing more image-reducing effects onto the screen. However, it still doesn’t address the issue of dissonance when this is supposed to be a person’s eyes.
It occurred to me, while discussing how this all came to be, there are probably a couple of subtle factors at play here: Making games look good is a marketing tool, and the closest mediums that most people would understand are film and photo. Take your screenshots and trailers, make them look as close to professional photos and cinema as possible, and most people will think that game looks impressive and worth investigating further. I believe this type of thinking overtook the idea of representing the world cleanly in first-person, but was also influenced by the fact that first-person games were not as common when camera lens effects were really becoming a thing. It felt relatively natural, when the most popular genre was racing games, that the camera should act like a camera (save for the odd first-person camera, which wasn’t really the focus on consoles). I believe that thinking just eventually became pervasive, since it’s so easy to always think of the view into the world as a camera.
It seems then that these camera lens effects simply had to be applied to every type of game that purported to be even remotely realistic – a real irony when reality, as seen through the eyes, features none of these things.