In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation
Gordon Calleja talks about in game engagement and immersion but I wanted to talk about how his book influences games in general. Or how we play, I have taken multiplayers as a case study and have presented how Gordon Calleja's theories work or "don't work" in this scenario.
Multiplayer games have been a staple of the industry for the last decade and a half. These experiences have become deeper, richer and more immersive over time. Shooters MMO's and party games for fun unique experiences for gamers of all walks of life. With a multiplayer
genre that features multiple players often retains an ingrained flaw that has remained since its inception. Multiple people play them!! Despite this obvious flaw you might be thinking surely more people means more fun yet multiplayer can also have its drawbacks and ruin gameplay as much as fuel it's success. There's a reason World of Warcraft and other MMOs compete so well against AAA single-player games. Multiplayer can add to immersion
as much as narrative and good controls. In gaming immersion is a commonly used word to describe the players connection with the game the feeling of being there and responding emotionally to a virtual game world. Gordon Calleja likes to call it incorporation, Calleja breaks incorporation into six categories of involvement tactical, performative, affective, narrative, special and shared while shared involvement is present in every game with interactive AI. Multiplayer enhances this type of involvement by offering the opportunity to interact with another human. For example a match with spectators your enemies and allies are all far more unpredictable and dynamic than with NPCs. During his research Calleja discovered, "Shared involvement tends to become more intense the more people are working together more things can go wrong, but when the collaboration works the efforts are seen as being more than worthwhile". Shared involvement is enhanced when communication and reputation are added as an element of gameplay though respect friendship or hatred gained through multiplayer can be very real and no NPC will ever be able to respond in the same way. However, an NPC also won't work its way around the profanity filter and blurt obscene abuses because when you want to experience human nature you can't pick and choose and they don't strive to nurture your intended game. An example of this is From Software's Dark Souls' critically acclaimed for its challenging and rewarding gameplay, rich story and lore and its new approach to the RPG genre players are encouraged to proceed with caution learn from their past mistakes and find alternative areas to explore when faced with obstacles. Multiplayer in Dark Souls is limited to two main features soapstone messages and invasions. Invasions allow other players and NPCs to enter the player's worlds to help or hinder their progress throughout the game character invasions allow for plot relevant attempts on player's life whilst player invasions offer something different entirely, invaders come in a variety of factions some supporting assassination, protection or justice players spawns in other players games as they progress and attempt to kill, aid or just create chaos. The invasion system offers an awesome multiplayer experience in an otherwise quite solitary game. However like most multiplayer experiences narrative and affective involvement can be broken by idiots, players can remove their Armor revealing themselves to be less than human or do battle completely naked wielding only a spoon. This poses a problem as players immersed in the solitaire game world that from soft intended with their purpose in quest clear in mind are suddenly confronted by a door wielding subhuman specimen who boots the player on the head and leaves them back the last bonfire stunned. The narrative and affective involvement are essentially shattered, soapstone messages though limited and world choice aren't much better as people still manage to sneak around the limitations for chest jokes and funny comments that though amusing really do distract from the dark and solitary grind Dark Souls aims to create. But multiplayer still adds to player involvement after all the ability to face human opponents invasions who creates the possibility of thousands of unique and terrifying experiences.
The communication though limited can be used to both help and deceive other players, combined these features can affect your in-game reputation. From Software has harnessed the deep desire in games to sabotage and slaughter and used it to add to the gameplay. Players are constantly on their toes predicting enemies around every corner and the addition of invasions it's another breed of monsters to slay. Dark Souls was never meant to nurture the player into a sense of security but having in-game tips be as untrustworthy as the mobs you face fosters a great sense of caution. Incorporation in games is a huge factor in game success it's the feeling of inhabiting of virtual space and having it respond to our actions that makes games unique to other media and of course friends make it better or worse depending on the quality of your friends. Whilst the human brain can outthink a computer, we'll probably never get the perfect shared involvement that never disrupts the narrative or your emotional investment in the game world. But multiplayer games like Dark Souls offer an amazing experience to interact with fellow human beings in a unique setting and despite the breaks in narrative we all love the monstrosities, the jokes and the undeniably human culture created when people come together for the fun cultivated by games.