Engagement, Escapism and Immersion
Think about the strange versatility of the term immersion it can refer to that sense of Enchantment that accompanies a good book being transfixed by the web of strategies encoded in a game of chess where the act of immersing your senses into new digital interfaces whether it be through sound touch or sight being both encompassing and frustratingly nebulous in its application it is incumbent upon us to define immersion more clearly in the realm of video games the term has become entrenched in our lexicon without having a precise definition we have games called immersive Sims they use SEC System Shock and Bioshock among them that are predominantly about enabling player choice through systemic design they create both strategic intentionality in the gameplay as well as transporting you to believable fully realized rums suggesting immersion is about realizing an alternate world through systems and environmental storytelling this was explicitly the design goal of people like Warren Spector and Ken Levine who are seen as the progenitors of the genre games like Far Cry 2 and Metro 33 are also considered immersive and what characterizes those games is a strict abidance for the logic of their own worlds, so much so that they embed their interfaces diegetically and employ mechanical conceits like malaria and nuclear poisoning that deliberately inconveniences the player for the sake of fully realizing a place; finally, we have expansive open worlds that are also included in the submissive category, from the dense narrative theatre of The Witcher 2 to the picturesque vistas of Red Dead Redemption 2 immersion is not unique to games, and thinkers through the ages have wrestled with the question. Ts Eliot has spoken about the importance of suspending a readers disbelief if you want to tell them a story Tolkien speaks of the importance of Enchantment if you wish to enraptured your audience and dystopian fiction as either warned us about the liabilities of alternate sensory worlds like the matrix or promotes it as the fullest expression of the evolution of art like the holodeck in Star Trek art is inherently escapist and fictitious, and so it makes sense that the word immersive is used as a testament to the power of that art, if we draw from the literature both inside and outside, game design becomes clear immersion can exist in multiple dimensions simultaneously, we have sensory immersion, which is about how any of our senses can be engulfed with alternate stimuli; a game like Fez with its abstract iconography and synaesthesia and using dynamic music is the perfect example of this, on top of that we have narrative emerge, which is that experience we have all had and just being swept up in a powerful story, traditional media invokes this in a linear format but video games are branching out into nonlinear forms as well systemic immersion is about interacting with a set of interconnected systems either arbitrarily or embedded in a new world and this enables intentionality in both a narrative and gameplay sense this then builds towards world immersion which is about being lost in a world with an actual history and geometry however truly immersive worlds seem to not only leverage these forms of immersion but actually meet the psychological means for play that we have acquired over thousands of years of evolution Jesper, you cause games half real in his book of the same name, in our confusion with immersion might stem from the fact that we are existing in multiple worlds simultaneously it is now seminal book understanding comics Scott McCloud argues that deeply abstract and iconic imagery can convey more universal themes and precise representations, and is why we can project ourselves into avatars like Pac-man. More readily than others, the nondescript is more immersive than the specific allowing us to thrust ourselves into another's role; one could argue that as our first gateway into alternate worlds avatars are extremely important, which explains why most immersive games take place in the first-person and generally feature silent protagonists; however, even if characters are more fully realized we often have the ability to define how they act within the context of the world, making the character a surrogate for our desires as opposed to a fully independent agent in games like Half-Life, we are always embedded in the role of Gordon Freeman, with events and cutscenes transpiring in the world itself, enhancing its immersive grasp and bridging the divide between us in a virtual character if we have a more fully realized character like Nathan Drake we can match the emotional state of the player to the emotional state of the avatar something seen in the opening of the game were both you and Nathan are disoriented and confused this is our first step into sensory immersion but there are many more dimensions we need to contend with we have a set of evolved psychological functions that respond to sensory cues whether sight touch or sound that map onto a whole suite of emotions themes and ideas giving us the ability to activate a cascading array of experiences in the mind of the player at a base level we have a psychological framework called flow theory which argues that engagement in a game comes from having a challenge that matches a player's rising abilities what characterizes sense of flow is a loss of time and spatial awareness immersing players fully in an activity emotions are also deeply intertwined with immersion in the book designing games Tyne and Silvester advocates viewing games through a two-factor theory of emotion where we can use the fiction of a will to label any kind of tension to create the emotion we want the tension in Doom can be labelled with fear by using monster imagery and the tension and res can be labelled with beauty and transcendence by using synaesthesia inducing abstract effects he then argues for a step-by-step process to generate a sense of immersion which coincides with Paul Karin's and Emily Brown's research on the subject first we create flow to remove a player from reality then we arouse them using the events of the game itself; and only then do we work towards preserving the sensation by not suspending their sense of disbelief building on these ideas.
Werner Worth and a team of other researchers came up with one unified theory of immersion that consolidates a lot of this information immersion ultimately comes from creating an alternative representation in the players mind and getting them to prefer it. that world to our own first, you need complete and multiple sensory channels, so worlds like assassin's creed, with its dense population and robust soundscape qualify as well; next you can use cognitively demanding environments, which is why abstract games like chess in rapture is so fully and finally a dense narrative also compels us to change our frame of reference; however, to preserve the suspension of disbelief we need to ensure a world is not incongruous, is consistent, and is heavily interactive; a game like eco is a powerful sense of immersion because all the sound is diegetic and the world feels like a real authentic place war inspectors game Deus Ex was devised with a series of consistent rules that made you feel like you existed in an alternate world and gave you options to tackle objectives in an action stealth or narrative way researchers often distinguish versions from presents, which is the difference between feeling like you are physically being present much like you. are in a virtual reality game versus being immersed in more conventional ways this dichotomy speaks to a conceptual divide in the study of immersion often called the immersive fallacy the immersive fallacy is the misimpression that presence is the ultimate goal of immersion that simulating alternate worlds is more important than a willing suspension of disbelief in the book rules of play the authors argue play is a form of meta communication where we are both aware that we are playing and engrossed simultaneously creating a duality between reality and fiction they argue a recognition of this is what will allow us to expand the kinds of play and storytelling we can craft in games this speaks to a deeper conflict between systems and the fiction of a game systemic immersion is the cognitive process of optimizing and engaging with pure mechanics the compulsion we have to play a dense strategic games or perplexing puzzle games engaging our cognitive faculties of the fullest of our abilities it can also be about discovering the intricacies of a connected system however systems having a fictional level does not necessarily conflict with this it can be instrumental in communicating mechanics like in breath of the wild or it can actually be leveraged to craft unique forms of play in will rights game SimCity a version of urban dynamics is being modelled, but it also enables player-directed storytelling reconciling the vibe between systems and fiction, this double-consciousness of games imbues all forms of immersive design, dead spaces, inventory health systems and navigational methods are all embedded in the world itself but you are also aware you are playing a game at the same time and the same can be said for a VR game like beat saber, the simulation is understood to be just that a fiction, Red Dead Redemption, to use slow plodding and methodical animations for its movement and interactions; an inconvenience and service of crafting immersion but some complained that this was too laborious; this is a similar reaction that players had to Far Cry 2, where players suggested it had too much driving malaria and endless dread to be fun again though, as lead designer Clint Hocking explains in his GDC talk. the meaning of a game is both the system's but also the fictional context and underlies it there's a strange tension between a merciful dirty and flow, but this can be understood if we recognize that games are straddling the line between two realms.
Being both about the fiction of a world and crafting emergent systems of clay in their top crafting existential dread, the developers of soma argue that to create an immersive world you need to build a sense of presence by giving players agency and continuity of action. Embedding narrative level design and puzzle design in a virtual world is how he argues we should do this; for example, little nightmares as platforming sections where you actually climb geometry that makes sense in the world an insight has puzzles embedded in the themes of what is happening; this is mirrored in the talk by Greg Kasavin creating atmospheric games where he argues there needs to be a tonal and thematic cohesion to suspend a player's disbelief, this sense of spatial presence is what can be referred to as a world immersion and can be also seen in games like Bioshock and Dark Souls Bioshock has meticulous details in its environments that implicitly convey the tale of how the underwater city of Rapture came to ruin. Dark Souls hides all of its lore and weapons items. descriptions and locations, letting you piece together its subversive and macabre plot at your own discretion, everything has a place and is there for a specific narrative reason. Dark Souls. Also has NPC characters that seem to have their own agenda reinforcing how the world of Lordean exists independent office a game that executed this earlier was Shenmue which embedded a suite of interesting characters in its world that felt real and governed by their own desires it also had a full day night cycle which altered the conditions of the world and forced you to change your actions and plans accordingly world immersion is about maintaining the illusion that an alternate universe exists both in space and time at the highest level we have conventional forms of narrative immersion seen in games like Uncharted which uses the tension pacing and tone of other art forms and then layers in interactivity on top of that though we have embedded forms of storytelling scene a mechanical or environmental form all these devices enhanced the narrative immersion of a game but we also have to consider the avatar we inhabit then is talk the identity bubble Mathias wort says we can either have a puppet character which is effectively us in a game or an actual character to enable a player to interface with the world in his talk though Jeremy Bernstein emphasized the importance of creating a parity between us and a virtual character by creating unity across different dimensions with this toolset we can see why specific sequences in certain games work uncharted 2 has this section where you have to help the cameraman you have in tow evades your pursuers, and it uses a bevy of the methods which is. It creates unity of purpose and action we would escape help an innocent man and wander desperately through the streets he uses mechanical reinforcement by restricting your movement and gun use and it creates the right kind of tension by corralling you in a desperate series of actions additionally it reinforces the theme of the narrative as the plot is about drake being torn between two worlds and we literally carried drake's burden and dissonance as we play this section ultimately creating immersion through narrative means leveraging all these tools and innovative ways does the mechanic you use act in a context that creates an emotion that mirrors the character state the tension of the story or the themes of the game Metro Exodus tells a story about surviving in a post-apocalyptic hellscape and to do this effectively it embeds all your actions diegetic lee and allows you to act with intentionality both in the systems and narrative of the game immersive sims are possibly the easiest way to demonstrate the continuity that exists between narrative systemic and world immersion Bioshock is a game that has a powerful sense of world immersion it creates a sense of flow through an escalating sense of difficulty and maps your emotions to horror and intrigue by leveraging its worlds design you can act with systemic intentionality by choosing powers and levelling up as well as planning for your encounters with Big Daddies on the narrative front you are forced to make choices between harvesting and saving little sisters and this directly ties to the themes of the narrative of course many argue they executed this poorly once more, creating dissonance but you get the point games like Bioshock leverage overlapping forms of immersion to deliver unique experiences to the player Deus Ex was conceived of as a collaborative story generator between player and designer, and it too created a robust sense of place, enabled multiple options for players to experiment with and embed this in the context of a sci-fi cyberpunk ethos that gets us to question the utility of technology and the future of us as a species; the systemic elements in the game mapped onto the choices that existed in the narrative and powerful. ways to create what many of you see as the game that puts immersive Sims on the map. Warren Spector himself describes immersive Sims as games that just do whatever they can to convince players they exist in an alternate world, and the entire lineage of immersive Sims shares this philosophy; however, we have yet to address the question of what the point of immersion is to begin with we have some fairly robust frameworks that can help us conceptualize why we play games the aesthetics of play model and the five-factor personality model show us how catering to your audience can amplify the immersive trance of a game, however, we need a more sound psychological basis underneath all this to understand the universal appeal of immersive games self-determination Theory asserts that underneath all our idiosyncratic variation we are driven by the need to fulfil a core triad of desires these three needs are competence relatedness and autonomy and can be seen in varying degrees in different games competence is the feeling that you are improving at a skill relatedness as a feeling you have when you have a place in a social network of some kind an autonomy is not about having the ability to do anything, but wanting to do the things you are doing viewing immersion through the lens of fulfilling needs clarifies a lot of the confusion we were experiencing earlier the reason we may want to be immersed by the games we play is because that feeling of enraptured meant is a proxy for a core needs being met, and if the virtual worlds we devise are doing a better job at this, who can blame us for wanting to enter the matrix inner book reality is broken. Jane McGonigal argues that games present a version of reality that is optimized for this needs fulfilment; her thesis is that we should learn from the games we make, optimizing a broken reality as it were however, what if our fictions in the longest serve reality, but it is reality that starts serving our fictions? I suppose this is ultimately why thinkers through the ages have been very wary of immersive technology as it's possible we might be sucked in by our own creations games are an immersive art form because interactivity intrinsically enables a broader range of needs. fulfilment and if you couple this with the fact that our attentional capacity is finite, it raises concerns about how we ought to manage this technology as reality slowly starts to fade away. Jasper's use of half reality in games is true in a technical sense is for the time being we are straddling the line between two universes; however, we can view immersion as a threat to reality, or we can view it as an opportunity; ironically given it is a version to manipulative art. Plato's parable of the cave might be our best analogy we can create worlds that are more ideal than the ones we actually inhabit but it is then our responsibility to bring this wisdom back to people, traffic viewing shadows on the wall; then again, unless we leverage this. technology responsibly, we may be consumed by our own creations before we see the fulfilment of that dream. I suppose that future is for us to decide