Editorial: On Immersion

Lusi-bots, my recent playthrough of Amnesia: the Dark Descent has had me thinking about immersion in gaming. Now I have, in the past, been a very vocal opponent of the push towards “immersive, realistic gameplay”, but I did enjoy Amnesia, a game that thrives on immersion. While I still prefer something that is fun to something that is immersive, there are a number of games that manage both. Immersion in a game world is still something I do not seek out, but when I do find myself completely lost in a game world, it is a fascinating experience. So few of the games I have played are immersive that full immersion in a game is both rare and interesting.

Cake, potato, etc.

One of my favorite game villains ever, and one big reason why the Portals were so good.

Immersion in games has always been a rarity for me. Those games which I do find immersive tend to have quite a bit in common. Even though I only finally played the game a year ago, I found the original Half-Life to be wonderfully immersive; the older graphics have aged remarkably well and great care clearly was put into making Black Mesa a fleshed-out place to explore. The fact that Half-Life was so immersive, even after twelve years, is a sign that Valve created an excellent gaming experience. I have yet to play the sequels, but I do own them.

I also found the two Portal games extremely immersive; I will not go into much detail as I have already talked the two games to death. Amnesia, the Portal series, and Half-Life are notably all first person games, and while I have in the past stated my dislike for the first-person perspective, it seems I have changed my point of view as I have matured. The first-person perspective contributes rather obviously to a game’s immersion; it is far easier to lose oneself in a world when seeing through the character’s eyes than it is to become immersed while watching events from a third-person perspective. I cannot help but notice that despite my constant assertions that I do not like the first-person perspective in gaming, many of my overall favorite games are first-person experiences.

The other major factor the four games I have mentioned have that adds to their immersion is their clever use of gameplay to tell their stories. It is far easier to get immersed in a game when the storyline and gameplay are well-integrated. Even well-written and well-designed cutscenes do pull players out of the gameplay, after all. One advantage games have as a medium is the player’s ability to interact with the setting, so a game like Portal 2 that tells its story almost entirely during its gameplay can be far more immersive than a movie or television show. Even Bastion, a third person game, managed to be decently immersive because it operated on the principle of storytelling via playing.

I think I'll just open this door-OH GOD WHY?''

Amnesia is actually pretty scary.

The blank slate nature of characters like The Kid, Chell, and Gordon Freeman also contribute to immersion. A blank personality makes it far easier for players to see themselves as the characters. Writing and setting are also obviously important; bad writing or a boring setting are not particularly compelling and give the player no real sense of immersion in a game world. A unique, interesting setting with a creative art style and clever writing can definitely make a game immersive, and a game with good immersion is truly a memorable experience.

I still prefer seeking out games with fun gameplay above all else, but I have definitely become more open to the idea of an immersive game storyline. True immersion in a game world is still a rarity for me, but it is definitely something special when it does happen. I have Bioshock queued up to play soon; enough people have told me it is a good, immersive game that I bought it a few years back during a Steam sale. I also own The Orange Box and do eventually plan to play Half-Life 2 and its sequels, but I have no idea when I will actually get around to playing them. What immersive games have you played, readers? Are there other games that are both fun and immersive that I have missed? Am I wrong about the games that I have listed? Please let me know, readers

29 comments on “Editorial: On Immersion”

  1. On the topic of immersion, nothing breaks it faster than repetition.

  2. @SN A very good point. Repetition completely destroys immersion. Bad game design choices in general break immersion, but repetition is probably the worst.

  3. On that score, I am reminded very much of Doom 3, and how it started off scary, but then faltered as soon as you recognised that the majority of enemies just spawn from monster-closets in the room behind you…

    That wore out its welcome real fast.

  4. On why “on” has been used so much lately: This must be some kind of inside joke. I haven’t listened to the last two podcasts (sorry), so perhaps it was mentioned there.

  5. Reetin already reviewed this!

    Seriously, though. I’ve felt the most immersed in great RPG’s like Final Fantasy VII because the storyline, characters, music, etc. are so fascinating, it’s like watching a great opera. Everything else, like an FPS or MMO, might create a “here and now” sort of immersion, where you’re very focused on playing this game because it excites you and convinces you that you’re “there.” But a game like FF7, it’s got what Aquinas said were the three things required for beauty – integritas, consonantia, and claritas – so that the aesthetic experience of playing that game is a revelation of a different level. It does not invite you into its world; it exists for its own sake.

    Ugh, I’m not even talking about “immersion” anymore. It just sounds like such a marketing term that it’s kind of offensive. Like “totally immersive gameplay” is the 2000’s+ equivalent of the early 90’s “totally badass” or something. It loses its meaning after a while.

  6. For me, what makes a game good and worth finishing (or replaying) is my level of satisfaction, not really my immersion. How good the game is is usually dictated by how satisfied I was with the game thematically, mechanically, and visually. If just PLAYING the game and seeing it and learning about its world are all satisfying to me… then I’m happy. And, of course, what ultimately determines my satisfaction with any of those elements is largely just my my mood at the time. I don’t often really “lose myself” in the game world in the way that a word like immersion might imply. And I agree with Matt, I think the term has become a marketing buzzword.

  7. WRONG AGAIN MEL! :D

    So much about your comment seems self-evidently contradictory, Mel. How are you thematically satisfied with a game that has broken immersion? That doesn’t even make sense.

  8. @Matt – Sometimes the cover is better than the original

    @SN – I just woke up and I’m sideways while writing this, but did I miss something? I don’t think Mel said anything about broken immersion. Or is this the Troll Mel bit that you guys do?

  9. @SN: I can enjoy (and be satisfied by) a game without being “immersed” in it because, like I said, I don’t often feel immersed in games in the way that I might “forget where I am” while playing. I’m always keenly aware that I’m playing a videogame, and I consider my enjoyment of it and my opinion of its quality in firm consideration of that awareness. Unless you don’t want to consider “immersion” to carry the meaning I’ve used here, then I think it should be fairly clear.

  10. @Ethan: “For me, what makes a game good and worth finishing (or replaying) is my level of satisfaction, not really my immersion.”

  11. @Mel: Being immersed in a game doesn’t make you some LARPer, who thinks that they’re part of the magical land of Spira, or some such…

    Put another way, there is a name for people who do not find games to be immersive: non-gamers.

  12. Then we’re operating on different implications of the word, like I said.

  13. OK, so you are operating on the WRONG implication of the word. That explains things somewhat.

  14. You also appear to be using the word ‘if’ incorrectly, Mel. ‘If’ is never used to denote a certainty.

  15. WRONG AGAIN MEL! :)

    I have been nothing but certain about your erroneous use of language being the primary contributing factor to you once again making indefensible statements – I was just unwilling to attribute your narrow understanding of the word ‘immersion’ as being the sole factor at play, when I am entirely open to the possibility that two or more instances of wrong-thinking may be to blame for your lack of correct understanding.

  16. Indefensible insofar as, and routinely as well as conveniently, they are labeled, by one no less capable of error than he who has been branded so capable. And if the understanding was narrow, well… so is the center of the bulls-eye.

  17. But of course archery is played with more than just the bullseye of the board.

  18. I just thought of a fantastic new Lusipurr.com contest: ‘Lusipurr Darts’.

    All contestants will have the pleasure of enjoying a full dart-board whereat they may throw their darts – or rather all contestants save for Mel I should say, as he only requires the dot in the very centre of the board!

    After one round everyone’s points will be added up and the contestant with the highest score will have the satisfaction of being ‘right’, while the contestant with the lowest score will be gifted with a conical hat that has an ‘M’ emblazoned upon the front of it!

    ‘M’ is a magical letter don’t you think? Stand it up straight and you can use it to spell ‘MEL’, yet flip it by 180 degrees and you can use it to spell ‘WRONG’! MEL WRONG, I’m sure there’s something in that…

  19. But that contest would be holding my performance to a much higher standard than the rest of– oh, I forgot what website I was visiting for a second. Carry on.

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