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.
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.
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