I had had a really frustrating day. I had gotten nothing on my to-do list done at work, for all the small fires I was putting out; I needed to take my car to get inspected, as it was past due, but I couldn’t seem to find a slow day when I had time to do so; and I was greeted at home by my excitable white German Shepard, Daisy, whose head and front paw were poking through the now ripped screen of my second story apartment window. Further greeting was on the front door in the form of a note from my apartment complex manager suggesting I “take steps to remedy the situation” of my white terror barking and spazzing her way through the screen.
After dropping my bags, cursing the bad luck that this day – of all days – Daisy should behave such a way and building a massive barricade in front of the ruined window, I fired up World of Warcraft and found myself some nasty centaurs. And that night, I lost myself in “bonking things on the head” for a few hours, at the end of which, I wondered where my evening had gone, but boy, I felt better. I didn’t feel like I’d been just sitting still for a few hours, I felt like I’d taken out frustrations and anger. It was cathartic.
Another day, a lazy, cold, late fall weekend afternoon, my significant other and I were itching for something to do, but didn’t want to have to be out and about in the cold. We decided to run to the game store and pick up a copy of a game getting some good buzz. We popped the game into the PS2, ran through the quick tutorial and jumped into the chilly, suspense-adventure of Indigo Prophecy.
Several hours later, we looked up from the floor, where we were huddled under blankets in the pitch black of my apartment, and stretched our stiff limbs, as we’d hardly moved for hours. It was no colder in my apartment than it had been earlier in the day, when we sat reading without blankets. But now the blanket was a necessity, both because of the odd chill we had and for protection from … well … just the creepies after playing the game.
These two experiences were quite different in purpose, feeling and actual gameplay, but ultimately they resulted in the same thing: immersion. Slippery thing, immersion. It’s the holy grail of many game designers, creating a game that will immerse players in a world, event or story.
But what is it, really? We can put a neat little definition on it, but it gets us no closer to achieving it. We can point at things that have encouraged immersion in the past, but there’s no guarantee it will work again. We can try to make a game that’s pinnacle of immersive to all people at all times, but there’s really no such thing.
Immersion is as much about the person experiencing as it is about the experience. Had I brought home Indigo Prophecy on The Day Daisy Almost Jumped Out the Window, I likely would have missed some of the subtle nuances in the game design. And had my significant other and I sat down to Bonk Things on the Head in
World of Warcraft on that cold autumn day, it would likely have felt more like grinding levels.
Some of the responsibility for immersion falls on us, as players. If we’re not willing to suspend disbelief, if we’re hoping to get deeply involved in a game, but give it only 45 minutes of play, we won’t get too far. And it’s this most slippery of subjects that is the topic, once again, of this week’s issue of The Escapist, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.” This week, our authors write about their own immersive experiences, those who create immersive experiences and try to nail down that special Something that creates immersion. Enjoy!