Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

    Critical Mix 37

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    1. This seems like the time and place to bring it up: Hey, David Cage. Making me perform strenuous actions to do something simple like open a door is not immersive. If anything, it’s most immersive for the character to open the door automatically without my input, because in real life opening a door comes so naturally that I do it without even thinking about it. Literally! That’s the kind of action controlled mostly by the spinal column as a prerecorded set of muscle impulses just like walking.
      By asking me to do a very specific set of buttons presses and joystick waggles just to pick something up, you’re basically asking that I switch off my spinal reflexes and walk using my brain, thinking about each and every deliberate leg muscle movement which is what toddlers have to do in order to learn the reflexes. And it doesn’t look very fun for them, does it?
      Immersion is as much about what you DON’T ask the player to do.

    2. “Immersion” really started coming up last gen when suddenly we had that glut of First Person Shooters that insisted on minimizing the hud to the point of non-existence and then claiming putting up red mist as an indicator of health was somehow “immersive.” No,no it isn’t, in fact it’s actually distracting and stupid. And considering that there’s visual clutter already on the screen, putting on a goddamned health bar isn’t going to somehow dial down the immersion. Furthermore, a lot of those titles were either bland or bad, so lack of immersion was the least of their problems.

      And in all honestly, it really just felt like people trying to fake immersion instead of actually being immersive through the usual tricks: great gameplay, interesting characters, a compelling narrative, or a finely crafted world. I got immersed in FFVII and Vagrant Story because of fascinating stories, I got immersed in the Xenoblade series and Zelda due to compelling, unique worlds, I got immersed in Devil May Cry because I would get a new weapon or move I wanted to test out on enemies, and I got immersed in Persona 5 and Yakuza due to likable characters with rich backstories. They didn’t need of those stupid faux-immersion tricks to do it, because they just did it through great writing or design. No amount of tricks are going to make up for bad gameplay, bad story, annoying characters, or a boring world.

    3. That’s the main reason I’ve never gotten into any of the VR crazes since it started in the 80’s–every single one I’ve tried has been the complete opposite of “immersive,” as the sensors can never keep up with natural movement–if they even register that you’ve moved at all!

      I am /way/ more interested in Augmented Reality. If you get a chance, try out the Star Wars AR experience in Anaheim’s downtown Disney area, where you’re walking through real environments, with a Star Wars overlay over everything–it’s super impressive, even if the experience isn’t perfect!

    4. Perhaps it’s just the way I interpret the word immersion, but there is a point in which I do feel the world around me kind of fading away and I just really get into the groove of something, and I personally consider that a form of immersion. When I’m in complete tune with the ins and outs of my digital marionette the same way I might feel and react when I’m driving my car, I can feel it even if there’s at least two layers of abstraction between myself and the experience. It’s a feeling that’s more than just engaging.

      Similarly, I consider myself immersed when I’m presented with a situation where I can inject personality and mannerisms into the way I behave in a game, when I can’t bring myself to make a choice in a game because it’s just not who I am as a person, or when I do something for a computer controlled character out of basic human kindness or politeness, even if in the back of my mind, I understand that this thing on the screen is a set of algorithms designed to entertain me. (Since Spider-Man was brought up, I couldn’t pass up any crime that popped up unless there was a far bigger threat immediately happening, and I would just take time to walk the streets and high five people, because that’s the Spider-Man I would want to be/am being, and I do personally consider that some degree of immersion).

      That said, the core argument I got out of this (intended or not) is that immersion isn’t something you can simply design working from a core set of immersion principles, but rather, it’s a product of you making the right overall game design decisions for the type of game you’re making and executing them expertly. And if that’s what Bob intended to get across, that’s something I can agree with, much in the same way that you can’t just put “Make a good game” or “have nice graphics” on page 1 of your design doc. And even then, the degree to which that feeling of immersion is going to be effective will vary from personal taste to personal taste.

    5. I get why you may feel that way but I think that you perhaps forget that some genres thrive on immersion, while I liked the Battlefront II and Rogue Squadron 3D space combat they never felt as involving as something like Tie Fighter because even from the cockpit you can tell interface elements aren’t diegetic like they were in a game like X-wing or Tie Fighter. Even though they are functionally the same a floating health bar and a hull integrity indicator on a fake cockpit dashboard give an entirely different feel to the game or even little things like being able to decide for yourself whether to hyper out of the battlefield once you got your primary mission under wraps or just stay for another while to go for some secondary objectives instead of having the mission ended for you when the game says so. Because here’s the thing: immersion is about getting people involved, a lot of the best moments in my most beloved spacesims (or space shooters if you prefer) happen during gameplay, stuff like the unknowable lovecraftian alien mothership one-shotting the bigass starbase you were sent to protect could have easily been relegated to a cutscene but having you live the moment as the pilot in a small fighter witnessing it like being in swimming trunks in front of a tsunami made the moments much more effective. Of course there is the bad kind of immersion like those fucking GTA IV controls (which from what I hear Red Dead Redemption II cranked up to eleven) but never discount it as a way to make people more involved in the game when done right. Or just another thing about immersion is not railroading players to arbitrary constraints, missions in Saints Row 3 and 4 are more “immersive” games because they almost never impose arbitrary scripted shit on you unlike recent GTA games that just want you to do the thing exactly the way Rockstar wants you or not doing it at all.

    6. The two games Ive felt most “immersed” in were Mass Effect 2 and Saints Row 2, which I played very close together. Both stories are mostly linear, but there was enough customization and choice for me to create context for the events of the story. I’ll always remember my pale, broken-nosed alpha-bitch renegade-with-a-heart-of-gold Shepherd and my pantsless, cat-whiskered, boney-cheeked, bowler-hat-wearing, cockney-accented Saints Boss.

    7. I always sort of suspected that the microwave hallway in MGS4 was Kojima trying to trick fans into gushing about the emotional impact of something that was intentionally silly and annoying.

    8. First off, best article title of anything on the Internet ever. Bravo.

      I don’t think immersion is a binary proposition; it’s not that a game is either immersive or it’s not. A game needs a certain level of immersion for it to be engaging, and that level (and how the player gets there) is going to be different for every gamer. For example, for me personally, I don’t think Madden Football is ever going to reach the level of immersion needed for me to lose myself in the game. It just doesn’t push the necessary buttons in my psyche.

      The Mass Effect trilogy and The Witcher III are good examples of games that were immersive for me. I legitimately lost track of time when playing them; and when external events pulled me out of the game (phone ringing, need to make dinner, etc.), it was mentally jarring having to transition from the game headspace back to the mundane world.

    9. Immersion in a game is when everything in it works well enough to not have me making developer suggestions in my head. To me it’s not just story but gameplay. Once I am going through your bad UI asking, “is this awful because of a lack of time or talent,” then I am no longer immersed.

    10. See, immersion to me is interactivity + fluidity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not aware I’m playing a game in my living room. But the smaller the gap between me and the action is, the more immersive a game feels.

      That’s not to say I don’t agree with your core assertions; that pause menus, great single player/story, and all varied approaches to game design play their part in player engagement.

      That’s the problem when a vague term like ‘immersion’ becomes dogmatic. Like when it became common to complain that games were too ‘linear’.

    11. You can thank/blame Yahtzee for going on about “immersion” in his videos.

    12. I never really thought about it, but yeah many things done in the name of “immersion” tend to be more annoying than immersive.

    13. So for the most part, when devs talk about immersion, I think they’re pretty full of shit. But there is a form of it that I do really enjoy.

      I’m not sure when immersion in games came to mean… Whatever the hell it’s supposed to mean nowadays. But when I was a teenager and I talked to my friends about immersion, it meant a sense of connection to my in game avatar. A state where I feel like my own motives, thoughts processes and emotions in regards to a situation, mirrored that of my protagonist. It is not a requirement to make a great game but it is an interesting tool that really gets me playing.

      Let me use an example for what immersion means to me. I felt the introduction of a compass in Oblivion and Skyrim sacrificed a sense of immersion I felt in Morrowind. When playing Morrowind, if I wanted to find something in the game world, I had to first ask a relevant person. Consult my map. Follow road signs and verbal directions. Look for landmarks referenced in my journal or character dialogue. Which is exactly what my character has to do. Exactly what I would need to do in life. I didn’t just follow a glowing icon until I rubbed up against the thing I was looking for. I actively explored, used clues and logical reasoning. It made me feel like a stranger in a new land he’d never seen before, lost and confused at times but rewarded when I finally found my way. That’s exactly who your character is in that game. And that sense of reward I feel would surely be mirrored by my avatar in his own little fictional world.

      And that is what immersion means to me in a video game. It’s not this be all, end all of game design. It’s not a universal feature of a pleasant gaming experience. But it’s a uniquely satisfying element. Just as extraordinary challenge, deep customization, creeping dreadful atmosphere, fast paced action or relaxing exploration might be in other games. It is not the final aim, merely one tool in the box we use to achieve that aim. Which is fun.

    14. Want Immersion, try LARPing.

    15. Yahtzee did an Extra Punctuation article on this topic years ago. I think Bob and quite a number of people mistake what they refer to as immersion when what we’re really feeling is something that’s able to hold onto our attention.

      In simplest terms, being “immersed” in a videogame is the difference between a game you stop playing out of disinterest (say within the first couple of minutes or when you’re “taken out of the game” several to many hours into it) and a game you keep playing to some extent because it’s holding your interests (be that a game you keep coming back to that doesn’t have a story, play a story driven game all the way to the end, or one of those cases where you truly get “immersed” in it, start playing in the evening and before you realise it the sun’s coming up). This honestly doesn’t need to be said but whatever those factors are that make something interesting to you will ALWAYS be SUBJECTIVE.

    16. “Immersion” is supposed to mean that “you are so into the experience that you forget you are playing a video game”, or at least that’s how it always sounded to me.

      And to be honest, I think that’s an awesome ideal to work towards, but it’s true that the discourse about the topic seems to be about taking out classic video game elements that are perceived as “artificial” because they are deemed to be detrimental to the suspension of disbelief.

      Heck, there’s even a derogatory term for it: “gamey”.

      And although I think keeping menus and huds in a minimalistic way is a good approach, we’ve come to a “Princess and the Pea” scenario where even a 3 second cut-scene can “break the immersion”.

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