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Less buttons, more immersion: Part III December 13, 2009

Posted by Cesar in thinking me.
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uncharted and verdi

The second reason for video game immersion is our mind and its incredible capacity for abstraction. This is the point games have in common with other art forms. Movies, music, literature, poetry, painting, all rely on the human mind to achieve immersion. But because we human beings have such a huge capacity of abstraction and imagination, most of these media still achieve immersion while offering vastly incomplete experiences. And that’s not a bad thing. A movie is very close to a full experience: it offers detailed visual and auditory stimuli. On the other hand, listening to a concert on an iPod offers nothing but audio and is still capable of moving us deeply. More impressive yet is abstract painting. Even with loose correlation to reality, it still makes us think and react. But perhaps the most impressive example is in literature. A romance offers nothing other than letters. Although it is not as interpretation heavy as an abstract painting, the feelings a book offers are completely created by the brain. The flat pages have no pictures, audio, smell or taste. But we are still capable of imagining all that from the otherwise meaningless letters and feel as if we were there, in a battle for Britain or in the middle of a rather funny version of the days preceding Armageddon (two of my favorite books by the way).

This is the immersion aspect that moves game technology the farthest. Graphics evolve at every new console or video card iteration in the search for immersion. But if you stop to think about it, isn’t this inconsistent with what I just said? If we can get immersion even from black letters on white paper, why struggle so much with graphics? Well, there’s a whole visual experience related to video games. It would be like asking Salvador Dali why he added so many details to his paintings. It is not just about activity immersion. Everything with a visual component can aim for a visual experience and for beauty. The same goes for all other senses. There are different types of immersion: you might love Assassin’s Creed II but still look at an individual screenshot and admire the beauty and level of detail in the 3D models and textures.

But that did not satisfy me either and I found the best answer from Richie Nieto, who helped me with my questions in the IGDA forums. Like he said, immersion depends on the suspension of disbelief. Which means our brain must fool us into believing the alternate reality the game offers (isn’t that the same thing we do with reality itself? Subject for another topic). The catch is that this depends on our experiences and our expectations. When a gamer plays a very abstract game, say Lumines, he’s taken to a weird world of falling blocks and intriguing sounds. We can, of course, admire the beauty of the graphics in combination with sound effects caused by gameplay. But in order for Lumines to be immersive, all it has to do is be consistent with itself. There’s no other world like it, our experiences and expectations are based on the game itself. Okami on the other hand also has a very unique art style, obviously non realistic. And while the lack of graphic realism does not stop us from getting involved, we have other aspects to consider. If gravity does not behave as expected, the player will notice. If the painted wolf’s head disappears behind a mountain due to a collision detection problem, it will bother us a bit. The experience is not ruined, but these details break the suspension of disbelief for a brief moment. It is even worse for a title like Metal Gear Solid 4. In this case, reality itself (well, at least as perceived by our senses) is the standard. That makes it so much harder to achieve immersion. Graphics matter a lot, as do sound, physics, movement, interactions.

So in short, the second reason for immersion is: the game must live up to its expectations and provide a consistent alternate reality. This alternate reality must not clash with itself or with the reality the player created in his mind, based on the game and on previous experiences.

Only one reason left. Keep on reading!

See you space cowboys…

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Comments»

1. Durval - December 14, 2009

The functioning of our minds is indeed very similar to a game, we might say our minds are a natural game, a real game in which the prize is our own life.

It may be interesting to compare games with dreams. Dreams have a very high degree of immersion, while we dream, they may be just like reality. We become aware that they are dreams only when we return to the waking state of conciouness.

Games may eventually reach an immersion almost as complete as dreams, but they are played in the awake state of consciouness, and we knot that we are interacting with a vitual, not a concrete reality.

And then, another analog to games are the modern weapons, equipped with interface systems that look very much like games, except that they interface with reality.

2. Cesar - December 15, 2009

Games have been trying to get more real for a while now. But I’m not sure if life is game or game is life.

Our efforts seem to go in the opposite direction. And from the assumption that games are learning environments, it would be natural to try to mimic life.

From a conceptual view, however, it is harder to say. The broad definition of game Huizinga proposes has indeed several life-like aspects. It is possible that when we try to define game we end up defining life itself.

Durval - December 15, 2009

I mean games are learning environments, where one learns to play the game itself. The relevance of that learning to other activities (school, business, artistic, etc.) will depend on design.


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