Friday, September 10, 2004

Does Immersion Exist?... Maybe...

It's funny, I was just thinking about the same thing. I've been playing "The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay," and while the game is quite good, I keep thinking that the game just isn't as engrossing as I want it to be. Honestly, I think one of the first steps toward true immersion is a greater field of view. I know it sounds pedestrian (not to mention that VR has pretty much been proclaimed dead), but having peripheral vision goes a long way. Creeping through the dank, dirty corridors of Butcher Bay would be so much scarier and so much more real if I could have the claustrophobic feeling of being surrounded by the walls. As it is, the distortion at the edges of my screen just calls attention to the fact that I'm not actually seeing the place as though I were there.

The other thing that I believe to be crucial to attaining immersion is emotional connection. I know this comes close to beating a dead horse (though I personally think this particular dead horse should be beaten till it comes back to life), but the games that have come the closest to immersing me are the ones that got me emotionally. These moments are few and far between in games. Here's two that come to mind for me though:

The first level of "Max Payne" in which Max's (the player's) wife is being murdered left me breathless. In the moment, I completely forgot any notion of gameplay and was completely focused on getting to my wife. Every bullet had the full conviction of my fear, anger, and protectiveness. It was utterly devastating when I found her dead.

Second, the last parts of "Ico" were also beautifully done in such a way as to connect emotionally with the player. The emotional moments in "Ico" are many and sustained nicely, but they are also supported by many cut-scenes, which I consider to be anti-immersive, since they take control away from the player.

In Riddick, I haven't gotten past the feeling of manipulating game structures. I have no visceral reactions to the game, just intellectual ones. Of course, none of this helps establish the existence of "immersion." I do think that immersion is attainable, but I have yet to play a game that achieves immersion for an extended period of time.


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