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The Role of Video Game Immersion

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the what-do-you-mean-elves-can't-use-rocket-launchers dept.

Games 40

GameSetWatch has a story questioning whether modern game developers are putting more effort into immersion than they should, sacrificing other aspects of the game that are more important for an entertaining experience. Quoting: "Look at popular Wii games, and at casual games. These are generally rules-emergent games, with no pretense of 'immersion.' Arguably, Nintendo chose not to compete in the technology-driven 'realism' field with the Wii, and most casual games are 2D, not 3D. The high numbers of buyers and players of these games suggests that a significant proportion of the audience — if not the majority — wants to play games, not immersive 'simulations.' Put another way, is the immersive simulation (Star Trek Holodeck, Matrix) only the desire of some of the hardcore fans? ... It seems there's a significant number of adults who want to play a video game for a while to relax, to have their attention diverted from ordinary life. They don't want to be immersed in some simulation, some dream-fulfillment — if nothing else, they don't have the time for it!"

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FROSTY PISS! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26228729)

Well color me black and call me a nigger, I got first post!

Re:FROSTY PISS! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26228879)

Barack? Is that you?

Hey, lemme bum a smoke, willya? American Spirit? Aw, hell yeah! That's as good as you can get before movin' up into the Bali Shag [americanth...obacco.com] !

Why does it have to be one or the other? (5, Insightful)

Drek (23194) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228759)

I think there's room for both. Speaking for myself, there are times that I can enjoy a good "casual" game that makes no pretense towards immersion and other times that I like losing myself in another world. Both have their draws; the casual game is a great release when you just want to have some fun and the immersive game is the perfect escapism from your boring, humdrum life. For example, on the Xbox 360 lately I'll start out with a couple of quick games of Uno before diving head-on into Fallout 3.

While it's great to examine roles of various games I think this is a non-issue. There will always be both types of games, there will always be developers for both and there will always be people who want either type of experience at different times.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (3, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228909)

The Metal Gear Solid series is the canonical example of the desired eqilibrium: immersive enough to make you jump when the enemy spots you, but humble enough to make a mockery of itself through breaking the fourth wall among other self-referential humor.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (3, Insightful)

I.M.O.G. (811163) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228911)

The numbers agree with you - both the wii and the 360 are commercial successes (let's leave the ps3 out of this). The former strives on low-immersion gameplay, while the latter shines with immersive simulation gameplay. I'd agree that there's room for both, but I don't think that's at debate here.

The real headline is what the wii has achieved by bringing to market a relatively affordable, low power platform with mass market appeal. Not just mass market appeal even, but its managed to reach beyond barriers that the xbox and ps3 have not - the wii appeals to people who wouldn't call themselves "gamers" in the traditional "console gamer scene" sense of the word. Doing this while selling profitable hardware is a rather good position to be in.

Despite that contrast, at the sametime the wii reaffirms the power of a blockbuster title. Wii sports has been the main fuel behind the fire, catching interest and selling consoles. This is analagous to the power of the original halo on the xbox console. The wii just has hit a sweet spot in how nintendo managed to position and promote their product.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 5 years ago | (#26229241)

I wouldn't particularly call the 360 a commercial success either since MSFT hasn't made money in the division since it launched ten years ago.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (2, Insightful)

am 2k (217885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26229749)

Depends on whether the target was to make money or kill the competition (that includes OpenGL in general for gaming) by doing some obscene investments. Nowadays "cross-platform rendering engine" is defined as "runs on both the 360 and Windows PCs".

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (2, Insightful)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#26230197)

At least some of that has to do with the absurdly high replacement rate of the 360, which has nothing to do with the games themselves.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 5 years ago | (#26233135)

Well at least they've got a high failure rate going for them.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (1)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 5 years ago | (#26261609)

That absurdly high failure rate is the number one reason why I don't currently own a 360, and I can't be the only one.

I used to be a big time gamer, but this generation leaves me cold. The 360 routinely fails and takes weeks worth of hassle to replace, the PS3 doesn't have many good games (yet) and the Wii is fun, but outside of Wii Sports doesn't have much to offer. Maybe it's just me, but the PS2 seems so much better than any of the current consoles.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (1)

HiVizDiver (640486) | more than 5 years ago | (#26231105)

Pretty much my thoughts exactly when I read the article. There are markets for both, and they are not exclusive.

Re:Why does it have to be one or the other? (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 5 years ago | (#26231433)

I don't really think the immersion has much to do with casual vs non-casual. The game that made the Wii popular is after all Wii Sports, the closed thing to holodeck-bowling we had in video game history, so immersive that people have destroyed their TVs while playing it. Now given that is a different kind of immersion then say Halo, since you are not immersed into a different kind of reality, but more into an extension of the real reality. But since there wouldn't be much point in doing space-bowling with laserguns, I think thats totally ok.

I find it hard to argue against immersion, since I think its simply the wrong word to talk about in this context. I see immersion more as a measure of how close a game got to achieving its goal, not as a fantasy vs reality thing. Some games just couldn't derive any benefit from a fantasy world, while in others its absolutely critical, but that doesn't mean that one is more immersive then the other. And certainly breaking the immersion can't really be good in any game, no matter if its Uno or Halo (i.e. a crash would be one of the most blunt immersive breaking events in a game and that is of course better avoided).

I think what the article is trying to talk about in the end is really just story telling, i.e. how deep of a story does a game need to be good? And all I really can say about that is: It depends. Some games are fine with no story (Uno), some do fine with a minimal amount of story (Mario) and other are pretty much all story (MonkeyIsland).

Gameplay All (4, Insightful)

Manip (656104) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228769)

I guess what it really comes down to is if the gameplay is good?

We've had highly immersive games (e.g. Half Life 2) that have been great. But we've also had many with as good or better technology that have been terrible.

2D games aren't good just because they're 2D; they're good because the development team has to get really good gameplay in order to draw people in.

A lot of the recent bad games are the result of EA and other big companies stamp pressing out generic titles improving the technology ever so slightly each time.

They spend no time improving the gameplay. In fact new and original gameplay is against their business model (too "high risk").

The real problem with the gaming industry is too few risk takers. As small companies are by their nature risk takers that translates directly into the conclusion that there is too few small developers and too many large ones.

Re:Gameplay All (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#26230245)

I agree, there's a lot of peripheral debate when it comes to games about everything except quality. The suggestion that "game developers are putting more effort into immersion than they should" is ridiculous. It's a side issue. Game developers should be putting more effort into games, there's no secret formula to it. Most of the games on the wii can barely be called games, their model seems to be "So many people own a wii that if only %1 of them buy it without knowing how crappy it is, and we spend less than a thousand dollars developing it, we will make millions!" They NEED to be making serious efforts.

Simulation? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26228833)

The real problem of "simulations" is that they are not simulations at all. Apart from graphics, the "world" in most games is completely artificial, to a point where it is ridiculous. Their gameplay adopt the point of view of a child, who is used to be the center of the world, and NPC interaction just doesn't make sense for an adult.

Another problem is the fact that stories in most games are at the level of a child's book. There is rarely social or political comments and NPC are completely shallow. Seriously, how can this interest an (older) adult?

Basically, games are still made for 13-25 years old males, who are now a minority in gaming. It's not that a majority of people want only something to relax, after all a lot of "casual" games are more challenging than the average First Person RPG or FPS, it's just that most "simulations" are laughable from an adult point of view.

Re:Simulation? (1)

MaxShaw (1151993) | more than 5 years ago | (#26229243)

You need a round of Pathologic [eurogamer.net] . It addresses every concern you've mentioned there, at the expense of being unapproachable even by most "hardcore" gamers' standards.

Wii vs Immersion (5, Insightful)

Killer Orca (1373645) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228835)

Wouldn't the usage of the Wii's motion controls be an example of physical immersion? Also people who buy Wiis play more often with people in the same room, not across a connection.

Re:Wii vs Immersion (1)

mabinogi (74033) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228867)

Also people who buy Wiis play more often with people in the same room, not across a connection.

Only because there are no Local Co-Op games for PS3 and XBox 360.
Or at least, so few that there may as well be none. It's ridiculous how many games assume you're never going to want to play a game with a partner or family member.

Where the hell are all the non casual, non party local multiplayer games? There's got to be more than Dynasty Warriors!

Re:Wii vs Immersion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26229887)

Ubisoft has a new mandate for 2009 that says specifically to emphasize Co-Op (even re-working titles about to be released), which since the arcade classic Gauntlet, has always been my favorite mode.

hooray for our side! and way of life.

Re:Wii vs Immersion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26230739)

As a 360 owner, I need to point out that there are local co-op games for the 360. In fact, last week I played several hours of local co-op Left 4 Dead with friends.

I don't really care about co-op in games all that much, as I usually feel like I am just dragging dead weight with me through games, but it exists, nonetheless.

I mean, the Gears of War series offers local co-op and it's one of the 360's best sellers, IIRC. Not to mention that they have games like Army of Two, which is by its very nature, co-op. Also, the Rock Band series and similar games encourage cooperative play in a "band" sense.

I don't think I'd say there are none, or "so few that there may as well be none". That is ridiculous.

Re:Wii vs Immersion (1)

Nuyen (1438889) | more than 5 years ago | (#26231079)

No More Heroes?

Re:Wii vs Immersion (1)

jcuervo (715139) | more than 5 years ago | (#26232827)

Gears of War 1 and 2. Ahh, many a sleepless night.

Re:Wii vs Immersion (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26233859)

Only because there are no Local Co-Op games for PS3 and XBox 360.
Or at least, so few that there may as well be none. It's ridiculous how many games assume you're never going to want to play a game with a partner or family member.

Where the hell are all the non casual, non party local multiplayer games? There's got to be more than Dynasty Warriors!

Cue "I live alone, you insensitive clod!" jokes.

It's not a 100% overlapping market with those who own the consoles. There are also a lot of households where only one member of the family is interested in playing a console at all, or that particular game. So, you automatically shrink your potential market by some significant percentage. It's not that a single player can't enjoy such a game necessarily, but facts are facts: those development resources don't come for free... they came from work that otherwise could have been put into lengthening the single-player campaign or adding new gameplay features.

Making a game of this type, you have to make design choices up front about this right from the start. As an example, if you require a split screen, you essentially have to build the entire game with half the budget so each player can have their own view. That's a pretty big sacrifice to make, as it likely means your game is going to look significantly worse than others of the genre in single-player mode. And even beyond that, the developers must ensure the game is balanced and works well in both single player and co-op mode. How do you deal with things like disparate skill levels, for instance?

I'm not saying it's not worth the effort for some games, but looking objectively at the tradeoffs helps you to understand why more game developers don't do this.

Virtual Reality (1)

AIM_is_t3h_sux (891192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228841)

I've played with the Wii, and noticed it's got a few different pluggable components (such as for Wii boxing, Guitar Hero, etc.). I remember in the mid-1990s, full immersion, as in, helmet/visor, gloves, etc. existed for albeit rudimentary games. Graphics and 'realism' seem to get better and better, so I wonder if that will make a comeback in the 2010s, because the way I see it, that's the next logical step in video game immersion.

mod parent insightful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26228851)

i found it very insightful. look to the past... to see the future.

Re:Virtual Reality (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228885)

I don't think that'll happen, it's too dorky and prevents the user from quickly getting away from the game (even if that just means a quick look over to the door when someone entered the room) should the need arise.

I thought it'd be the other way around! (3, Insightful)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228945)

Funny how the Wii became the "casual gamer" system. When they revealed it, I thought it would be the most immersive machine - using that controller as a gun or sword, for example. I wonder, maybe The Conduit [wikipedia.org] will at last deliver the "hardcore" to the Wii.

Sigh... Wrong wrong wrong. (5, Insightful)

tnok85 (1434319) | more than 5 years ago | (#26228951)

The article is inherently flawed. The writer is very confused as to the differences between immersion and realism... and I think confused about what immersion really is.

Realism - done correctly - will implement immersion well. Quick example, Armed Assault. Fairly realistic military sim, and the environment allows the player to be immersed in this 'reality'. Now, the reality is only interesting because it's a reality the player will [most likely] never experience.

Realism can be pretty terrible too. Imagine a game based on a regular 9-5 job? You stay in an cubicle the entire time, except for bathroom breaks? Sure, might have great immersion, but who wants that.

Sorry, getting off topic.

On to immersion. Immersion does NOT require realism or graphics of ANY kind. Best example - roleplayers. Going back to the D&D roleplayers, on to MUDs and IRC, and finally to graphical MMOs like Everquest and Star Wars: Galaxies. None of those things are realism. There's fantasy, cyberpunk, etc. etc. This is one level of immersion that's dependent upon the player's level of imagination and interest.

Then there's immersion generated by visual, ambiance, acting, and story. Roleplayers generate these on their own, but for non-roleplayers, these aspects are very impressive. Feeling like you're fighting demons in the depths of hell... it's immersion. It's NOT reality.

From the original post:
"In historical board gaming, a related discussion has gone on for decades, posed as âoerealistic simulationâ of warfare vs. âoegood playable gameâ. In general, the most realistic âoesimulationsâ (realistic in historical terms, not, of course, in personal immersion) have been poor games."

To create a true realism, immersion is required. However, the inverse is not necessary... To create a true immersion, realism is not required.

This is where you're getting confused, I think. Immersion is a positive aspect for many gamers, especially if you are interested in getting involved in an interactive story.

If you don't want to do that, if you want to do it 'light', then yes, those 2D Wii games are wonderful. Yes, they're popular. But there will always be (well, in the foreseeable future) a sizable market for games that include immersion. (And a niche market for 'realism')

Alright, my rant is done. Sorry. =)

Re:Sigh... Wrong wrong wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26230895)

That's true, true immersion doesn't necessarily come from realism or graphics, and often we create our own immersion with a game. But I think you're thinking of the article from the wrong angle.

Graphics, sound, ambiance, that's lends to taking us more deeply into a game. To increase the ambiance with technology helps us immerse ourselves more easily, it reaches half way to our imagination.

Re:Sigh... Wrong wrong wrong. (1)

Psychochild (64124) | more than 5 years ago | (#26234205)

I'm a professional game developer, and this is one of the more insightful discussions on this I've seen. Players often confuse the terms "immersion" and "realism", and even some professionals make the same mistake. Usually when people say, "this game should be more realistic" they usually mean, "this game should be more consistent to my way of thinking." Part of what a good game does is set the expectations for the player so that the game is consistent.

The author of the article seems to be imprecise in his use of the terms. He often refers to "immersive simulation" which confuses the issues because he doesn't describe what is meant by "simulation". Not all games are simulations, using the standard definition, so not all games require "immersive simulation". A good game designer knows that the best immersion happens to the player when they enjoy the game. After a while, you get "in the zone" and don't notice details like the graphics or the input mechanism. However, sharp graphics and "intuitive input" make it easier for people to slip into that zone and make it harder for them to get jarred out, which is why there's been a focus on making the graphics more appealing and the controls simpler in many areas. How this has affected the quality of games is left as an exercise for the reader. ;)

My thoughts.

Imagination not Immersion! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26229475)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhGeta8Nqcs

6:45

Aiya... (1, Insightful)

ZekoMal (1404259) | more than 5 years ago | (#26229549)

It's like saying "Well this car goes 280 mph top speed, while this one only reaches 50 mph top speed; are people more interested in only going 50 mph?".

I love me some Wii Boxing, but that doesn't mean I won't wrestle in with Final Fantasy or Doom.

And what the hell? Wii doesn't immerse you? Metroid Prime, anyone? Legend of Zelda? They're just as immersive as the normal games, plus you have to interact to make them do things, most notably in the Zelda game, where you have to move the remote to slash. Arguing that pushing three buttons for 10 hours immerses one more than moving your entire body just because the cutscenes are higher detail is borderline retarded.

What can developers do? (2, Insightful)

Millennium (2451) | more than 5 years ago | (#26230121)

If the game is good, players will immerse themselves. They've been doing it since at least the days of the NES, and probably sooner. Developers can't really help this through any specific efforts, because it doesn't arise from any specific area of the game; all that truly matters is that the game is entertaining enough. Gamers can and will do the rest all by themselves.

Marketers would like you to think that gimmicks like photorealism and hyper-realistic physics aid in immersion, because that misconception gives developers some relatively easy-to-add hooks that they can use as marketing ploys. But these things don't actually help immersion at all, except in those truly sad souls who have let their imaginations atrophy, and those people need healing, not crutches.

some academic research found similar results (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#26230987)

The authors of the interactive drama Facade [interactivestory.net] collaborated with some augmented-reality people to build an AR version of the game [gatech.edu] , and found [ucsc.edu] that although it did make people feel more "present" in an immersive virtual world, they actually engaged less with the game as a result, which went against the assumption in the AR field that more-immersive = more-good.

Re:some academic research found similar results (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26231727)

That might have much more to do with being watched, a human between you and the games controls, awkward gear to wear, bad graphics, bad AI, unfamiliar situation and a ton of other issues then with "more immersion != more good".

In a broader sense there is of course the "you" != "game character" factor. Of course I am going to run more in Super Mario when I all I have to is push the stick forward, then in a hyper realistic game where I actually have to run around in the real world or on a treadmill. A large part of gaming is about playing as somebody else (preferably somebody with big guns and muscles), not as a perfect recreation of yourself.

Cant want something you never had! (1)

Tempest451 (791438) | more than 5 years ago | (#26232041)

How can you make such a comparison when true immersion doesn't exist? If there were Holodecks or a Matrix, who's to say how many people would want them? There's o such thing as a drug addict that has never tried drugs.

Re:Cant want something you never had! (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26233881)

If there were Holodecks ..., who's to say how many people would want them?

I'll just go out on a limb here and say 'everyone'. Except the Amish.

Immersion in a game (1)

rpillala (583965) | more than 5 years ago | (#26233067)

I think immersion is the quality of a game that makes you forget you're playing a game. This is implemented in graphics and sound design, sure, but also in the degree to which you are aware of using controls to interact with the game world. Take Tetris, for example. After a short time, you don't really think about the fact that you're pressing keys on a keyboard to move the piece left or right. You want to move the piece left, so you just do it. A poor control scheme that makes you constantly think about what you're doing to control a game can do as much to break immersion as texture tearing or crappy voice acting.

And Tetris by no means represents anything real, is 2D like casual games are, but is very immersive as it can eat up a great chunk of your time before you realize it. When you look at the clock and wonder whether you've actually been sitting at a game for whatever 30 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, that's an immersive game.

This should be kind of obvious. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26233611)

What are some of the most popular games known to man? Checkers, chess, poker, soccer, baseball, etc. None of these make any attempt to represent any sort of immersive reality. Yet look at the 'emergent gameplay' that a game like chess offers: there are volumes of books on chess strategies, opening moves, endgames, etc. You could probably spend years reading books, practicing, and learning, and still find new things...

Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26258503)

I think we've reached a sufficient level of detail to be immersed through graphics with the PS2, GameCube and XBOX, however, for this generation no company has made any advancements in control other than Nintendo. The XBOX360 and PS3 have only made graphical improvement. I think that Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition and Metroid Prime 3 are some of the most immersive games out because of their control schemes.

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