Editorial: What Is Immersion To You?
The entire purpose of interactive entertainment is to immerse the participant in an engrossing, exciting alternate reality that fulfills us in a number of different ways.
However, there is no such thing as "universal immersion;" i.e., there's no video game that has the capability of dragging in and embracing every last player on the planet. So the question is, what absorbs you? What allows you to forget your real-world cares and responsibilities, if only for a short while at the end of a hard day? What is the type of game that makes you look at the clock after a seemingly short span of time and go, "damn, I've been playing that long?!" For some, it's a long, epic RPG with a gripping storyline and addictive gameplay. For others, it's the endlessly invigorating online action in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 or Killzone 2. Some immerse themselves in a virtual season with their favorite sports franchise, many require a bit of innovation or originality to feel truly swept away, and a few need the challenge of brain-busting puzzle titles.
Personally, as I get older and being the ardent reader of literary classics that I am, I'm putting a large emphasis on atmosphere and overall polish, with a dash of originality. For instance, no game made me smile as much as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and no game sucked me into the story and made me appreciate plot intricacies as much as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. And say what you will about turn-based, but I still say the old-school RPGs like the older Final Fantasy, Suikoden, and Wild ARMs games kept me pinned to my seat. Sometimes, though, it's for a very special reason. Take Lost Odyssey, for instance (one of my favorites): the writing of the actual story itself wasn't exactly fantastic, but the writing in those dream sequences was downright spectacular. I know not many will appreciate that, but they were truly a highlight of the game for me.
And as games become more and more like movies, I'm starting to rely on artistry, emotional sensibilities, and/or solid character development. I received glimpses of unique artistry - in both the environment and gameplay - with the likes of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. For the latter, it was the beautiful contrast that got to me; the mere fact that a little, albeit dedicated, hero must take down a mammoth creature a hundred times his size and strength. These days, I think I just have to believe in what I'm playing. I'm not merely talking about realism or authenticity...it's more that I have to understand exactly what the developer is attempting to do, and then relish that effort because it resonates within me. In other words, I guess it's becoming more like viewing pieces of art in a museum.
I can enjoy various genres for various reasons, provided they're done well. So in the end, immersion for me comes down to how well the designer completed his or her vision, and that's the best way I can explain it.
2/5/2010 Ben Dutka