Game Philosopher

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Gaming Principles: Immersion

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 29, 2006

I was thinking the other day about a game I have played and beaten several times called Dream Web. One of the things that attracts me to this game is the immersion that it creates. What’s even more interesting is that the game isn’t very complex or graphically spectacular, so I wonder why it is that I am reminded of it constantly and feel so drawn to play it again.

I can see already that this article is going to spawn off a few tangential articles…

One of the things that I remember vividly about the game is that, while the graphics were not very great even at release, the environments had enough detail that you spent a good amount of time looking around and absorbing what the scene was offering. I found myself feeling like I was really there because I could relate to the scene.

On a side note, comparing the game to Oblivion, you realize that every house in Oblivion looks largely the same, despite differences in layout. With Dream Web, you can only actually get into 2 or 3 houses, so the feel of immersion that being in a home would bring doesn’t get stale.

I think what I’m discovering is that to get immersion, you don’t actually NEED complexity. I don’t have to be able to interact with every little gadget in the room, but it does need to be destinct and original. Perhaps it’s like those people who inherit a lot of money and buy a big house but don’t have enough money to furnish it — if you make the game-world big, you have to be prepared to fill it with interesting, realistic things and not just variations on a theme.

Moving on, one of the things that I still remember to this day is the sound of the rain storms. The game definately paid attention to what the player was hearing and how it complimented the game. Many games these days have weather effects, but they’re random, so they never intentionally match with the game’s plot. *slight spoiler* In Dream Web, after you’ve killed your first person, you wake up in a dirty alley in the pouring rain.  It just feels right – that it should be thindering and raining and dirty and slightly saddening. You’ve just gone from a guy with bad dreams, to a guy with bad dreams who’s killing people. There are other sounds that I remember from that game. The ambient music in the game has a real airy sort of feel to it – almost like someone exhaling. I found it to be a really immersive touch once I related the music to breathing.

In my opinion, sound is very undervalued in games. There are some very immersive things you can do with sound, and very little is actually done. Probably because people tend to focus on graphics as being the most important part of a video game, and it’s much easier to show a customer how great a game looks rather than how great it sounds.

Thinking of another very immersive game, System Shock, I remember there were actually times in both the original and its sequel where I actually got scared. I would say that you’d have to be pretty immersed in a game in order for it to scare you.

But why does System Shock scare me but Painkiller or some other horror game doesn’t? I think the System Shock series had a different way of scaring you which was a little more immersive – first, it was a little more realistic to think of yourself as a weak, confused hacker lost on a spaceship that has been taken over by a rogue AI than a motorcycle man blasting flying demons with an incendiary shotgun, like in Painkiller.

Part of immersion is the player’s ability to relate to the player-character’s situation. If you make the circumstances incredibly outlandish, the player doesn’t have the ability to think as if they would if they were actually in the situation. Too many “leaps of faith” break immersion.

OPEN FOR COMMENTS: What kind of things break immersion? If the immersion-breaker is necessary for the plot, how can the situation be designed so it has less of a negative impact?

=Linkage to Mobygames for further reading: Dream Web, System Shock 1, System Shock 2=

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