I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic the other day. Before I knew it 3 hours had past, and I hadn’t even noticed! The same can happen whilst you read a book or watch a film. But why?
One of the reasons: Immersion
I will in this post shortly look at some of the factors needed to be in place to elicit immersion.
Placing ourselves in a fantasy world seems strange, what is the point in this? Well, as I have touched upon earlier our cognitive evolution was highly important to our evolution. Humans started telling stories, and we began to learn from stories. Gaining experience and knowledge without having to exert ourselves to the physical danger of gaining the experiences can be seen as an evolutionary advantage. Therefore we can imagine that improving our ability to engage with the stories and learn from them intuitively can render even higher advantages. And now we have a foundation for what may have resulted in the ability to cognitively remove ourselves from the physical world we live in, and place ourselves within a fictional realm.
Remember the above is just a theory, but it is useful to consider the reasons behind our ability to imagine and ‘live’ within different worlds.
Immersion is our way of cognitively being drawn into a different world, but what triggers it? There can be various ways of eliciting immersion, and they vary according to media.
E.g. Books: Require a world that is believable, and a subject that is interesting to the reader. It can also take advantage of an engaging narrative, and descriptions of actions and surroundings that engage.Film: Require camera directing and cutting that works intuitive to the human mind. Continuity of elements.
With games there are more elements that come into play, and therefore more elements that can both support immersion, but also break it.
Immersion into a game world requires:
- A believable world
- Believable characters
- Intuitive controls
- Aesthetic elements that convey similar meaning
In other words, immersion requires a spatial presence that can draw and hold a players attention, and this presence requires the aesthetic elements of both world and character to be believable and convey meaning, while the more practical matter of controls must be intuitive to such a degree that they at least do not disturb the immersive experience.
When I mention a believable world, I do not mean a realistic one. Space travel between galaxies, we know, is unrealistic in our day and age. But space travel in 200 years time, after discovering alien technology allowing more effective means of travel, such as that in the game Mass Effect is believable (Exactly because we are told that space travel has become accessible through this discovery of alien technology). We suspend our disbelief, because the game adheres to its own internal set of rules, and as long as it does not break the rules it has set for itself, the game to us is believable.
So, immersion in games can be described as a fulfilment of the requirements above; having a believable world, which is represented within a spacial presence that is convincing enough for us to cognitively prefer this world to the one we are currently inhabiting. Basically the world has to interest us, and be believable. As soon as the believability is broken, immersion ends.
The aesthetics of games are important, probably more important than many game designers are aware of. Note, when we speak of aesthetics it is not the same as graphics. Good graphics and good aesthetics do not equal each other – you can have the one without the other, and aesthetics will always be more important that graphics when it comes to making a good game. For more on this distinction, check out this video. More on this particular point in a later post.
Last week I looked at flow, and this week immersion. They go under the same title, so what is the link? Well, they are often mixed up in use of terms. This is because they both cause an engaging experience that makes us forget the world around us and the time passed, you can read about flow here:
So the difference is this; flow depends on the game-play, our engagement with the challenge posed before us and the mechanics of playing the game; whereas immersion depends on the games spacial presence and the games aesthetic engagement with the player, whilst upholding certain requirements for believability and continuity.
That is it, in short terms at least. If you have any comments to the above please let me know. I am still learning a lot about these subjects, and am more than open to be proven wrong.
Also if you would like me to writer a deeper article on one of these subjects then please leave a comment below.