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Immersion! Does it matter to you? Which games have you found the most immersive? [roundtable]
There are two types of gamers...

Nah, I'm not going to be so reductionist about it, but the desire for 'immersion' does seem to be a huge point of differentiation among gamers. You could even postulate that it is the difference between Wii fans and HD whores ( ). That desire for immersion. That need to escape from your depressing existence into an even more depressing post-apocalyptic warzone... The 5.1 sound that puts you in the middle of the action. The huge screen that assails your retina and inner ear. Some people looooove that shit, to the point where even if a game is totally unremarkable on a mechanical level, the inclusion of those elements will make it exceptional for them.

So how much do you guys value immersion. Do you become Mario or Link or Samus? Or do you just play them on TV? And which games that you've played have done the best job of bringing you into the action?

My knee-jerk reaction is that I don't give a shit about immersion, but I can think of one exception, off the top of my head: Manhunt. The immersion made that game for me. Without it, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it at all. Most other times, though, attempts at immersion just annoy me and slow me down. Having loud, crumbling architecture in Uncharted 2 and Prince of Persia Forgotten Sands (360) was just irritating, kind of. Like, okay, the screen is shaking. Can I control my character again?

Perhaps it didn't bother me in Manhunt because the actual 'game' has so little to it. Similar to how an Adventure game can deliver a cool story because the gameplay is so skeletal, maybe simpler games can benefit from immersion, while more complex games just feel phony. The more varied our options in games get, the more realistic the graphics get, and the more open the game world is, the more the world and everything in it seems phony to me. It's an Uncanny Valley of interaction, and a game that represents that really well is Red Dead Redemption. The world seems so living and realistic, until you actually try to interact with it in a non-standard way and realize that it's just a wax museum, an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese show. I wouldn't have expected natural behavior and engaging conversations from, like, the Piantas in Super Mario Sunshine, but the world of Redemption DID put those expectations into my head, and they were not met. The Illusion and the Immersion were instantly broken.

I was actually going to tie this discussion in to a talk about Player Agency in games - the conflict between linear storytelling and sandbox design, and how the amount of options and control that games like Modern Warfare 2 and Splinter Cell (and, again, Red Dead Redemption) give you make it so much harder to accept that you have so little ability to affect the direction of the story and the events that unfold (like when you KNOW some dude is going to betray you, but you still have to passively watch it happen in a cutscene), but this is probably long enough, so I'll save that for another time.

(By the way, I have an Immersion-tech iFeel mouse that rumbles when you shoot shit. It's a pretty cool technology, but I don't think it ever took off. A shame, because it was a really nice mouse, all around. Very ergonomic.)

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Posted: 07/03/10, 19:59:53
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I find myself more immersed in games if they have a really good atmosphere, particularly isolation. Stuff like the original Metroid Prime pretty much had me all the way.
Another would be Team ICO's games. Ico and SotC do the best job for me personally because they manage to get some emotion out of me, along with the feeling of just you and one or two other beings in an otherwise empty world.

Oh, another would be the Half Life 2 series. While the stuff you do from the first person perspective seems a bit odd compared to characters in game (like picking up stuff or driving a vehicle and not seeing your hands), everything else just looks and feels believable. Part of it's because of the lip sync. And while it doesn't have a constant feeling of isolation like the above mentioned games, it goes for a very grim feel that leads to great results. All hope is seemingly lost, however, "the right man in the wrong place, can make all the difference in the world." It shows that you have an influence on the world in what you're doing.
Posted: 07/03/10, 20:23:24
Simbabbad said:
I don't agree at all with the way you present your question. You seem to equate immersion with storytelling and HD and realism and identification with the characters. But immersion is just presenting a world in a way that allows you to get in.
I didn't really mean to equate them. I meant to draw some sort of link in people's overall preferences and priorities. And I was also mixing a couple of tangentially-related issues in there.

Also, I'm not really sure how I feel about the issue, to be honest, which is why I already offered some evidence to the contrary of my knee-jerk viewpoint. Like I said, perhaps immersion works best when the gameplay and interaction is simpler. Would ultimate immersion in a realistic world ever be possible? Would the AI characters ever pass the Turing test? I don't know. But we are pretty far from even being able to ask that question. Most highly-touted AI routines in games remain unconvincing, but Animal Crossing's elemental version of a similar mechanic works pretty well.

And scanning might be considered an immersive element (Prime is certainly an immersive game, with the visor-view, and all). That's not my problem with it, though. I just don't like the way it breaks up the gameplay flow. As for Yoshi's Story, wouldn't immersion suggest that you imagine that you are in that world? I certainly don't feel like that when I play games like Yoshi's Story. Aesthetics and atmosphere are somewhat important to me, but is creating a cohesive sense of place and an internally consistent environment really immersion?

Maybe it's not about identifying with the actual avatar as much as losing yourself in the world. I do get somewhat immersed in trance-y games like Rez and Light Trax. And I suppose Ico was fairly immersive, as well. For me, it seems like simple interaction and minimal narrative are common traits in the games that I find immersive. I can't think of another game besides Manhunt that has an abundance of traditional elements of presentation (cutscenes, voice acting) that I felt was immersive.

There's an interesting David Jaffe interview where he kind of takes the piss out of Flower by saying that it relies on the same 'atmospheric' cliches that drive a lot of arty games, like the sound of the breeze, and some other stuff that I can't remember (washed-out color palette?). He also admitted that he relies on cliches of the more macho variety.
Posted: 07/03/10, 21:09:39  - Edited by 
 on: 07/04/10, 02:15:32
Atmosphere is the main form of immersion for me. Things need to all meld together well, graphics, sound, art direction, and sometimes storytelling. Games like DKC, Metroid (Super and Prime especially), Zelda, and Castlevania: SotN. I don't really get a sense of immersion from Mario games, everything just seems superficial and the music is more happy than environmental. Mario64 though and certain parts of the Mario RPGs though, I get the feeling well.
Posted: 07/03/10, 21:10:57


Posted: 07/03/10, 21:11:54
Fallout 3 is probably the most immersive game I've played in terms of feeling like you're in the world. I also just played a browser game called Alter Ego and found it incredibly immersive, even though it has no graphics at all. It's basically a choose your own adventure. And now that I think about it books are probably the most immersive form of entertainment out there.
Posted: 07/03/10, 21:45:03
There are some good choices in this thread. I agree that the Metroid series as well as Dead Space are great examples of games i would describe as immersive. One game that really sucked me in was Deadly Creatures which was highly atmospheric through the use of an amazing soundtrack. Once the cicada kicked in during that game i really felt like i was in a living environment that related to things i would see and hear if i just went outside. The sense of scale also helped since i really felt in trouble once i ran into something much bigger than me or if animals ganged up on me.

I've always thought sound is underrated when considering immersion and Dead Space is a great example of that as well. You would just be walking around and all of a sudden you would hear the sound of something metal just fall on the ground out of nowhere and it felt scary. It was a pretty freaky thing because your human instincts kick and automatically respond to the sound since it causes you to think something is near by that made it happen. It's those kinds of reactions that play with your most basic human emotions that really create immersion in the game world to me.
Posted: 07/03/10, 21:50:23
Sure Immersion matters on most levels.

Super Mario 64 is a game I was immersed in. It made a lot of sense to me how the castle and it's paintings worked and captured me. With various levels to the castle and such unique levels, I was immersed and I felt like all the levels could easily be a part of that world. Metroid Prime (all of them really) did a good job, but so did Super Metroid (to a lesser extent for me). I almost got there with Little King's Story but with the micromanagement being done the way it was, I don't think I could be immersed fully into that. Too much like "God" for me.
Posted: 07/03/10, 22:07:11
I do like if I feel immersed in a game, but it doesn't have to do with HD at all. I've gotten immersed in a wide variety of games in the past, whether 2D or 3D, old or new, realistic or fantastical. I think it just has to do with how much I'm enjoying it, in most cases. Or it can also have to do with how the game is designed, so that when I'm playing it, I don't get distracted from what it is I'm doing. The game will make me want to continue on to see just what happens next; like a good book would be for some people. So here are some of the many games which have immersed me greatly:

Deadly Premonition
No More Heroes
Dead Rising
Mass Effect
The Crystal Bearers
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
most Zelda games
Final Fantasy VI & VII (the only other one I played, X, wasn't very immersive to me since I was constantly frustrated with its story)
Contra III, Hard Corps, & Shattered Soldier (basically, most of the Nobuya Nakazato-directed games)
Valis: The Fantasm Soldier (Genesis) (I didn't like this game too much, but the soundtrack and story still made me really get into it)
most Mario games (haven't played Super Mario Galaxy 2 yet)
Ninja Gaiden I and II (NES) (the storytelling in these games is incredible, especially considering the fact they're NES games)
Mischief Makers
most Resident Evil games
Montezuma's Revenge (Colecovision)
Paper Mario & Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
most Metal Gear games
Posted: 07/03/10, 22:25:10
Nascar games. Take your eyes off the TV for a second, or drift into thought and you're screwed.

I constantly daydream while playing Monster Hunter, and I'd probably put that 2nd.
Trauma Center was pretty good at it, too..

Yes, I play as Mario, Link, and Samus. I am not them.
Posted: 07/03/10, 23:20:36
In terms of preferring big fancy production values, great atmosphere and a huge, epic story or (generic example) bright colors and superb gameplay... It depends on the game. I'm not picky. I love my Marios and my Fallout 3s. I love Kirby and Etrian Odyssey.

As for actual immersion - I like it when every game I play immerses me. Every single one. But that's not about graphics or even atmosphere, it's about how this place is presented and how much you're drawn in to what you're doing.

I don't prefer one or the other, really. It just depends on my current mood when I'm gaming. Sometimes I'll spend half my gaming time during a day just trying to nail what, exactly, I want to play.
Posted: 07/04/10, 01:15:17
Omigod, I used to just look at my pile of PS2 and GCN games for fifteen minutes and then never play anything. I don't do that anymore. Maybe because I can just turn on my consoles and mess around with stuff, regardless of whether there's a disc in the drive.

Yeah, sound is very important to immersion. Especially ambient stuff. I was playing the new(er) Viva Pinata the other day, and it was kind of freaky hearing the weird chirps all around me. The lack of an onscreen avatar also made that game immersive. I guess you could say the same about first-person games, in general. Second-person games, like the Eyetoy games, are kind of the opposite of immersive, to me, even though you often see yourself doing the actions.

Oh, welcome to the board, by the way.
Posted: 07/04/10, 01:38:00  - Edited by 
 on: 07/04/10, 01:59:56
The games that I've played that have immersed me the most...well, I'll name just a few:

1. MYST, Riven, MYST III - I put them all as the same since they are the same series and they pretty much were all about the same thing...puzzle solving. You're pretty much thrown into an area, no clue what is going on half the time and you have no clue what to do for the most part. I like that kind of thing because for me it makes me really think I'm there...I mentally put myself into the game and start thinking, "All right. Let me start this game as my story and let me record what I see as if I were going to write a book or a journal about it." I don't mean I literally do that, but for me it makes the game that much better. In reality I know I am just clicking around for the most part, but at the same time I have to retain information, wonder whether or not something I see is a subtle clue, or just there to throw me off, etc, etc.

I did a lot of that with Riven, and when I was alone playing it I often times started to just talk out loud, like I was narrating that story I had 'written' about my experience. Stuff like, "To be honest, I was completely stumped. Looking at this machine I could tell that the slotted grid built into it was obviously for the colored marbles on the stands beside it, but what did that do for me? I couldn't quite figure it out, so I started to look back at my journal, scouring the pages of notes I had taken down when all of the sudden I cam across my musings of the "Survey Island" and its unusual map system. In fact, looking back that same map system was ALSO grid-based...AHHHH-HAAAAA! NOW I GOT IT!"

I could go on, but I think you get the general idea.

2. Metroid Prime - This game just did everything right for me. The music was good, the atmosphere, the different areas, and all of the different audio sounds the enemies made and what not...it just all flowed so well. This was a game where I felt like I was Samus Aran, that I could myself in her positions and be her. I know the scanning is a hot topic, but for me I enjoyed it and I could see Samus taking advantage of it to not only gain vital information on her foes, but like the rest of us she is a human being. I'm sure she got a good chuckle after reading about the Space Pirates trying to replicate her suit's Morph Ball technology, or smirked and nodded to herself when she read the panicked notes of a Space Pirate technician saying things about "The Hunter" cracking their computer security systems, or the fact that they can't find her ship.

I also could see her focusing intently on some of the other data entries like those about Metroid Prime and its evolution, wondering under her breath just what kind of creature it was. Or when she comes across the Chozo Lore...do they bring back the memories of her times spent with them growing up, perhaps making her pause and just let her mind drift and take a break from everything that's been going on and just 'space out' a bit? It's all of those things that I know I did when playing the game...all of those emotions, those questions, those musings...they are things that Samus could have done as well and that's how it made me feel like I actually was her. So yes, in this way Metroid Prime really drew me into the world it created and the character it used.
Posted: 07/04/10, 02:13:03
Silent Hill (all), Condemned 1/2, Half-Life 1/2, Zelda, etc.

Immersion is amazingly important to me. I don't like to play a game unless I'm completely ensconsed in it. Some multiplayer games are also very immersive like BFBC2.
Posted: 07/04/10, 03:04:39
I'm going to have to agree with Simbabbad (at least, the first few sentences of his first post) and say that to me immersion is almost the opposite of what it is to the rest of the industry.

First things first, I think I am more easily won over by sound than visuals. The Bit.Trip games are super immersive to me, because they create this sort of smooth flow between visuals, sounds, and controls where everything matches up perfectly. Miyamoto used to talk about the controller being an extension of your hands, but in this case I think my eyes and ears also match up with everything else and it becomes one huge and fluid experience.

Now, want to know how to make me instantly lose immersion? Have two video game characters in a "realistic" game kiss each other. Ug. It always pulls me completely out of the game. I start thinking weird things like "what is it like being a developer making fake people kiss, does it feel creepy at all?" It probably doesn't help that on human beings the lips are some of the most dynamically interactive things, and games have never, ever pulled off all of their intricacies yet, so it hits uncanny valley to me. Thus, games like Heavy Rain and Uncharted 2, often considered the apex of immersion by others, lose me at times.

I think probably one of the most immersive games I have played is Metroid Prime, but that wasn't just GRAPHIX and such, it was that it was one huge coherent world that was all connected, and every... single... area looked completely different than the others. But the music helped a lot too.

I dunno. Usually the only games that seem to lack immersion to me are just plain shoddily developed games. Something like Super Mario Galaxy, despite having a laughable story at best, still feels very immersive because everything comes together brilliantly.

I'm kind of just incoherently spouting out opinions. I guess my post isn't very immersive.
Posted: 07/04/10, 03:53:44
I agree with Simba's definition of immersion. Under that definition:

Metroid Prime 3. No game has matched it yet. I even get 'memories' when I'm not playing of locations I've been to. Completely sucked in.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Smash Bros. Brawl


Any Zelda

Groovin' Blocks. This is actually a VERY immersive puzzle game.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Super Metroid
Posted: 07/04/10, 04:25:17
For me, a game's world has to be presented almost completely unflawed for me to become immersed.

Some that come to mind (for me) are Metroid Prime, Luigi's Mansion, RE4. The world's they convey are presented nearly flawlessly, and I was immersed.

Some others were Deadly Creatures, Mushroom Men, and Eternal Darkness. I think for these the combination of artstyle and music/sound effects are what did it for me, though they had their technical flaws.

A few things that kill a game for me are clipping, invisible walls, and framerate stutters. Just takes me right out of it. (Like in Windwaker where Links sword sticks into the back of his head, or Mario's back pack in Sunshine. And I was so disappointed when I booted up GTA Vice City, walked downstairs and my arm disappeared into a wall when I brushed up against it. )
Posted: 07/04/10, 07:04:28
I have to be one of a few people that really doesn't get the whole immersion thing. If I play a game and I'm not distracted by outside sources every 5 seconds, then I'm immersed into the game. I don't care how realistic a game is trying to be or what type of gameplay it has... I usually get into it no matter what, as long as I enjoy playing it of course. Simple as that and there's really no other trick to it for me.
Posted: 07/04/10, 14:01:30
If immersion means playing a game and forgetting what's around you, then a lot of "casual" games and turn-based games like Civilization are the most immersive to me.

Secret_Tunnel brought up a good point with books being the most immersive media out there. I do think that the more you leave to the audience's imagination, the more immersive it is. The more you try to control your audience's experience, the bigger the risk of taking them out of it.

Which is why I'll sometimes argue against voice acting in games, to the consternation of certain types of gamers. To me, it's just one more element that could go wrong and take me out of a game, you know? But then there are cases where lack of voice acting took me a bit out of a game, for instance the cutscenes in Metroid Prime Echoes that looked like they should have been voice acted, but weren't. Plus bad VA doesn't always automatically ruin immersion for me either, for instance I quite got into Heavy Rain despite the terrible accents (it's the terrible ending that took me out).

So yeah... in my case there is no hard rule. Either I really get into a game or I don't, and for each game it's likely for different reasons.
Posted: 07/04/10, 21:49:48
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