Do Video Games Really Need To Be Immersive?

Do we need to be drawn into our games, or can we just play and enjoy? That's the question pondered by commenter RAMeyer19 in today's installment of Speak-Up on Kotaku.

Why in video games is "immersion" so often quoted as an important factor that a game has or lacks? Can I not love playing Pac-Man without needing to feel that I am Pac-Man?

Honestly, Half-Life 2, often cited as the peak of immersion in modern games, more often than not had me testing boundaries as opposed to feeling immersed. How come I can smash some things with a crow bar and they'll break, but not others? Why can't I shoot supporting character Alyx in the face but I can shoot and kill a mutated monster? If Valve was trying to make the player feel a part of the Half-Life universe through their rigidly first-person design how come I am so constantly questioning the rules and limits of what I can do, only to be constantly reminded that I am indeed, only playing as Gordon Freeman who can single-handedly save humanity from an alien race, but can't kill one measly old scientist with an assault rifle?

I think this is a big question that's important to address in modern game culture. Francois Laramée said, "All forms of entertainment strive to create suspension of disbelief, a state in which the player's mind forgets that it is being subjected to entertainment and instead accepts what it perceives as reality." According to this standard, one would assume that a piece of entertainment would do everything in its power to reach this goal. But look at how effective games like Metal Gear Solid are when they break the fourth wall.

Maybe it's because interesting meta-communicative moments, like those in Metal Gear, are more important to meaningful gameplay than "immersion" in the classical narrative sense. To me at least, applying Laramée's theory of immersion to games implies a false sense of simplicity on the medium as a whole.

I think we should look beyond "immersion," the term that's become such an industry buzz-word, and try to focus on the more subtle complexities that make a game truly interesting.

And yeah, sorry for the long post, but if you made it this far I'd love to hear what you think.

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