An Argument Against "Immersion" in Video Games

When we talk about games, the word "immersion" gets tossed around a lot. It's generally held to be a good thing: If a game has amazing graphics and audio, and a convincingly built world, we will become immersed in it to the point that it feels real.

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But is it the right word? Is it actually something for which video games should strive? Does the word have meaning at all?

In this cool video essay, game academic/critic/Critical Distance maestro Ben Abraham takes a look at the word and the concept and draws some interesting conclusion. Attention, he argues, is a more useful term than immersion when talking about games that command us sensorially. Vitally, games require attention at some times but not at others, and the best games that are thought of as "immersive" (including Far Cry 2 and Crysis) give players space to find their bearings so that they're not overwhelmed when it comes time to pay attention.

The video's also got some some thoughts on Starcraft 2, the awesome theatrical production Sleep no More, Enter the Void, Uncharted developer Richard Lemarchand's by-all-accounts brilliant GDC talk, and books. Yeah! Just like, regular books. That you read.

Attention and Immersion [Ben Abraham Dot Net]

DISCUSSION

I agree. I don't want to make a game force me to think I'm the protagonist (because I'm not, and chances are I have no interest in actually DOING the things your protagonist might be doing), but I'm damn happy when it takes the time to flesh out the world and make it feel lived-in.

When a game does its job, I won't mind that I'm sitting on the couch, pushing buttons instead of doing something else. I will still be aware of it, but I won't MIND. When the game I'm playing feels like a job and I start thinking to myself "man, don't I have other things I could be doing right now?", THAT'S when the developers have failed.

"Immersion" as it is commonly parroted is a fallacy, or at least it's only truly important to people who use video games as escapist wish fulfillment.