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Immersion is one of the top things mentioned when talking about what makes a good game. I am writing this article to a response that I get often, that females in games having ‘disproportionate’ body parts that don’t fit in the lines of reality break video game immersion. This idea that immersion is what makes a game a good or a bad game disregards many wonderful and popular game titles.

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Because we suddenly NOW care about realism in video games when it concerns boobs and hips, whereas in every other aspect we really don’t care and don’t believe it hinders immersion

For example: Sly Cooper. In the game series Sly Cooper, you don’t play as your typical protagonist, you play as an anthropomorphic raccoon and his friends. This game is wonderfully made, the storyline is linear but excellent, but the main character and even the story plot is unrealistic, and by definition, non-immersible. But you are partially immersed, regardless.

This is because of something once called an Impersonal Immersion which occurs during any Third Person Narrative. We are not literally that character, but we are playing as if we can control a story being told to us. Like the Harry Potter novels, and the Zelda games.

There are many good games that break immersion altogether, like Advance Wars, Rock of Ages, and even Fez (nobody feels like the small white blob-person, or at least I don’t think they do.). There are also many ways to incorporate immersion, like the Pokemon series, or Papers Please. Realism is actually not a highly important factor when it comes to immersion in games. Who do you know that is a vampire? Controls elements? Flies everywhere? Etc? This whole idea that games need realism in order to incorporate immersion is in itself flawed, and many games without immersion are wonderful games as well.

So the Argument of Immersion kinda falls flat when determining what one should or should not add to a game. Which is not to say that immersion in and of itself is bad or useless, in fact, it is one of the best things to come to gaming. But one should not hold it up as a gold standard of all gaming, and then hold all characters in all games on this puritan level of realism. As I said in a prior article, games are a medium of escapism, it’s not going to focus too much on reality.

Lucy Walcott

Lucy Walcott is a writer who loves to talk about political issues and other things. She has been an avid gamer since she was little, focusing almost exclusively on RPG and hack and slash games. Some of her favorites includes The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Ys, and Breath of Fire. Her favorite systems includes PlayStation, Nintendo, and Steam.

  • No Excuses VTW

    Honestly the impression I have gotten in recent years is that in a lot of places “immersion” is a dirty word… or maybe not so much dirty as worthless. It means too many things to too many people.

    I know that there are some people who genuinely feel like photorealistic graphics is the road to immersion. Or maybe it’s technology like the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus. For me, immersion has always been about falling in love with the setting and cast of a game with a story I enjoy, not really about breaking down the barrier between the video game world and reality.

    It might be better to do away with fretting over immersion in favour of simply making sure the audience is engaged. Technology will march along regardless, improving what our games are capable of. But first we have to really want to play them.

  • Reptile

    I agree with the article and with you.
    “Immersion” is overused, is that one word that people listen one time, think it is cool and spread away like farts.

    But to me, I think Immersions means more like its literal meaning. Immersion is when you “feel” inside the game, is when everything plays the notes. It isn’t because of gameplay, audio, narrative or graphics, but when everything is synchronized, when gameplay, audio and art style connects to create a wonderful experience, that you almost-literally immerse yourself inside.

    If something is out of place, it will break the immersion. For example: People do immerse in Candy Crush (some times more than I would like), now imagine candy crush with all its pink and fluffy graphics, to have DEATH METAL SOUNDTRACK YEAAAHHH!!!! It will be funny of course, but you will not be as immerse as with the soundtrack it has, you will feel agitated and umconfortable, out of place.

    Analogy: You can have a lot of instruments , it can be the ultimate technology in musical instrument, but if they all don’t play synchronized, you do not have a music, just noise.

    Any game can be immersive if you work well with the tools you have, of course not everyone will feel immerse on your game as every gamer has a different experience.

  • Reptile

    Just complementing: People who claim certain things like “female shapes” takes you away from immersion are bullshitting, they don’t even like the “music” anyway. It is like, for example, if you are listening to Rock and complain about the guitar. Or are playing turn-based strategy games and complain that it is not real-time.

  • James

    You seem to imply that Sly Cooper is immersive because it is both a fantastic game, and because of Impersonal Immersion. You then say that we shouldn’t idolise immersion because that trends toward realism, which doesn’t necessarily make a good game. These two statements seem to contradict each other.

    Players get immersed because they are enjoying the game by truely getting drawn into it, escaping from the real world for a while. I don’t think people get immersed in bad games (I don’t, maybe others do?), which implies that immersion is the sign of a good game.

    When people say they like immersion, they are really saying “I like games that draw me in”. So while you might be correct in saying that immersion is an overused term, that is only because people need to look deeper to see why they are immersed (music, animation, voice acting, etc.) and discuss those details instead.

    Realism does not equal immersion. Quite the opposite actually because of the uncanny valley (heh, another overused term). When people are saying “this game is bad because it’s breaking my immersion, it needs to be more realistic”, perhaps that game should be more stylised instead, then it’s easier for the players subconcious to let slide the flaw in reality that jolted them out.

    I think a more appropriate title would have been “IMO: We Should Not Overly Idolize Realism”. That would be something I can get behind.

  • Fritzster

    Gameplay and systems are what hold me to a game. Story and beauty are alike, but not any less important. The claim that you can make someone forget who they are and start to believe that they are someone else was never right. It doesn’t do justice to game artisans who craft and hold our attention in many genius ways. The most successful games to do this in my experience were the ones that started with fun and added production value. Never vice versa.

  • vikeyev

    For me, immersion is one of the most important factors, problem is too many people overreach what it encompasses. IMO, graphics and realism have nothing to do with immersion. It is all about the environment, story, characters, lore etc etc. As long as it all seems like it fits together.

    For example, if I were playing dragon age and came across a gun blade, that would just about destroy my immersion. It doesn’t fit into that world or the lore they have created for it. But my character wearing unrealistic armour doesn’t break my immersion, it fits fine into that world and to me, that’s what matters.

  • Sarusig Musicman

    I personally feel immersion is paramount in a game, if I don’t get immersed I cannot really appreciate a solo game (multiplayer is much different). However, there is no need for a game to be “realistic” to be immersive.

    What a game needs to be immersive, in addition to good writing, characterization, etc, is consistency. There’s this neat thing called “suspension of disbelief”: as long as there are a few elements I can relate to so that I’m not completely lost (for instance, Sly Cooper is anthropomorphic, so there’s that), I am willing to accept the game’s weird universe as long as it is COHERENT. Like vikeyev pointed out, don’t put a gunsword in my dragon age, but add weird armors and I’ll be just fine.

    tl;dr: Immersive doesn’t mean realistic, it means consistent and coherent.

  • Kain Yusanagi

    Dunno about the length, but for terrible voice acting in an RPG, go no further than Enchanted Arms. I had to turn off the console because of just how terrible it was. I loved the passion in the one character’s voice, but the dialogue… uggggggh