Week 6 — Audiences and Experiences

The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies, Part VII, 55 Immersion, by Carl Therrien, from page 451 to 458

In the first part of the excerpt, the author addressed the topic of illusions and immersions, and how most recent videogames can produce high-quality visual illusions to enhance the sense of immersion, though there are factors like bugs, rendering problems, or faulty assets that can disrupt that feeling. Since I am doing a VR project that is focused on passing an important message about Ambiental issues, I too am seeking to achieve a good sense of immersion using realistic assets. One of the main issues I have found is buggy animations, something the author did not mention but is also very common.

In the part “Immersed in Fictional Worlds”, the excerpt reached the part I found my favourite: Imaginative immersion. As a fan of fantasy and role-playing games, I find this the hardest immersion to create, as I find it hard to abstract/disconnect myself from the outside world (e.g. the place I am playing at). So, I am certainly very critical of the approaches these games take to achieve this imaginative immersion. Having in mind the concepts of social immersion (something that perfectly fits my VR project’s needs), I agree with the author when he mentioned that fantasy worlds are also very believable and are sometimes quite abnormal, dystopic, or surreal, and that does not mean that the user/viewer/reader is not immersed into them. For example, The Lord of the Rings franchise is surely one with the largest number of fans across the fictional books and cinema worlds, and, certainly, its world is far from realistic (just look at the characters that live there). However, fans are still immersed in that world when they are interacting with it, and I believe it has to do with the strong narrative that surrounds it, the whole explanation’s that are provided to what an unfamiliarized reader/viewer would find weird or out of place, and several other strategies that are used. This serves as an example of what Marie-Laure Ryan has written in her book, Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media.

Becoming Beside Oneself, by Brian Rotman

After reading through this text, I must admit I found it extremely complex and hard to understand. Notwithstanding that, I still managed to understand its core content and some of its ideas. Having in mind the ideas of embodiment, most specifically in virtual realities as it was part of what I studied in week 6, I can correlate these senses of immersion, embodiment, and “self” and understand in a practical way how important these concepts are. If I am not mistaken, and feel free to correct me if I am, I think that in an immersive fictional environment/world, either realistic or fantasised, the player/user must be able to experience the sense of embodiment the best way possible. This means that there are some factors to have in mind when designing their avatar, as it should be realistic enough to fit the experience and relate to the user/player. At the same time, if the user should be able to retain some of their own characteristics and capabilities (e.g. cognition or sense of distrust) before the experience and its characters. This means that there are a few things that make us humans with intellectual abilities that do not extend to the virtual characters, and even after embodying them, we should be able to retain some of them back while still experiencing the whole immersion factor. I cannot provide an example of what I mean by this, though I believe there must be some who may be clear enough to clarify this “mishmash of themes” I came up with…

In-Game : From Immersion to Incorporation, by Gordon Calleja, chapter 7: Narrative involvement, from page 113 to 133

The first thing I highlight from this chapter is the unanimous distinction between story and discourse (in narrative context), which is something that I clearly agree with and that had been mentioned from the start of the narrative module by my lecturer. Following that, Juul had counterargued that the distinction between those terms was not plausible to videogames, but in my view (and the author’s, and many other people’s) that is wrong because even though they are almost constantly related to each other, they are two different things that can exist in separate and independent.

“Fast forward” a few pages, the author wrote about scripted narrative, which is “narrative that is packaged into the game by designers”, as it is usually something important that the designers really want the player to experience, sometimes at a specific point in their gameplay. I fully agree with the use of scripted narrative in games where it feels essential and listening to dialogue or any explanatory sequence should not be optional (it should be “mandatory”). However, this is just my point of view and not everyone thinks the same. Some players just want to explore the world or the combat and don’t really care about the story (if it triggers me? Yes. A lot? Yes.). As such, I agree with the aids and hints that were implemented in most games to help players understand what they have to do next. Sometimes, even those who paid attention to the dialogues weren’t able to understand everything, so it is ok to have them.

Still on the subject of “scripted narrative”, some players are totally against it. I say to them to stick to their combat, sports, or MMORPG games and leave narrative-driven games out of their consoles/PCs. It is no surprise that the best games are usually narrative-driven games and that those same games usually have scripted narrative in several different forms, from cutscenes to dialogues and quick-time events, and those well placed moments within the narrative and the gameplay are what makes those games so great (among other factors, of course). Not everything in a game has to be your own decision, otherwise, there would be no point in having writers, experts in ‘narrative’, or even scripts… NARRATIVE IS COOL AND SO IS SCRIPTED NARRATIVE!

Apologies if I delve too deep into the topic, it is something personal and I feel very passionate about it!

FIFA 21 — Immersion

On the topic of immersion, I chose a game that is less common than most on such topic. Nonetheless, it is a game I play regularly at least twice a week and it has been that way for a few years now (the franchise, not 21 specifically), and one I nourish a special kind of love with a mixture of occasional hate and rage. Though the game is not narrative-driven (it is a simulation game), its immersive factor is stronger than almost every other game I have played. While other games captivate and keep players focused on them (immersed) through their beautiful environments, captivating dialogues, and well-fabricated narrative, FIFA relies on its difficulty and demand for constant attention, as well as commentators (voices that comment on the game in real-time), to captivate the player’s attention. And this is when we consider the offline mode. The online mode requires from the player a level of attention and dedication hardly seen in other games: the precision, the timing, the hand-eye coordination, the quickness, and most importantly, the constant attention and need for interactions, whatever they might be. That’s right! When played online, FIFA does not allow the players a moment of “peace” (besides the halftime breaks and the limited number of pauses). While in other competitive games like Call of Duty or League of Legends the player can be AFK (away from keyboard) for a few seconds without having any major consequence (if they don’t leave their character in the middle of the battlefield, of course), FIFA’s pace does not allow for that.

The feelings that go through a FIFA player when playing online at a reasonably challenging level (or offline in the same situation) are diverse: happiness and anger might not last for more than a few seconds before they score or concede a goal. But one thing is sure, you will live the match intensely, those 15 minutes will require your full attention, dexterity, and effort, and before you even realize, you will be so immersed into the game that time will fly past you, events that surround you will feel pointless (whatever they might be) and conceding a goal will feel like getting shot. The pain is real! Just kidding, but not really.

Additionally, with new technologies surfacing every year and new and more powerful hardware, the newer games have worked on their “narrative presence” in a quite appealing way, which have led to a more immersive in-game environment, and, consequently, a more immersive experience overall. A few examples of those improvements are the crowd’s chants, more and better comments from the commentators, and celebrations, where you can choose exactly the celebration you want to do, celebrate with the fans, or even kiss the cameraman, looking straight into your monitor!

As I said before, I am aware of the unconventionality example I gave, but I felt like showing that immersion goes beyond narrative-driven games and VR experiences…

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Vitor Cardoso

Vitor Cardoso

MA Games Design student at the University for the Creative Arts | BSc (Hons) Games Development at Buckinghamshire New University (First Class)