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Immersion: It's All In The Details
by David Mullich on 08/27/13 06:00:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

One of the advantages of working from a home office is that my schedule is very flexible. My wife and I had been trying to talk the kids into going to Disneyland for the past couple of months, but they are at an age where it just isn't that exciting to them anymore. So the two of us decided to take the afternoon off and drive out to The Happiest Place On Earth, leaving the kids perfectly content to remain at home and play Minecraft.

I love Disneyland. My family used to make annual pilgrimages to Disneyland several times a year, and as an adult, I try to visit at least twice a year. (When I worked at Disney Computer Software, I had a Silver Pass that allowed me unlimited free visits to Disneyland, and I would go to the park about once a month).

What has always made Disneyland special to me is what a meticulous job it does transporting visitors somewhere else -- a river cruise through exotic rainforests, a crazy ride through Roger Rabbit's Toontown, a spaceflight to the forest moon of Endor. The illusion is complete enough that we are able to suspend disbelief and get into the spirit of pretending that we are really there. How is the illusion created? Through total immersion, right down to the smallest detail. The staff (or "cast members" as they are called) are all wearing costumes styled for the attraction in which they work, the building fixtures are themed appropriately, and even the trashcans are decorated so that they fit into Frontierland, Tomorrowland or whichever land they are placed.

I try to do something similar with the games I develop. When I produced Rendezvous: A Space Shuttle Flight Simulation, I directed that the message "Program Loading" be changed to "Rolling Vehicle Onto Launchpad." For DuckTales: The Quest for Gold, I wrote the player manual so that it took the form of a "Junior Woodchuck Guide." When planning the quests for Heroes of Might and Magic III, I instructed the writers to make references to the storylines of both the Heroes and Might and Magic franchises, and stay away from corny references to geek-culture found in previous games in the franchises.

Immersion is one of the reasons why players play games. Immersion, when properly done, appeals to our desire for novelty through new and imaginative experience. Although not every player has this desire to a great degree, many types of players do. Game designer Richard Bartle classified MUD (Multi-user dungeon) players into four types: Killers, Achievers, Socializers, and Explorers. Explorers like to explore the world, right down to its finer details. Such details also appeal to to the gamification player type that Victor Manrique classifies as an Enjoyer: players who are motivated by positive emotions such as joy, curiosity, inspiration, mystery and awe.

However, even a tiny detail that is out of place can jar the player out of the immersive experience. Have you ever seen a movie scene in which a spy agency is trying to trick a captive into thinking he was safe somewhere else, only to be made aware that he is being tricked due to a radio playing a sports broadcast from the wrong year or a clock chiming for the wrong time zone? The same thing can happen in games, where an incorrect detail can cause the player to no longer be captivated by your game.


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Comments


Dane MacMahon
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Yes! Yes, yes, yes!

This speaks to me a lot because I often feel like I play games as a substitute for traveling the world when I can't do that. From the very beginning I played immersive games that transported me to other places, and still today those are the games I focus on. All too often though games that seem like they should be immersive mess it up in small ways, and your article speaks to a lot of them.

Disney World (where I have always gone) is a great place because it knows how to transport you to another world immediately. Some games like Deus Ex or Bioshock are amazing at it, others need some work. A trip to Disney would be a great start.

David Paris
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Haha, I totally identified with your article. My kids are also currently addicted to Minecraft, and in that grumpy teen stage where doing _anything_ else, even if fun, puts them out. I also had that same Silver Pass during my Disney time for unlimited free access.

And you are very right. While I am having an experience, I don't want to be broken out of that experience. It should be internally consistent in all its stages, and every opportunity taken to avoid jarring with that. If you need in-game tutorials, make sure they are in-game appropriate (giant flashing light bulbs in my horror fantasy are not appreciated thank you), etc...

Cheers!

Jesus Bosch
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the last thing I remember from Disney is that they were closing game studios, not sure if they are the best example to follow...

Gustavo Martins
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The article was mainly referencing the theme parks, which they do an awesome job at.

I agree completely, the devil is in the details. Players might not consciously notice the little things, but they will feel that the game is better.

james sadler
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I use to work for Disneyland and the immersion thing is enforced heavily there. I worked in fantasy land and the first place I had to park made it so I had to come in near the front of the part and walk all the way around to the back. If one is caught walking through, say tomorrowland, in a frontierland costume you can get in trouble. This exact thing is why Walt created the tunnel system when building Disney World. Even after leaving for not so great reasons (politics there is ridiculous) I still go around 4 times a year, a lot for the reasons you state.

I'm working on a game right now that has a few loading screens and your idea about the load screen for the shutter sim gave me a great idea (no I'm not doing a shuttle sim). It is those little things that keep the player immersed, or I should say those little things that take the player out of immersion. You can do a lot to fill the environment with great details and immersive gameplay, but then take them right out of it with a misplaced load screen, death screen, or trophy popup.


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