Multiple Perspectives on Player Immersion
by ryan m. moeller — utah state university
April 15, 2009 – 00:09
in computer game design, immersion typically refers to a game’s ability hold a player’s attention (game-as-agent). it is typically related to the level of interactivity a game provides as well as the game’s ability to provide immediate, meaningful feedback to a player’s input (see what is the game factor?). bryan mnemonic defines immersion, at least in part, as the ability to provide "immediate response to the needs or questions of any audience." and judd ruggill points out immersion’s complexity, particularly with regard to agency. in this post, i argue that immersion is a negotiation between game-as-agent and the player, who has her own reasons for allowing the game-as-agent to hold her attention (player-as-agent).
i am playing with this idea of immersion as a negotiation between game-as-agent and player-as-agent because it accounts for the multiple perspectives through which we can observe any immersive activity. in the clip, the boys from the television show South Park immerse themselves in the MMORPG World of Warcraft in order to defeat a highly ranked character who was impeding their progress. as the boys immerse themselves in the game over 7 weeks, 5 days, 13 hours, and 20 minutes, their multiple agencies are depicted by onlooking parents and school administrators as socially disengaged and unhealthy, by computer game developers as statistically interesting and profitable but socially inept, and by their own gameplay as being incredibly monotonous and uninteresting (killing 65,340,285 boars with one blow apiece). even their own justifications for immersing themselves in the game fall outside of the typical definition of immersion, since it is not the game, per se, that is holding their attention.
immersion is mediational and multiperspectival. how can we explain it in a way that accounts for these multiple perspectives and intentionalities? is it enough to explain it as a characteristic of certain types of media? or should our discussions of immersion account for players’ intentions? technological affordances and constraints? the consumerist orientation of most computer games and other immersive media? given these questions, what might meaningful studies of immersion look like?