Multiple Perspectives on Player Immersion

Curator's Note

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?

Comments

Talking meaningfully

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Great questions, Ryan, and they really get at complexities at hand. How do scholars in fact talk meaningfully (or at least reasonably) about something that both invokes and manifests so many different phenomena, the sum of which transcend even the most abstract and broad theorizations of engagement (.e.g., Huizinga’s “magic circle,” Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow,” Sutton-Smith’s “play,” and so on)? I’d imagine one way relates to the point you bring up about acquiescence (or is it submission, or both?) in computer games —the player “has her own reasons for allowing the game-as-agent to hold her attention.” Part of the pleasure of submitting to a game is certainly the thrill of alea, the “negation of the will, a surrender to destiny” as Caillois so succinctly describes it. Part too, though, I’d argue is the joy of collaboration (between player and game), the joy of compromise for the sake of the plenitude of immersion. Surely joy is meaning and structure enough for the playful, complex, and immersive work of scholarship (at least for the already tenured among us)?

 

Ken McAllister's picture

Media Immersion: Ignis Fatuus?

As usual, Ryan, you’re an excellent agent-provocateur. Here’s where your post hooked me: first, you propose 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." Later you ask "is it enough to explain it [immersion] as a characteristic of certain types of media?"

 

And here’s where  I get myself into trouble: No, it is not enough to explain immersion as a characteristic of certain media types because immersion is not a component of any medium. Rather, I’m thinking that immersion is purely an invention of the mind of the one immersed. And for this reason there is no negotiation because immersion is a figment of the imagination. The game is not negotiating; the game is simply stating the terms for engagement. If you don’t comply, you don’t play.

 

The clip demonstrates this well, as you note: "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." Absolutely true. Media may catalyze immersive experiences but they do not host them.

ryan m. moeller's picture

the game is not negotiating

i think that you have pinpointed what i have been struggling with all week in regard to immersion when you state:

The game is not negotiating; the game is simply stating the terms for engagement. If you don’t comply, you don’t play.

whether we are talking about educational experiences, games, cinematic trailers, or roller coasters, immersion is not about the constructs that allow for players to become immersed, these are just invitations (as judd might say). immersion is player-dependent.

 

this seems to be a pretty revolutionary idea to me, that play and immersion are not interactive in a negotiative sense, but they are more linear and structured. like the roller coaster, media is designed and constructed in advance. the opportunities for interaction are set and do not vary. what varies are the attendant factors on the player side of the event: the anticipation of the ride, the particularities of the manager’s safety pitch, the specific actions of the other people on the ride, etc. the construct of the media, the ride itself, doesn’t change.

 

would you agree? for now, at least?

Ken McAllister's picture

I would, tentatively at

I would, tentatively at least. The only thing that keeps me from wholly committing is the idea of functional infinity. I wonder if there might be a point at which there are so many variables put into motion by developers that a medium really could become adaptive, agential, and negotiational. I don’t think that’s happened yet, but perhaps it’s not far off.

Mikael's picture

I think you've got to give

I think you’ve got to give to each his own. These games are designed to be immersive. Are there those who will find some form of addiction in this? Sure there are, but is that the fault of the game’s quality or the lack of quality in the player’s real life?

 

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