First Or Third Person - What's Your Perspective?

Adam Ruch is a PhD candidate, currently writing about Video Games Criticism. He is, by most measure, a pretty smart guy! So when he emailed me asking if he could write a post about the first and third person video games, and the different ways in which they can immerse the player, I thought 'have at it old bean'. This piece is meant to inspire debate: which do you find more immersive - first or third person games?

First or Third Person - What's Your Perspective? Bethesda’s Fallout 3 is one of those monumental titles that happened to be released during my WoW days, meaning I only even registered its existence about two years ago. I tried it out back then, and only just made it to Megaton before abandoning it. Two years and a very cheap Bethesda Steam bundle later I tried it out again. This time I made it as far as Galaxy News Radio in two or three play sessions. Now I struggle to come up with a single aspect of Fallout 3 that I actually like.

This article is the result of a nagging concern regarding one aspect of the game that I floated on Facebook as an invitation to discuss. What I wrote was: “Putting this out there that I think my 'immersion' and/or level of empathy with my character is higher in a third-person game than a first person game because I can recognise the motion of the body when I can see it than when I appear to be a floating camera-without-body skimming smoothly over the surface of the gameworld. This is opposite to the common wisdom that gets peddled in game theory.” After the discussion, I have a better understanding of my own position, and of the ‘common wisdom’ that some of my friends also supported.

My issue lies somewhere in between the concept of immersion and character-identification, which aren’t exactly the same thing. The two are related, and reinforce each other, but can also operate independently and in different ways. The first way, the ‘common wisdom’ is repeated in game design manuals and states that first-person perspective is more immersive and makes the player feel more like they are the character in the game.

First-person immersion seems to rely on a concept of self-transporation from the ordinary world into the gameworld. So the player of the FP game is injected into the gameworld as the non-character within the fiction. The player-character is a digital shell that requires the player to inhabit in order to become a complete (fictional) entity. This is certainly the case for a Fallout 3-style RPG when there is no pre-existing character to speak of. The player literally builds up its characteristics and personality as they go. But the important key is that the player-character is not a ‘character’ in the normal sense of the word. Instead it is transparent, more like part of the interface like the keyboard and mouse which allows the human player to act within the digital realm. So in this respect, the player is not engaged with the character at all, but with everything else in the gameworld.

From this perspective, we can’t actually say that there is any character called Gordon Freeman. That is simply the name of the subroutine that turns mouse motions into camera tracking and panning, clicks into gunshots, etc. The entity that shoots baddies and solves physics puzzles is the player. Directly. I find this a strange and incomplete perspective. I, Adam, PhD student, would not make a very good space marine or theoretical physicist. We are all already and always play-acting as someone else in gameworlds. Despite what the interface tells you, you are not there. Very little of who and what you-the-player are is an asset in videogames, especially the apocalyptic space marine variety. To survive that, I, we, have to become someone else. Which brings me to my rebuttal of this common wisdom.

Lately I’ve played many more third-person action games (on consoles) than first-person games (console or PC). I also find I respond better to these. Through the discussion I mentioned earlier, I have reasoned that this is due to my awareness of my role-play, my desire to role-play. I actually don’t want to be “me” in gameworlds, because “me” wouldn’t do very well there. I actually want to be someone else.

Without any hard empirical data to back this up, I’d suggest that far more fiction exists describing the average third-person player-character than describing an average first-person character. There is, at least, a constant reminder to the player what the character looks like and how s/he moves. This is fairly important to a character like Ezio Auditore, and perhaps less so for Niko Bellic. In either case, I still know more about them as individual human beings than I do Gordon Freeman, simply from camera angle. To me, this (pardon the pun) fleshing out of the character’s body is one of many important ways we are able to create more convincing fictional characters in games. My original proposal is that we are already pretending to be someone else in a videogame, so all the better to know more about that role we are assuming.

The corporeality of human existence fades from view almost entirely in a first person game (see some exceptions below). In Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, and most other FPS titles, the designer and player are both allowed to forget about how a human body moves. This enables inhuman strafing and spinning based more on mouse sensitivity than on footwork. In Fallout 3, I glide across as torn landscape with the fluidity of a hockey puck on the ice. Compare this with the lumbering physicality of Marcus Fenix’s “roadie run.” His is an almost primal physicality, connecting him to the terrain. We feel heavier as Fenix than as Ezio, and even the assassin (or Cole from inFamous) does not glide effortlessly over rooftops. We see him place every footfall and handhold, making the traversal of the architecture mean something.

Those that support the first-person immersion view contend that this third-person perspective distances them from the character, reducing the experience to puppeteering. This is a fine and obvious metaphor, visually and physically. I prefer a different one, though: theatrical role play. The more I know of a character, the more I am able to become him (and now I take on the same metaphor of immersion and identification). This is how actors take on a role as well. To argue that a player cannot ‘become’ Ezio, Fenix or Niko because they are physically visible is analogous to arguing that an actor cannot ‘become’ Hamlet because there is a script for him to speak and stage notes describing what he should do.

If you are the actor, there is no other Hamlet aside from the one you are playing on stage. Though obviously you-as-Hamlet can’t see yourself from behind, this informative description was imparted to you before show time while studying the script and carefully rehearsing the role. Perhaps if the first-person game encouraged me to go to such lengths, I would experience a similar level of empathy for that invisible character. To do this, however, that character would not be the same blank-slate described earlier.

So the perspective is linked to a concept of empty vessel/complete character. The first-person character is never you but merely a make-believe character you are improvising as you go. In third-person games, that character is deeper for a number of reasons in a number of ways, which makes inhabiting their lives a more compelling experience for me. This doesn’t explain everything I dislike, or rather find missing, in Fallout 3, but the hollowness of my character is certainly a contributing factor. That might paint me as a less creative, expressive individual, but I challenge anyone’s ability to be creative while in the shoes of a Call of Duty or Halo character.

Thanks to: James, Patrick, Cass, Ben and of course Krystal for your thoughts on this.

What's your view? Do you prefer first person games or third person? Let us know in the comments below.


Comments

    Still find it easier to get into a role if I'm actually literally inside of it. I've always had a marvelous imagination though, lucky me.

    I agree!

    That's really all I've got.

    One thing I really liked about Mirror's Edge was how you got a feeling for Faith. I think more fps' would benefit from that style.

    I'm not sure if you'll be reading the comments, but I'll open this one up, how do people feel about Shift, since it presents to you a car, rather than the abstract idea of a moving vehicle, so I guess it's the racing game equivalent of the Mirror's edge camera style.

      Regarding Shift, I'm not entirely sure what you mean. Are you referring to the in car camera as opposed to something hovering behind it, or mounted to the bonnet?

      Or the fact that the camera in the cockpit is a bit more dynamic as though you're the driver, rather a static camera (in which case Shift isn't the first to do this, having a camera that turns to look through the corner rather than straight out the windscreen is a must have for good sims)

      I love Shift's cockpit view. In racing games previously I was always a third person driver as I felt more in control. But with Shift I can't go past cockpit view with all HUD and aides off, as I got such a thrill from the G forces, the roar of noise, the narrowing field of vision and the fear of the vision shaking, monochrome crazy that was crashing.

      Haven't played enough of Shift 2 yet to tell if the helmet cam has added to that immersion yet.

    Very well written post and a fascinating look at the debate.

    I happen to agree with you, I find third person gaming far more immersive for many of the reasons you describe - not least because of the the constant reminders of corporeality (walking around, jumping, running, etc).

    Immersiveness isn't just based on perspective (narrative and customisation ability, for me, are also important) but I do find a first person view somewhat jarring, particularly when it's combined with a static character model and a lack of voice acting.

    The perceived wisdom in promoting first-person gaming as more immersive is probably unfortunate, given the focus on immersiveness as much as interactivity as drawcards for modern games. I definitely wouldn't appreciate a generation of games in the Halo or CoD mould.

      i think a good FPS where you can see your shadow/feet is a good compromise to what you discuss. walking, jumping and running can be extremely immersive if you can see what you normally would see. which you mentioned with a static character.

      for me it really depends on the game type

    Give me overhead or give me first person.
    Actually just give me anything where my view is not being actively blocked by my own character. I strongly dislike 3rd person over the shoulder cameras for this reason.
    Let me zoom out, or pan the camera, or something, to allow me to actually see the dude standing next to the one that I'm currently shooting!

    Also the recent trend in FPS games for the weapons to take up more and more screen real estate (when not looking down the sights), those obstructions are just as bad.

      To be more on topic in regards to immersion, I've always preferred FPS, in a third person, it's never been 'me', it's always been 'them'.
      Third person has a much more 'god-game' feel to me, as in "I'm going to make them take this option", rather than "I choose this one".

      I don't think things common to third person games, such as interacting with cover help them either, as there is nothing more immersion breaking than "goddammit, I tried to go around that waist high wall, not hide behind it!"

      Mirror Edge is also a perfect example that an FPS can still provide you with great awareness of your own movements.

    I feel restricted by the confines of the edges of my screen when playing in first person. I'd much rather have a 3rd person view, where I can see more of the game world around whatever character I am controlling. I also get better perception of distance because I can easily compare things around me and things far away.

    I found Portal to be the best example of 1st person view where I was really immersed in the game, and bioshock and halflife coming a close second. I think it's less to do with the view, and more to do with the character/story/situation.
    3rd person you may not be as immersed, but you can still become extremely attached to a character. That's what I found in Gears of war. I didn't want any of the four characters to die so I worked hard to prevent that. I think it's also a form of being immersed, but different. It's hard to explain, sorry. ^^;;

    Hm. Now that you come to mention it, my favourite games immersion wise recently have just about all been third person. Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted 2, GTA IV, Assassin's Creed 2. I think the only real first person game where I felt I got immersed was Bioshock - but that may have been credited down to the game world and it's uniqueness rather than over me feeling like I actually had "powers".

    I definitely feel that the third person drags me in because of the theatricality, of the being someone else. I also feel that it gives you a different way of being engrossed in the story - where you get more emotionally attached with the central character rather than the surrounding support characters which you do in first person games.

    Superb post. I'll be pondering about this the whole trip home now.

    I like to think that the easiest way to differentiate between first and third person perspective is that in third person you play as the character, in first person you are the character.

    Meaning that in third person, you are merely controlling the actions of the character whereas in first person you are experiencing the actions.

    The former allows for (possibly) better character development and the latter allows for a (possibly) more involved player experience.

    Both are fine and can lead to an immersive experience, just by traveling different paths.

    I'm really just making this up as I go along, so it probably doesn't make as much sense as I'd like.

    Anyhow, great article. I really hope that this is the first of many.

    I actually find myself agreeing. Before reading this I wouldn't have said 3rd person was more immersive, just more enjoyable.

    I think, perhaps, it is the feeling of acting in a story that gets me. HL2 was a fun game, but I never felt like I was Gordon Freeman, rather I felt that I was controlling him from his own perspective and he couldn't talk for some reason.

    Maybe it's that I *never* identify myself as the character that makes 3rd person better for me. As I don't identify anyway, 3rd person gives more scope for the character to be realized. The sacrifices in characterization that are made for a 1st person game are lost on me, because I can't appreciate them.

    Do other people manage to feel that they are there? If so then it is clear to me that 1st person games could be more immersive, even if I don't get it.

      The only FPS games that I've felt immersed are Fallout 3 and BioShock, and by immersed I mean the world rather than the characters in both games. I enjoy playing FPS shooters but I don't feel immersed.

      Where as in 3rd person games I've been immersed in both the world and the character that I'm controlling more often than not, ICO and SOTC were really good examples and in recent time the Uncharted series.

      In the end I think it all comes down to personal preference and the quality of the game itself. I think both FPS and 3rd person perspectives are capable of immersion, its just 3rd person seem to work better for me.

    Very intriguing article, and before reading it I would have said I'd find First-Person Shooters have greater immersion. But now that I consider it, I realise that only seems to be true in games like The Darkness, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and Hitman: Blood Money - simply because if I look down in-game, I can see a chest and feet.

    But thinking about it now, its true that the movement of the character coupled with a wider view of the surrounding environment seems more immersive in general, compared with these "submarine-like" type of shooters.
    As an example, I was playing through one of my all-time favourite games just today, Max Payne. I had just gotten up to the transition between the end of act 1 and the beginning of act 2 (including the first nightmare sequence); and even before reading this article I was quite surprised at how immersed I found myself. I had completely forgotten how well executed and engaging that prologue is.

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    I intended to put the following games as examples of first-person perspective where I feel a little more embodied than usual:

    Mirror's Edge which I haven't played, makes you think a lot about your two hands and two feet.

    FarCry 2 puts your hands and arms in front of your eyes a lot, while you do the various first aid animations. It's also pretty good about holding the gun differently while you run. Little things like that make a difference after a while.

    Others?

      KillZone 2. Far from a great game, but never have I felt so meaty in a game before. I felt embodied in that game in the most literal sense in that I literally felt trapped in the character's flesh. An average shooter, but the nauseating sense of being in a body keeps me coming back to it time and time again.

      Similarly, Metro 2033 does well at this in places. Especially when you have the kid sitting on your shoulders, giving this dizzying effect on your movements.

      Anyway, that was an answer to this comment, and here is my comment for the article:

      This is really interesting and very close to my own research (I am writing an Honours thesis this year looking at the relationship between the player and the character and how each influences the experience of the other, if I can simplify it so).

      I personally don't feel third- or first-person is 'better' at helping the player empathise with the character, but certainly they do so in very different ways. As you've said, first-person relies far more on the embodied, kinda 'meaty' effects of the body to get that empathy (having your character pull a bullet out of his arm with a pair of pliers, for instance). Third person does it in different ways. I guess it does it by making the character 'more whole' separate from the player. So you have characters like Nathan Drake and Nico Bellic who will chatter while you play. I'm not sure where I'm going with this comment as it is early in the morning on a public holiday, but point is I think the different ways games relate the player to the character is fascinating, and is central to how players engage with the game as a whole.

      Also, I wonder if you have read Laurie N Taylor's 2002 thesis, "Video Games: Perspective, point-of-view and immersion" (google it for a pdf). She makes some really interesting points about how immersion works in third-person. Though, she also does this to the detriment of first-person games, which is problematic. Still, her discussion of third-person games is interesting!

      Anyhoo, great article. :)

    first person all the way for me. i don't like getting in my own way. sure it can switch to third for monkey bars etc. (i'm thinking of riddick here) but as long as it is first for shooting.

    also being a southpaw gamer, third person just fucks up my brain when it comes to aiming as i play FPS one way and 3PS with a different setup. if it is shooter then FPS (with right thumb movement), if it is adventure then 3PS (with left thumb movement). if it is a mix... i'm screwed.

    not many developers cater for me. i do however have a rewired controller where the thumb wiring is swapped for games like BFBC1 (the whole reason i got one) and MoH.

    my brain is complicated

    I looked and didn't see it - but has anyone mentioned that Fallout 3 can be played in first person and third person?

    Oh, and a PhD on video game criticism? And some people wonder why PhD's don't have much credibility anymore....

    Idiot alert.

    Role-play: Play the role of.

    Role-Playing Game: Game that inserts you into the role of a character.

    If anything, the FP perspective does this even more so than 3rd person, because it literally puts you in the place of the character, whereas 3rd person, you are simply controlling the character. By putting you in the place of the character, it allows you to fulfill the role of that character as if you were there (well, more or less). If you were really that character, you wouldn't be able to see your own body, or that patch of floor behind you where someone is sneaking up on you, etc.

    3rd Person caters a lot better to the action-RPG enthusiasts, but I strongly believe that FP RPGs will result in deeper immersion for the true RPG'er

      That's the apparent wisdom, yeah.

      But I find attachment to a first person character difficult to conjure. I don't particularly "want" to be 'myself-poured-into-the-boots-of-a-defined-character', and having a third-person overview where context is emphasized helps build the connection.

      The clearest example I can think of is Dragon Age: Origins (in all its ridiculously long glory) - by the end of the 100 hours or so of playthrough with all the expansions, the third-person perspective had actually heightened the immersion. Customisation helps, but getting used to a familiar model and using it for an entire game builds attachment.

        The thing with first person perspective is, its not really about feeling attached to your character. Its about feeling like you are actually IN the game. Isn't that why we play video games? To feel like we are somewhere else, in another world, because the real world isn't that pleasant and not nearly as fun. Think the "holodeck" in star trek.

    Fallout 3 has a 3rd person mode. I played the whole game with it.

      It does but the animation was so bad you felt more disconnected.

    This is the same as the first person rpg (oblivion) vs isometric/overhead rpg (baldaurs gate) debate. I find that guiding my character/team to be much more immersive than looking on from the characters point of view. Your post pretty much sums up exactly how it is.

    Depends on the game. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Uncharted 2, God of War, Assassins Creed 2, Red Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain and Dead Space are all third person and fully immersed me into the games. On the other hand Halo, Bioshock, Portal, Fear, Oblivion (which I played in first person) and Fallout 3 (which I also played in first person) all immersed me as well.

    When it gets down to it I think it's more about the world the game is portraying, it's characters and it's story development that get me more drawn in then what perspective it's played in.

    If I had to pick a favourite perspective though I'd say first person because it lets me see and explore the world better. If a game is in first person though I like it having pleanty of cut scenes that show my character from a third person perspective.

    Of course though some games just wouldn't work in first person and I wouldn't even want anyone to try and make them work. Something like Mass Effect could easily make the jump to a first person perspective with no real trouble but with something like God of War is would never work. The reverse is true for first person games in third person. Halo could play well as a third person shooter. Oblivion or Fallout 3, which did give you a choice which perspective you wanted, just didn't work in third person. The combat just didn't feel right at all. Maybe if third person, at least in Oblivion, had played more like Demon's Souls it could have worked. I don't know and I'm getting off track.

    So yeah, as I said above, both perspectives are fine.

    I'd also like to briefly comment on a small quote from the article:

    "a first person game because I can recognise the motion of the body when I can see it than when I appear to be a floating camera-without-body skimming smoothly over the surface of the gameworld."

    This was the reason I could never get into Half Life 2 no matter how hard I tried. I looked down and couldn't see my feet. I grabbed the wheel of a car or a turrent and couldn't see my hands. Added that Gordon didn't talk at all or appear in third person in any cutscenes during the game and I felt like I wasn't even there. Like I was just a camera. I may as well have been the floating ball you become in the Halo Forge map editor.

    Silent protagonists generally make me feel more disconnected with the game. I know other people like the idea of projecting their personallities onto the characters but it just doesn't work with me. In an rpg like Oblivion of Dragon Age it's fine my character's silent because I can at least read what I'm supposed to be saying. In hand held games like Pokemon or Zelda it was fine because I could see my character. In an fps like Half Life 2 it just didn't work for me though. Funnily I absolutely loved Portal. Maybe it's because I could see Chell ocasionally through the portals that helped me feel connected. Maybe it's just because GLaDOS was so awesome. I don't know.

    And with that I'll end. Sorry for the huge comment but it's a subject I've thought quite a bit on in the past and just wanted to get some of my views out there. Also sorry if it's not ordered perfectly. I sort of just wrote things down as they came into my head.

    I've always foud 3rd person more immersive (although I cringe about using that term).

    I'm 6'3 and when I walk I can see my feet, my arms swinging, my legs moving... my gait changes the perspective of the world. When I swing a sword, my shoulders and viewpoint move a bit.

    FP: I see a screen with disjointed objects moving around my player charecter...
    3rdP: I see the body of my charecter moving with their actions... it seems more complete and real.

    for shooters I prefer first person, otherwise I don't mind.

    Joisus.

    Each time I look back up to the article to double-check what I'm writing about, I see another ridiculous point pop out that needs rebutting... this is going to be a long comment.

    I was going to make mention of the importance of a realistic camera in 1st-person games, but realised Adam made mention of this, but used ridiculously poor examples (Quake? UT??) and then juxtaposed his 3rd-person views with games of newer technology.

    Adam states "the designer and player are both allowed to forget about how a human body moves" but when Unreal Tournament was out, the designers weren't as concerned with that idea. How about we take a look 3rd-person games during the same time period. Games like The Getaway, Star Wars Battlefront and Max Payne 2. Not really the immersive camera motions used for the "roadie run" in Gears of War.

    Obviously, we get a deeper sense of immersion when our 1st-person view reacts realistically to the movements we are doing in the game. Better examples to use would have been Crysis 2, Bad Company 2 and even FEAR 2, as these all simulate a realistic weight to the character.

    Also, I think Adam overlooks an important point when making reference to Gordon Freeman being only a subroutine and essentially, not even "being" at all. And that is; the characters within the gameworld. The player controls the movement of an entity visible to other entities within the game, which they then respond to. As they respond to Gordon Freeman's actions, he therefore "is" within the world. Being as much a character as anyone else in that game.

    I think Adam gets more immersion in 3rd-person games because he hasn't played a good 1st-person one since 2006.

    For me, 1st-person = me in the game; 3rd-person = a character I'm controlling. That's it really.

      Sorry I didn't clarify my point there.

      What I'm getting at is, when I look back at the memories of games I've played; in Mass Effect 2 I remember watching Shephard kick alien ass across the galaxy and look good doing it. But in Crysis 2, it's me in that nanosuir and I'm taking my own vengence out on those aliens bastards. That memory is as vivid if not more so than the Mass Effect one.

      Watching Shepard was like sitting in a movie theatre cheering him on. But in my memories I'm not watching Alcatraz doing anything; I am Alcatraz.

      And for this reason, it makes more sense in a first-person-perspective game to have the character be a blank slate. To not talk to other characters, and to not add their thoughts on the current state of affairs. When we're playing in that view, our mind tends to lead us into thinking it is US on that broken, rumbled freeway. We make our own thoughts on whats happening around us. There is no other character there to tell me what they think.

      How can you call that less immersive?

    The exagerated FOV in FP games also causes quite a bit of disconnect from the environment for me.

    Sorta related, in driving games I always use the first-person/cockpit view..ALWAYS. I've tried driving TP, but I can't control the car properly. The only exception is games like GTA.

    I think it's how the game executes overall no matter if it's 3rd or 1st person.

    But... Fallout 3 has a third-person mode.

      But it's a bit clumsy and guff. I couldn't play it because of the animations. If a game is going to be third person, I think they have to go the Assassin's Creed/GTA route of really creating a physical identity for the character.

    What do we mean by 'immersive'? That you're more engaged by the characters, the story and the world? Because if that's the criteria, then it's not surprising that Half Life and Fallout 3 fail.

    In Fallout 3, you play as a character that you design but never really see again after that, who has no voice and is thrown into a world that is completely open but never really that interested in engaging with you. It expects you to hunt down the fun while you chase its shoestring-thin plot. As a playground, it's interesting enough. You can find subplots if you hunt them down. I never personally felt very emotionally invested in the game, its plot or its characters though, but this is a product of the fact that it lacks compelling examples of those elements.

    Half Life is the same. You're a scientist with a crowbar and a penchant for guns and violence. There's sort of a plot but it's not exactly deep, there's very little real dialogue, and the game is honestly not very interested in your character being anything more than a set of eyes and a gun. Instead it expects you to empathise with the secondary characters in HL2, especially Alyx. Personally I never really liked her, but others mileage varies quite a bit. People find her interesting because she's actually engaged and involved with the other characters, has dialogue, character development and so on. Everything your own avatar doesn't have.

    Some first person games can be engaging and interesting while having a completely blank slate protagonist. Portal, for example. You know I actually played at least half of the game without realising the character I was supposed to be was a girl? That's because she's a true silent protagonist. GladOS doesn't talk to the game character you're controlling, she talks to *you*. The dialogue works because it's pitched at the player. You can't respond verbally, but you can respond with your actions in the game. She taunts you, mocks your intelligence, and you respond by beating her. Direct interaction with the voice of the game.

    Meanwhile, consider Deus Ex. Also a first-person game, but you're not playing as a silent, unknown protagonist. You're JC Denton and you always wear sunglasses. And whenever there's a conversation, the camera pans out and you see your character doing things and interacting. You, the player, control a well-defined agent's actions in the world, and the immersion comes from feeling engaged by what's happening. It's straight-up the exact same reason why a movie is engaging and immersive. You're invested in the plot and the characters. I'd argue that this would still be the case from a first person perspective, though it would be weakened because the line between you and your agent is blurred.

    I think I'm getting a bit lost here, so to bring this back to a central thesis, I think that there are two ways that work in games. Either you, the player, are directly connected into the game as a participant, or you are controlling the actions of an actor in that world. A first person perspective blurs the boundary between these two, and if you end up in the middle - Gordon Freeman - then you end up with the drawbacks of both sides but the benefits of neither.

    In fact, to put it more succinctly, I think that the distinction is actually a rough metaphor for the concept of point of view in english literature. A first person perspective in which you, the player, are simply donning a hat and the game is engaging directly with you is a first-person point of view. I did this, then I did that, then I went here. The game is letting you control what happens. "I" is in control. A third person perspective game is like the third person point of view. He did this, then he did that, then he went there. This is most familiar to us in the visual setting because it's the perspective of film. Essentially the player is the narrator of the story.

    A first person game where you play as a set character, but have no ability to interact as that character is essentially placing a level of indirection between the player and the character. It's the second person point of view. You did this, then you did that, then you went there. It seems very dictatorial. Being lead around by the nose. It's jarring in literature and very hard to pull off well, so it's also very rare (common in songs though). The player isn't an actor themselves, and the player is not the narrator. It's not surprising that this isn't immersive compared to the other two options, because games are all about player control, and this is essentially yanking it from us.

    This is linked to a discussion I've had before: Conventional video-game design wisdom states that your players will be more immersed if your FPS character has no voice, but I've always found the opposite- that a proper voice acted FPS character is more immersive. It's the same thing again- the difference between play-acting a real character and the hollow experience of just directing a floating camera.

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