An Argument Against 'Immersion' In Video Games

When we talk about games, the word "immersion" gets tossed around a lot. It's generally held to be a good thing: If a game has amazing graphics and audio, and a convincingly built world, we will become immersed in it to the point that it feels real.

But is it the right word? Is it actually something for which video games should strive? Does the word have meaning at all?

In this cool video essay, game academic/critic/Critical Distance maestro Ben Abraham takes a look at the word and the concept and draws some interesting conclusion. Attention, he argues, is a more useful term than immersion when talking about games that command us sensorially. Vitally, games require attention at some times but not at others, and the best games that are thought of as "immersive" (including Far Cry 2 and Crysis) give players space to find their bearings so that they're not overwhelmed when it comes time to pay attention.

The video's also got some some thoughts on Starcraft 2, the awesome theatrical production Sleep no More, Enter the Void, Uncharted developer Richard Lemarchand's by-all-accounts brilliant GDC talk, and books. Yeah! Just like, regular books. That you read.

Attention and Immersion [Ben Abraham Dot Net]


    Immersion: deep mental involvement; to engage wholly or deeply.

    Seems to me the meaning is pretty clear, and that it still has a place within our various writings. To argue its subjective nature in reference to games is pointless, given the subjective nature of games themselves. Attention is equally subjective and immeasurable in this instance.

    I'm happy to agree to disagree.

      Well said. I've found plenty of games that wholly grab my attention, but I consider a game really special when I'm immersed in the world. I've got more than my focus invested in it.

    Immersion is just a marketing buzzword to sell First Person Perspective games.

    Immersion is one of those words that we would be better left banished from video game discussion.

    The usual, desired meaning of the word when it's used is this concept of forgetting who you are and believing you are in the game. Would be incredible if it was possible, but of course its completely unrealistic. Mute main characters are, for example, a common technique used to achieve this, but it is totally futile, and a waste of a slot for a potentially interesting character.

    I can't believe how many times I've seen idiot reviewers claim something like, "just when I feel I am getting immersed, UI appears on the screen and reminds me I am playing a video game". I saw one Kotaku commenter say once that whenever they start a new game, they immediately go to the options and turn off the music in an effort to make the game more immersive . Seriously, how misguided can you get. If you ceased to realise you were playing a video game at some point during a playthrough, please seek a the help of a mental health professional.

    It is possible to get completely and utterly emotionally involved in a game, beyond simply looking at it, but this obsession the industry has with literal immersion, to the point where perfectly fine gameplay mechanics are removed to try and achieve it, is not good for anyone. It simply makes the game worse for anyone without this nonsensical desire to "be in the game" in an almost literal sense.

      I don't think that defining immersion as "forgetting who you are" is even remotely accurate. It might be the pinnacle of immersion in games, and maybe some day we'll get there, but it's not what it means right now. So to argue the word shouldn't be used because the definition you've incorrectly assigned to it doesn't suit the subject matter, is rather disingenuous.

      To be immersed is, from Oxford Dictionaries: to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity:

    as an argument against use of the word immersion he states
    'we could swap immersive(in a statement) with any other adjective - engaging, fun, exciting - and each of these would actually change the meaning of the statement'

    yes. that is.. how language works. different words mean different things.

    You know how robin williams doesnt actually have any funny jokes but, if he says enough random unfunny things fast enough, in a jokey cadence, someone will eventually laugh? Thats what this guy is, but for intellectual discussion. Slowly go over the stuff he says, really listen to it, and its complete bollocks.

      Malk, your comment is perfect. What the hackneyed crud did I just watch?

    Immersion is a word people throw around to make themselves appear more intelligent. That's about it. It will help convince gamers that they are not really wasting their time on video games when they could actually be doing something worthwhile.

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