The Psychology of Immersion

By far, one of the most widely linked to and discussed articles I’ve written for this site is this one on immersion in video games. A while back I wrote an expanded version of that article for GamePro magazine where I focused more on new video game technologies, and GamePro.com has recently published it for your reading pleasure. Oddly, they put it up as a 25 meg pdf file. I’m …not sure why. But you can download it and see the whole thing for yourself, including nifty sidebars and artwork like this:

If this happens to you, do not panic. Perfectly normal.

Bobo the Quote Monkey was happy to have the work, so he sat through the download and fetched this quote:

The game world also needs to behave as you’d expect it to. “Consistency is the single most important factor in creating a real sense of place,” says Josh Foreman, an experienced designer at ArenaNet who works on the Guild Wars games. “The style can be anything from photo-real to abstract to impressionism, as long as there is an internal logic to what the player perceives.” This means that in-game characters, objects, and other aspects of the world should behave like their real-world counterparts.

…Interestingly, research is incomplete in this area, as it seems we’ll readily ignore some incongruous elements. Even the most engrossing movie is full of artificial jumps in time and cuts to different points of view, but we take these in stride. One researcher looked at what effects subtitles in foreign-language films had on creating presence and found that these words floating conspicuously in space beneath the movie’s characters were such an accepted convention that they didn’t hinder a feeling of presence. Likewise, players accept heads-up displays or damage indicators in video games with little damage to presence.

This article is different than the other GamePro pieces I’d written to date. I played around with the idea of introducing the article with a non sequiter1 by talking about Cinerama. For those of you who aren’t movie historians, Cinerama was an early technology aimed at making movies more immersive, and I saw some interesting parallels between that and our modern day wide-screen TVs, surround sound, and motion controls. I think it kind of worked, and it’s an approach that I’m going to try to use more often when I have the space to do it.

Special thanks to Paul Harvey, Dr. Paul Skalski at Cleveland State University and Josh Forman from ArenaNet for providing input on the article. If you’re interested, the current print issue of GamePro on shelves now (the one with Twisted Metal on the cover) has a fun article on the psychology of loot drops. It involves monkeys!

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Footnotes:

1. Wait, can you START something with a non sequiter? I hope so, because I guess did.

5 thoughts on “The Psychology of Immersion

  1. Interesting stuff, Jamie!

    I recently completed an honours thesis on immersion in games. It began as media studies research but very quickly turned into a crash course in psychology, which was all new to me. Early on, several of your articles on PoG really helped to set me on the right path – those footnotes were invaluable. So if you’re ever in Melbourne, Australia, remember there’s someone living there who would like to buy you a beer!

    The thesis, if you’re interested (it’s a 1MB PDF). My favourite thing about it is the font.

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