Immersive Experiences in Console Gaming
A lot of the focus in discussions of immersive gaming has been on virtual reality and its future. However, console gaming offers an experience many gamers will seek even after VR technology makes it a viable option for regular gaming. Immersion is not just about the game or the technology making you believe that you are in a place. Players have an important role in making themselves feel immersed.
If we’ve learned anything from the Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s early foray into VR, it is that there are a lot of obstacles to overcome before people will want to use a headset regularly. Even once the technology improves, for many, console gaming will remain the experience of choice.
Screenshot from Nintendo’s 1995 Virtual Boy commercial. Source
We may not typically think of console games as immersive, especially older ones, at least not in the same way as VR. This is limiting immersion to how real an environment feels, but ignores the role that players have. In a Guardian article, Dr. Paul Cairns, a scientist who studies immersion in games, commented that Tetris is a highly immersive game even though it doesn’t make you feel like you are in the place. He notes that immersion depends on someone’s attitude and effort, and whether they feel invested in the outcome of the game.
There is an implied agreement between game designers and players that the designer will create a convincing environment within the means of their technology and the player will actively involve themselves in the game. This is what allows a few dots on a screen to become a whole world.
Designers need to hold up their end by creating believable places, to an extent. Even if a place is entirely fictional, the features need to be cohesive. Players also play an important role. They not only control what they put into a game in terms of focus and investment, but also the physical environment outside of the game where they’re playing.
What Designers Can Do
Designers need to create an experience that players can put themselves into. In an article from Forbes, game and experience designers talk about how they make an experience immersive for participants. This involves a range of techniques.
Designers need to create places that make sense. The places should be designed based on their purpose, not to force an element of game play. Does the temple have an alter? Does the tomb have a burial room? Making sure that the places actually appear to serve their intended function is important. Discrepancies can take the player out of the game.
Include elements that make sense in that place. If you are designing a game that takes place in a certain time or location, make sure the elements you include belong there. Would L.A. Noire be as immersive if the cars weren’t from the right period? Something out of place can easily take a player out of the environment.
The mechanics need to be smooth. Games like Tetris don’t involve entire worlds or even characters, but they can be just as immersive as an RPG. This is because players become focused on the task. When a mechanic does not work well, players are forced to think about it as being a problem with the game and how it was designed. When this happens, they are not only frustrated, but they are also thinking about the man behind the curtain. This makes a clunky part of a game a distraction from the game itself.
What Players Can Do
Players take an active role in immersing themselves in a game. A player’s ability to do so may affect how well they play. European Street Fighter champion Ryan Heart said that his success depends on his ability to become immersed in a game. Becoming immersed allows you to focus and feel more invested in the outcome.
Create an environment that will allow you to get immersed in the game. This means a comfortable place without distractions. Find a quiet place where other people won’t be distracting you. Make sure to have a comfortable seat. Physical discomfort can quickly pull you out of a game.
Sound plays an important role. Having a setup that gives you a high-quality auditory experience can help you really get into a game, especially if the sound design is good. Many people use home theatre setups to get the surround sound. A lot of gamers use headsets to get high-quality sound and to block out external noises that can be a distraction.
In a white paper on immersive VR game design, Intel notes that uncomfortable equipment will quickly draw people out of a game. While Intel points this out to recommend designing comfortable headsets, for console gamers headsets can be avoided altogether. Try a gaming chair with a built-in sound system to get an immersive sound experience without a headset at all.
X Rocker tweets about their gaming chair. Source
Gaming is a very tactile experience. The controller that you use can have a huge impact on how a game feels. Poorly designed controllers can ruin a gaming experience. Gamers who play simulation games like flight simulators and race games have a ton of options for peripheries. A dedicated controller such as a racing wheel can help you feel even more immersed in the experience. The more your setup imitates the real thing, the more immersed you will feel.
The Future of Gaming
VR may be seen as the future of gaming, but console games will always have their place. Some people will always be nostalgic about the console experience, others just won’t like wearing a headset, and some experiences are just better on a console. Social games like Smash Bros and Mario Party are best played in a room full of friends, where you can actually look at each other.
While VR may allow for game designers to provide more depth to a world and create something that feels more real to the senses, console games can be just as immersive. This is because of the role that the players have in immersion. The experience will always depend on a player’s willingness to use their own imagination to enter the game and their own desire to be invested in the story and its outcome.