I'm sure we all have that one game we have played that made us completely forget about the "real" world. The game where you put hundreds of hours into it and truly felt like a part of the action. For me, the three main games that did this were MGS3, GTA3 and NFL2k5. All three of those are the pinnacle of gaming experiences in my opinion. I still can hear the "Snake?Snaake?Snaaaaaaaake!!!???" call from Otacon when Snake dies. I still remember winning 4 more superbowl rings with Favre and Packers before he retired in NFL2k5. And of course, who can forget the three hour rampages with a tank in GTA3!? These games provide the type of experiences that live with you forever.
This got me to wondering - what makes a game "great", and further, how do the components of a game (graphics, story, challenge, music, mood, etc) make up and factor into our ability as humans to forget that its merely a game while playing it? It seems that the older I get the harder it is (with a family of my own now) to shut out reality and fully enjoy a game. Is it because I've gotten older or is it because the games have gotten worse? What leads me to truly enjoy a game and be immersed?
I have been looking into research that has been done on immersion and how, if at all, it can be measured from a video game perspective. One particular study caught my eye, by David Weibel and Batholomaus Wissmath at the University of Bern in Switzerland*. After some thorough testing, they found two main components of true 'immersion':
1) Presence -"sensation of being in the gaming environment"
2) Flow - "sensation of being involved in the gaming action itself"
1) they are truly in the evnironment of the game (football field, basketball court, etc) and that
2) they are controlling the action and involved in what happens (controls, play-calls, real-time physics)
...the better the immersion level will be. Further, this will drive a better gaming experience for the user.
Moving forward with this data, I would imagine that there are limits to this. We all have jobs, families, obligations and other life elements that will be there no matter what happens in our video game land. You can win 8 superbowls in Madden but you still need to mow the yard on Tuesday afternoon. You can put up a triple double with Rondo in 2k12 but you still gotta get your butt to work by 8am the next day.
This is the challenge that video game developers have moving forward. When we play video games and see glitches, subpar graphics, poor gameplay and aged animations, we are reminded over and over again that "this isnt real", and like it or not, this takes away from the experience. Perfectly blending the presence (visuals, sounds, environment) and flow (gameplay elements) are the true ingredients to a successfull game.
Here is to hopefully not seeing any super LB's or psychic DB's in NCAA 13. Here is to a bug free release for Madden 13. Here is to improved sliding animations and better passing angles for NBA2k13. All 3 of these games can do better in these areas and hopefully they do this summer and fall.