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The mechanics of a virtual world are just as important as visual fidelity for becoming immersed in that world. But comparatively little attention has been given to the simulation half of the immersion equation. Many pervasive misconceptions abound.
To make a game immersive, we don’t need total realism, but would be better off aiming for the centre of the realism-gamism spectrum. Doing so will be easier with stylised mechanics and process intensity. An additional benefit of process intensity is its impact on agency.
Rather than chasing the impossible ideal of complete realism, it is better to aim at the centre of the spectrum between realism and gamism. Hitting that elusive centre will be easier with stylised mechanics, but that isn’t enough. It will also require process intensity.
One of the most pervasive myths of immersion is that it requires realism. But a much more effective approach could be to aim for the centre of the spectrum between realism and gamism. What would the centre look like? What are stylised mechanics and how are they immersive?
In the Introduction to Myths of Immersion, game reviewers and designers demanded a variety of conflicting things. They demand that the world of a game should be responsive to player interaction rather than serve only as decoration; But the mechanics should not simply include realism for its own sake but serve a gameplay purpose. However there also shouldn’t be weird gamey mechanics that don’t make any sense in the world. The mechanics need to be diegetic and represent some aspect of the world – The world should be coherent. But the world should also be relevant to the gameplay – the fantasy should be intrinsic. There is a way to roll all of these concepts – intrinsic/extrinsic fantasies, diegetic/non-diegetic mechanics, responsive/inert fiction – together into the one model.
I long for the day when I can actually step into a fictional world and explore it in all its glory, rather than being constrained to a narrow slice of that world. Who wouldn’t want to be immersed in the world of their favourite game? And there is plenty of attention going into how to achieve enough visual fidelity to create a sense of presence, but this ignores the interaction half of the equation. As soon as people put on a VR headset the first thing they try to do is touch something, and are immediately disappointed when their hands pass straight through it.