[REVISITED] Immersion and the Breaking of it

We close out our month of reblogs (thanks for following along!) with this fantastic article from David of Plus10Damage, a brilliant gaming site in its own right that you should totally check out. In this article, David maps out the notion of immersion in horror games and what happens when that connection between game and player is broken.

Immersion and the Breaking of it

To view the original post on UWG from May 11, 2013, click here.
To view the original post on Plus10Damage from December 19, 2012, click here.

Screenshot by Flickr user: brava_67

I began a ritual last Halloween.  No, not the Satanic kind.  The kind where I annex myself to my room, close the door, and shut off the lights.  I sat atop my bed, my laptop placed strategically on my lap, so as to occupy as large a percentage of my vision as possible.  The donning of my Grado SR-80i headphones completed The Preparations.  Well, not quite.  There was yet one integral element:  I had to open Steam, select Amnesia, and press “play.”

And for what?  Why take extra effort to frighten myself?  Why go to all this trouble, if I’m just going to end up breathing heavily and closing the game in a couple hours?  Why do I keep pushing back in, if I know my mind will be unable to withstand the isolation and subsequent terror?  Condemned, Amnesia, Dead Space, Anna, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, F.E.A.R., Alan Wake, and even parts of Bioshock have played a role in this strange ongoing quest to torture myself.



I cannot deny the appeal of thrills, at least to the extent that dangerous experiences give me some sort of rush.  Any game — no, any thing — that makes me excited is usually something I will engage.  But beyond the artificial, amusement-park-like “I might die at any moment, but actually I’m safer than driving in most cars” sort of feeling, there lies the comfort-transcending appeal of horror gaming:  immersion.

By genre definition, a horror game is meant to terrify or inspire “horror.”  This is accomplished by tricking the mind — much like in film — that something completely and obviously made-up is actually happening.  AND TO YOU.

This is immersion, and horror games have it.  They have to have it, or they fail.  Emphasis on atmosphere and psychological play are two of the most important elements to consider when creating the scarytimes.  Atmosphere pulls you in, and the way you interact with the atmosphere — the gameplay — has to be fine-tuned not for ultimate fun, but tension and fear.  I hate to say that it’s “more of an art,” mostly because I’m afraid I haven’t given such a broad statement nearly enough forethought, so I’ll stick with something simpler.

In my experience, horror games are consistently the most immersive.

Screenshot by Flickr User: FAN THE FIRE Magazine

That.  That is why I keep coming back to them.  That is why I perform tedious preparations — I actually lit candles once while playing F.E.A.R., so as to create further shadowplay — in order to fully enjoy the pants-peeing.  Horror games demand the most intense immersion from a player in order to be successful, and work hard to establish such an atmosphere.

There exists one problem in every tension-and-then-scare-you-to-death-fest I’ve ever encountered:

The immersion break.  

Death, specifically.  In horror games, death is the worst.  Let’s use Amnesia again to exemplify this concept, since it was while playing Frictional’s terrifying masterpiece that I wrapped my mind around this truth.

The water level.  Without spoiling much — if anything — there’s an invisible beastie capable of awful noises and splooshy steps coming after you.  But only when you’re in the water.  It’s terrifying, because every trip to the next platform is a tense race against the filthy aberration that constantly pants and sniffs in its search for your delicious meat-body.  In the moment, I was terrified of nothing more than ghostmonsterguy getting me from behind, and doing hell-knows-what to my poor, should-have-tried-harder-in-gym-class corpse.  In fact, it made my heart race literally more in sheer terror than anything ever has in any game.

It is nuts.  I hate it.  My nerves hate it.

But then the guy gets me, an interface pops up and basically screams “you’re in a game sucka,” and I have to try again.  All of a sudden, the creature that induced sheer terror has transformed an obstacle that I must outwit.  It’s still tense, sure.  But my brain has remembered something very important, something that — in the rush of immersion — it forgot.

It remembered that it was playing a video game.

Screenshot by Flickr User: Averyanov Ilya

While horror games are the industry’s champions in terms of immersion, that immersion is often fragile and, when destroyed, leaves a shell of an experience.  Without narrative to propel a horror trip that has no immersion factor — the F.E.A.R. sequels — the game falls pretty flat.  I want to have some great idea about fixing this from a developmental standpoint, but removing actual character death / failure seems almost impossible.  In fact, it’s that impending death that propels such terror in the first place.  Perhaps we lovers of the frightening will just have to deal with the fact that, after all, we’re playing stories.  And those stories are always going to have limitations.

But hey.  Come Halloween, I’m going to try to mentally transcend those limitations.

And maybe poop myself.

The Duck’s Top Three Overlooked Games

Image from Flickr User: Hallion
Image from Flickr User: Hallion

One would think that the best games would also be the most well-known, which is often the case, but there are times that I decide to give some obscure game a chance and am baffled at how such an amazing game could have been forgotten so.   I have several such games that are quite dear to me, and I have decided that the only way to give them the recognition they deserve is to share them with all of you. And so I will, in no particular order, as they are all awesome. Continue reading The Duck’s Top Three Overlooked Games

The Life of a Adventurer

Image by Flickr user: tlwmdbt (cc)

The life of an action/adventure protagonist really seems like a blast doesn’t it? That’s what it seems like to me at least. Adventure games all seem to have a escapist angle to them in least some measure. We’re not ourselves in these games, but instead these improbably powerful and capable people; people who can take any situation they’re faced with and not only confront it, but overcome it. It’s probably safe to say that many of would like to be more like the heroes we play as. I mean who wouldn’t want to be able to travel the world like Lara Croft or luck their way through everything like Nathan Drake? Perhaps, none of us, provided that we were willing to pay the price that is.
Continue reading The Life of a Adventurer

[REVISITED] They Always Respawn

This month’s penultimate reblog features a wonderful post by Chip of Games I Made My Girlfriend Play. In it he discussed the gaming trope of the respawning enemy – commonplace for most, but perhaps not so for new players.

They Always Respawn

To view the original post from May 5, 2013, click here.

Image by Flickr user: freshyill
Image by Flickr user: freshyill

As someone who grew up playing video games, I often take for granted just how many tropes have become commonplace to me.  Recently, I was watching my wife’s first play-through of Aladdin on the Super Nintendo.  While she was playing, Laura became quite upset at the idea that enemies were respawning the moment she wandered off-screen.  “It makes no sense!  When I kill them, they should stay dead!”

Continue reading [REVISITED] They Always Respawn

My First Days with the Wii U

Image from Flickr User: Gamer's Resource
Image from Flickr User: Gamer’s Resource

Well, I did it. It’s been a crazy time for me lately. I just got a new cat. And, even more exciting (I kid, or do I?), I finally relented and bought my first console of the current generation. My choice was the Wii U, despite a waning love of Nintendo, for it was the only console that already had games I wanted, while my next choice, the PS4, has yet to receive the immense joy that I hope Kingdom Hearts 3 will bring. I also can never resist a new Super Smash Bros., so the Wii U was, well, not the obvious choice, but the one that made the most sense. Kind of.

Despite being told that the Wii U I wanted was the last one in stock a few months ago, this turned out to not be true, as when I went to the game store to pick up my console, along with the new Super Smash Bros and the Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts 2 for the PS3 (oh, my gosh…), the console was still there, and I happily bought the one that came with New Super Mario Bros U, as Super Mario 3D World didn’t look as appealing to me. And the box for the one I chose was prettier. In addition to those games, I also bought a month prior (I had money for the games, just not the console yet) the new Donkey Kong Country and Pikmin 3. Now all that was left was to set it up and go for it. Continue reading My First Days with the Wii U

Sonic 3Disappointment

The year is 1997, it’s June and my birthday has just passed by. I had received some money from my relatives and there was one thing, or one game rather that I wanted to spend it on. The game in question was Sonic 3D. I’m grew up a Sega kid and as a child I was obsessed with Sonic The Hedgehog. I had played the first three games of the franchise and couldn’t wait to see my videogame hero realised in 3D.

My mum took me to a videogame store and we searched for the Megadrive games. I almost immediately found Sonic 3D, but next to it sat two Sonic games that I hadn’t played before; Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Spinball. Both of these games combined cost the same price as Sonic 3D, which was the around the same amount of money that I had been given. Nevertheless, I wasn’t interested in either of these two games. I gazed upon the Sonic 3D boxart, the European version featured a picture of Sonic’s face bursting from the front of the case in three-dimensional glory. As someone who had only experienced 2D videogames up until this point, you can imagine as a child of 6 years old, how incredible this looked. My imagination began to race as I wondered how amazing this game would be. Continue reading Sonic 3Disappointment

Something New: Tough Coded IV Live!

Image gathered from the Tough Coded IV Live press kit

It would be untrue to state that seeing new things in video is a rarity. There are always new things being done. New art styles, new stories, new ways to interact with your enemies, and new battle systems with which to engage them. There’s always plenty of “new” to be found in gaming. What *is* difficult to find are games that provide an experience that’s tuly unlike any other.
Continue reading Something New: Tough Coded IV Live!