Category Archives: Overlooked but Awesome Posts

[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.

[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

[REVISITED] The moral compass and where it leads (or doesn’t)

Our month of weekly reblogs picks up here with a post from Cary focusing on Red Dead Redemption and morals in games (and gaming).

The moral compass and where it leads (or doesn’t)

To view the original post from May 2, 2013, click here.

Image by Colony of Gamers:
Image by Colony of Gamers

If you follow my personal blog, you might have noticed that I recently finished Red Dead Redemption. If you don’t follow my blog, well…OMG go follow it now!  Haha…just kidding (mostly). Anyway, Red Dead Redemption. Simply put, Red Dead is a brilliant game. It’s wonderfully designed, beautiful to look at, and thrilling to play. And even as my mind fills with all the fantastic things that make Red Dead a fantastic game, I can’t stop obsessing over the one thing, the one, little thing that still bothers me about the game. It has to do with morals.


First off, Red Dead is not a moral game. Unlike GTA IV, Mass Effect, and similar games, making moral choices isn’t part of the gameplay. But that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t convey values. In fact, protagonist John Marston’s moral dilemmas form the crux of the entire story. He had a rough past that he’s trying to escape for the sake of his family. He makes choices throughout the game that deeply affect his psyche. By the time he saves his family, were led to believe that he’s changed for the better. Yet, Marston is a man stuck between times – the rough and tumble frontier era and the new-fangled, contraption-driven modern era. He’s a hunter, a fighter, a killer, and cares little about what the future holds (outside of his family’s farm); and that’s all well and good. John is not amoral, but, in the end, it turns out that he’s not exactly the most dimensional figure either.

Enter Jack Marston, John’s teenage son. Jack is also caught between the past and the future. But Red Dead’s writers make him out to be an idealist, almost a romantic. He loves reading and storytelling. He’s interested in what the modern world has to offer. He like animals and dislikes hunting. Or, at least, these are the things he says in a few of the game’s later cut scenes. But his actions tell a completely different story. And this is what continues to bug me. In the few father-son scenes, there’s no moral tension or transfer between them. And I think there were some really great missed opportunities for discussions of values and character growth.

Take hunting. In a mission titled “John Marston and Son,” John decides that Jack’s spent enough time with his head in books and it’s time for him to learn how to hunt elk. Just prior, John and Jack talk about hunting, and it’s clear that Jack doesn’t like it all that much, but he agrees to go. Call me too involved, but what I hoped for was more reluctance on Jack’s part to participate in the hunt and the chance for John to really become a mentor. I hoped that Jack would refuse to fire at the animals, refuse to skin them, maybe stand up for what he thought he believed in, and maybe fight a little with his father over the issue. Make it interesting! Instead, I got a nominally unpleasant hunt-kill-sell scene just like all the other unpleasant hunt-kill-sell scenes. Jack didn’t say a word of protest and he seemed just as happy to be killing things as his father.

Really? I was just plain angry after that. Marston’s incredible story of decision and survival had disintegrated into a pile of dead elk. The game had kinda, sorta experienced a few moral twists before that point, so what happened? Why not explore the moral issues between father and son at that point? Why even provide an epilogue about Marston and his family if there wasn’t going to be any real character development? Just end the #$!&% game and quit with the ^&$#@ busy work then!


Why do so many stories in games fizzle out when it comes to morals? And I’m thinking beyond what we get to do in many Bioware games. It’s fun to choose between “good” and “bad” and see how those choices affect our characters and the other characters and the environment. But we instill our own values into those characters, and those values are not necessarily written into the game itself. I realize that it can be difficult to convey emotional complexity in games — even L. A. Noire with its “advanced” facial features didn’t get it right all the time — but why not take the extra step to display emotional and moral moments that might go against the “grain.” (Okay, actually L. A. Noire did get it right here, in my eyes anyway.) We see it all the time in novels, movies, TV shows…why not in video games? As video games have progressed, our characters have gone from being one-dimensional to two-dimensional to  three-dimensional in looks only. What is preventing game writers and developers from crossing this seemingly invisible chasm of storytelling?

I’m ready for some multi-dimensionality in character development as well. Bring on the morals and values and complexity you game people, you! Yeah, sometimes I just like to shoot things and collect stuff in games; but sometimes I want a game that makes me think. Challenge me with something that I may not believe in! Go ahead…I dare you.


[REVISITED] Top 5 Most Memorable Sly Cooper Bosses

Continuing with our January reblogs, you might have missed this fun post from Hatm0nster listing memorable bosses from the very memorable Sly Cooper. Be sure to catch it now!

Top 5 Most Memorable Sly Cooper Bosses

To view the original post from April 29, 2013, click here.

Image by Flickr user: theogeo

Image by Flickr user: theogeo

The Sly Cooper series introduced us to quite a few colorful enemies during its tenure on the PS2. From pirate frogs to clockwork birds, if you can think of an unlikely combination of animal-criminal, you’ve probably seen it while playing one of the Sly Cooper games. With such a arrangement of baddies, you’re bound to have some standouts, characters so out there or cool that you can’t help but remember them.
Continue reading [REVISITED] Top 5 Most Memorable Sly Cooper Bosses

[REVISITED] The Duck Discusses the GCN, PS2, and XBox Generation: Part 1-The Cubester

Hello and Happy Year’s everyone! While the general saying of this time of year might go something like “In with the new, out with the old,” here at UWG, we’re all about celebrating our storied past. Every Thursday this month, I’m going to present to our wonderful readership a post from our archives. UWG has been around for almost two years now, and during that time, we’ve accumulated hundreds of posts from a myriad of great writers. As time would have it, some of those posts have been overlooked and/or under-appreciated. Each week we’ll be revisiting one such post under the title signifier “[REVISITED].” These posts will contain links back the original article, so please feel free to like and leave comments on either (or both!).

To get things started, let’s go back to early April 2013 with a great post from The Duck of Indeed that kicked off her series on the generation of consoles that included the Gamecube, the PlayStation 2, and the Xbox.

Continue reading [REVISITED] The Duck Discusses the GCN, PS2, and XBox Generation: Part 1-The Cubester

UWG Community Re-Cap: 10/18/2013


Happy Friday everyone! As another week has reached it’s conclusion, it is time once again to direct your attention to some of our fellow bloggers. As always, they’ve been hard at work producing some excellent reading. So without further ado, here’s what they’ve been up to this week!


Continue reading UWG Community Re-Cap: 10/18/2013