MMORPGs Don’t Need Immersion To Be Fun
For a long time I’ve harped on about the fact that MMORPGs need to feel immersive and that many of them, especially the newer games, just don’t have it. But I’ve been thinking… do they actually need to be immersive in order to be fun? Is enjoyment and immersion the same thing or just different ways of experiencing different emotions?
Fun Without Immersion
In addition to MMORPGs, I also play console games and particularly enjoy beat-em-ups like Street Fighter IV and Tekken 6. They’re fast and furious, offering an adrenaline boost for a short period of time. For me, there’s nothing quite like the rush of battle and the thrill of smashing my opponents face in the dirt all climaxing into an orgasmic victory scream of joy to be followed quickly by my trademark rapid-pelvic-thrusting-in-the-face “Who’s Your Daddy?” gloating dance. Trust me, there’s nothing immersive about that.
In fact, my friends and I have also been having a lot of fun in World of Warcraft recently and that game definitely struggles with immersion at times (*cough* Dungeon Finder *cough* … sorry, that darn cough is back again). We giggle when we make fun of other PUG players over Skype, howl with delight and swear like sailors when we engage in PvP Battlegrounds and laugh until we can’t inhale when we play practical jokes on my brother, the Duke of Noob*.
It seems to me that fun and immersion are not the same thing as a game can be still be enjoyable without sucking me into it’s world. For instance, I had a blast hacking people’s heads off in Age of Conan, enjoyed the arcade style scenarios of Warhammer Online and even briefly enjoyed the character creator from Champions Online. It is indeed possible to have fun without feeling immersed.
But I want more.
Immersion Is More Than Fun
To me, immersion is not just about having fun but about feeling completely enveloped in the game and the world it provides, experiencing a whole range of varied emotions. I feel exhilaration in Street Fighter IV and WoW PvP but I don’t feel fear or sympathy or desire or even a sense of camaraderie. They offer a quick fix that ends as soon as the buzz stops.
One of the reasons I fell in love with the MMORPG genre was because of the escapism and sense of false reality it offered. I didn’t just want to have fun, I wanted to love and cry, to feel power and weakness, to live and die with my brethren. To me, it’s the fundamental defining point of MMOs. They offer us more than mere fun, they offer us virtual lives and the wide range of emotions that comes with that.
So yeah, sure, MMORPGs don’t need immersion to be fun and there’s plenty of them out there that will offer a quick fix or some mindless entertainment for when we need it.In fact, they seem to becoming more and more common, sacrificing the long term immersion and emotional investment for ease of access and mass appeal.
Not that there’s anything wrong with just going for the straight fun approach and it certainly has it’s place but I’d argue that it creates a different breed of game from the traditional virtual worlds we all know and associate with MMORPGs. Those games are more like MMO-Video-Games rather than living, breathing virtual worlds.
Personally, I want to be sucked into a game and immersed completely in it’s reality. The ultimate escapism for me isn’t just a quick adrenaline blast but rather something that makes me feel care about my character and his environment and causes me to experience a whole range of emotions, good or bad.
*Case in question: I cast Slow Fall on myself and told my brother that it was safe to jump off the top of a cliff because I had cast it on him too. I hadn’t. He died. I laughed.