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.

Immersion FTW

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.

-Gordon

*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.

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16 Comments

  1. Longasc says:

    I think you are right there. But I think there were always better GAMES out there than MMORPGs could ever be. I think “immersion” is what makes MMOs so special and was – at least to the first MMO players – what made them so awesome.

    Maybe younger MMO players just see MMOs as a game, and act and play them accordingly,

    P.S.: The only thing my Horde Paladin was good for was to lure other players into following him jumping from the dirigible. But they of course did not have a bubble… :P

  2. Grimfire says:

    I agree that many mmos are fun. Wow being a very good example. However it’s immersion that keeps me coming back and for that reason I have never been able to play wow for extended periods of time. I spent years in Swg because I felt part of that world. I hope to recapture that feeling again; hopefully sometime soon.

  3. spinks says:

    “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.”

    That sounds pretty immersive to me. I mean, you wanted a game about fighting and you have a game which makes the fighting so exciting that you actually get an adrenaline rush!

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe yeah, I did ponder that when I was writing the article :) I guess it all depends on the definition of the immersion. I suppose I’m looking for something more emotional and investing that just pure ‘fun’.

  4. as so often before:
    I could not define it any better – speaking about what I want of a MMORPG!

  5. openedge1 says:

    If I am immersed in a game, I really do not see the flaws or issues. If that game keeps me occupied enough that I miss my bedtime or appts…I am immersed.

    I do not need to feel like I am the Barbarian, Elf, Orc or whatever…I need to feel like everything else around me is not consequential at that time. It does help though if I do (The Witcher for example made me feel linked with that character…especially after reading the books)

    That is what immersion is all about.

  6. amcl says:


    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

    Oh, how Hammer and I laughed when you teleported yourself to Stormwind (+10min flight away), and you had meant to open a portal for all of us! Luckily, I was able to summon you back ;)

  7. Sharon says:

    I think it’s my emotional investment in the story line that creates my sense of immersion, and for that reason, I have yet to play an MMO that sucks me in the way that some single player games do. Games like NWN, Morrowind, Diablo 2, KotOR, The Witcher, Dragon Age… gave me a sense that I *had* to finish the game to get it out of my system. While games like WoW, EQ2 and LOTRO have some great lore and interesting stories, those storylines just aren’t as compelling to me as the ones in many single player games. I find it hard to get emotionally invested in an MMO, probably because there *are* other people around. It’s a little paradoxical.The thing I love about MMOs is the thing that prevents me from finding them really immersive.

    MMOs don’t have to be immersive to be fun, but I’d love to see a truly story based MMO that sucked me in the way some of those single player RPGs did.

    • Gordon says:

      I found the same thing too when I played DA:O over the Christmas period. I really felt drawn into the story and attached to my characters because of the power and flexibility the game offered, something MMORPGs don’t (and possibly never will until the technology advances).

  8. kaozz says:

    I like games that offer a lot to keep me immersed. Crafting, grouping, soloing, class quests- like epics (EQ-EQ2) and so on. Some things like housing and special events make it more fun as well, adding more depth.

    I get bored quickly these days, so I like to look for what offers the most to keep me busy and having fun.

  9. [...] vs. Tera’s P2P), there has been a fair amount of discussion on the blogosphere about ideas of immersion, casual play, subscription vs. free-to-play, time commitments driving what you play, etc. [...]

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