Why Immersion Matters
I know I harp on a lot about immersion in MMOs and how I want to feel my character (figuratively speaking) and escape from my every day worries when I play but I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to talk about exactly why it’s important. Truth be told, I’m not sure I could’ve given you a very eloquent explanation and probably would’ve just mumbled something about roleplay before distracting you with a photo of a cute dog trying to hump a chair leg and then made a run for the nearest exit. That was until today when Dàchéng (blogger of The Dàchéng Diaries) made a very poignant and powerful comment on the subject in my post moaning about Real ID:
“…It is your sense of immersion in the game world that lets you believe that you’re killing things…That suspension of disbelief is what immersion brings, and when it ceases, you are just clicking buttons in a dark room while the sun shines outside.”
When we (i.e. me) talk about the subject of immersion we’re looking at more than just roleplaying and wandering around an online game world saying “hail, good sir” and taking every opportunity to talk about heaving bosoms (any fantasy reader worth his or her salt will know exactly what I’m talking about here *cough* Robert Jordan *cough*). It’s not just about other people buying into the character that we play but, even more importantly, it’s about ourselves believing in the actions we do. Without immersion we wouldn’t believe in what we’re doing and we wouldn’t be able to make that connection in our brains between merely interacting with our PCs and existing in an online world.
Immersion is extremely important to the core principles behind gameplay, behind having fun, and behind forming a connection with the game world. The latter is a big deal in any game but especially in MMOs more than any other genre because our characters are often persistent virtual creations that we need to bond with for months, if not years.
It’s perhaps with these factors in mind that I give some MMORPGs such a hard time when they skimp on roleplaying features or take actions or introduce new features which might jeopardize the immersion of the game. Believing in what we do and the actions that we take in any MMO is the most crucial element of all of the gameplay components and it should be preserved as much as possible. After all without it, as Dàchéng so appropriately summarised, we wouldn’t be slaying dragons or embarking on grand quests with our comrades, we’d simply just be sitting in our rooms tapping on keyboards and clicking mice. Don’t forget, it’s called fantasy for a reason.