Originally Published 07/09/2015
“What makes a game immersive? Ask 5 people and you’ll probably get 10 opinions”- Jamie Madigan (2010).
Gaming communities are often divided on the subject of which is more immersive, narrative or competitive multiplayer games. Through the lens of Calleja’s ‘Player Involvement Model’ (2011), I would like to examine the relationship two very different games share with immersion. I will be comparing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s focus on Ludic Involvement with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s Narrative Involvement; by comparing these immersive qualities we can attempt to evaluate and develop a better understanding of what makes a game immersive. By looking at games through the ‘Player Involvement Module’ we can begin to formalise our understanding of immersion and its plethora of standpoints.
With over 8 million unique players last month, it is safe to say that Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a wildly popular game (Valve Corporation, Hidden Path Entertainment. 2012). While I have not played CS:GO as much as TW3, I understand the core principles of the game and how they relate to Calleja’s ‘Player involvement Models’, additionally I would like to acknowledge Tom O’Brien, with over 400 hours played, as a consultant on these interpretations. Spatial Involvement in CS:GO involves knowing where you are in relation to other locations on the map and using the environment when approaching situations needing that strategic edge. Arguably, the games weakest point of immersion is Narrative Involvement. While it is not directly a narrative game, the player’s role as a terrorist or counter-terrorist leads them to make decisions to perform an action that is relative to the character that they control. Kinaesthetic Involvement forms a large part of the gameplay and allows for a multitude of player skill levels. Some may purely enjoy the chaotic run-and-gun approach, others prefer to meticulously coordinate and execute actions with their teammates, rewarding communication and coordination with their fellow players. This adds to players’ Shared Involvement; as a team game, one must be constantly aware of the state and location of your team mates, while fearing the looming threat of the players you are facing up against. Thus leading us to, likely the biggest contributor to CS:GO’s immersion, Ludic Involvement. Ludic Involvement plays a huge part, as your actions directly affect the progress toward your team’s goal, and the overall outcome of the game. Players who have spent substantial time in the game know the most strategically advantageous manners in which to play, and also the best choices for the varying scenarios that the player can be put in, i.e. knowing the most suitable gun to purchase based on the outcome of the previous rounds, knowing when to peek around a corner in order to kill an enemy, etc. Finally this leaves the players with Affective Involvement. It is very easy to take the outcome of a game to heart, however, the game does not only negatively affect players; by providing the platform for strong collaboration and teamwork with other players, it can help to build and solidify relationships with people by trusting them with helping reach a common goal.
As CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) has received 79 awards and more than 6 million people have purchased a game, it would be fair to call TW3 a success. The games Spatial Involvement relies heavily on its gritty realism, not just in the games graphics, but the sights, sounds and attention to detail found in each environment. The game’s Witcher sense mechanic makes the environment interactive and allows players to use certain features to their advantage. It is common knowledge that TW3’s strongest selling point is its Narrative Involvement. The game is story driven and based on the novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Running in tandem to this is the different stories each player might experience depending on how they choose to explore and play through this narrative, leading us to the principle of Kinaesthetic Involvement. This module is responsible for seamlessly integrating the game’s division between side-quests and story-based play. This makes it easy for players to drop in and out of different kinds of play, offering players a wider variety of experiences. This is deepened by the game’s Shared Involvement with TW3’s computer agents. Lavished in huge amounts of lore, much of the game’s story is based around socio-political events where the player’s smallest interactions can trigger events that affect the story. This in turn contributes to the game’s Ludic Involvement; a huge part of the narrative outcome is based on the choices the player makes, whether they are aware of the consequences or not. These principles are all wrapped up within the game’s Affective Involvement, which leaves players with the satisfaction of being emotionally involved and ultimately affecting the outcome of the narrative.
As we can see, these are two vastly different games in terms of the interpretation of their immersive qualities, so why the comparison? We could in no way make a decision here as to which game is more immersive than the other. Immersion is such a personal and subjective adjective to attribute a game, with Richard Lemarchand discussing in his 2012 GDC talk how we can move away from using such arbitrary, personal and subjective terms. This is supported by Madigan, Calleja and Lemarchand as they choose to use words like “presence”, “involvement” or “attention”. Immersion has become a buzzword, one which can be replaced by a vast range of adjectives without the meaning changing, but by examining the immersive qualities laid out in Calleja’s ‘Player Involvement Model’ we can better understand WHY a game is immersive. By evaluating two different games through the eyes of two different players, we gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which the dimensions of the ‘Player Involvement Model’ blend together throughout our own individual experience.
- Madigan, J. (2010). The Psychology of Immersion in Video Games. The Psychology of Video Games. [Online Article] Retrieved From: http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2010/07/the-psychology-of-immersion-in-video-games/
- Calleja, G. (2011). Emotional Involvement in Digital Games. International Journal of Arts and Technology, 4(1), pp.19-32.
- Valve Corporation, Hidden Path Entertainment. (2012) Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. [Video Game]. Various Countries, Steam.
- CD Projekt RED (2015). The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. [Video Game] , Various Countries, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows.
- Lemarchand, R (2012). Attention, Not Immersion: Making Your Games Better with Psychology and Playtesting, the Uncharted Way. [GDC Slides] Retrieved From: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1015464/Attention-Not-Immersion-Making-Your