So, let’s talk about the biggest elephant that ever walked into a room. And not because none talks about it, oh noes, everyone is talking about it nowadays. But, to me, all this talking about “immersion” is shifting the attention away from the real problem: having fun.
It may seems obvious, but when we play (RPGs, boardgames, videogames, even theater) what we want to achieve is fun. Sometimes maybe we also want other things (money, fame, escapism, etc) but we also want to have fun.
Immersion is being recognized by someone as a medium to achieve fun. In other words, if you get “immersed” in the game you’ll have fun.
But, prior to that, what is immersion? To me, being immersed means that I act and react freely. I.E. when roleplaying I’m immersed if I feel as my character feels. I then can freely (and more quickly) take decisions in their behalf. And I don’t stop to think about the consequences of this on myself.
On the other hand, I’m not immersed when I stop to say that “This NPC is 17 years hold and my 17 years old character may feel something for they”. Why I say that? Because I’m afraid that someone else will say that This NPC is 13 years old and then frame myself as the one who had his character involved in a sentimental relationship with a 13 years old (NP)character.
Sounds insane to you? It shouldn’t. This example maybe is a little over the edge, but we stop ourselves to think about possible outcomes and consequences all the time. When we look both left and right before crossing the street. When we look at the clock while placing something in the oven. When we check for toilet paper before sitting on the toilet.
Immersion is when I don’t stop to think for myself and instead I think only about my character. In other media it is a little different, but it can be simplified to:
Immersion is when we enjoy the feels and sensations the media wish to provide to us through the senses and experiences of an established medium (usually a character) without filtering them using our own senses and experiences.
In videogames it is the same. It’s when someone calls you and your brain doesn’t even process the information. You’ve heard them talking to you, maybe even replied, but you didn’t stop the act of playing not the slightest, to the point that your brain didn’t use valuable resources (memorizing) cause it was completely devoted to the game.
In improv theater is even more similar. When you are on the stage, you don’t have the luxury to think about the action you want your character to perform, cause rational thinking is too slow. You need to react, usually using emotion prompted choices, and you need to have the “right” kind of reaction embodied in yourself. Practice to raise the stakes. Practice to make choices and follow through. Practice to make things important to your character. Do it enough time and you’ll react with this behavior automatically. This will save you enough time to think about how to react and enact your choice.
So, what’s the matter? Why caring about immersion is taking away ourselves from fun?
Because we don’t need immersion to have fun. It seems to me that a lot of people think that fun is a consequence of immersion, while it’s the opposite.
I think that we get immersed when we have the right amount of fun. Therefore, making choices when playing (or when designing a game) about immersion is a double edged sword.
If we make something that will help us to get immersed the chances are only i) if the game is fun, we’ll get more immersed or ii) is the game is not fun, we’ll have wasted our effort.
So, my point comes from this. Use all your energy to make the game fun. Do not stop to think about immersion before you have evidence of the fun.
This is the right direction, to me: IF fun THEN immersion. Not the other way around.
It’s a simple matter of costs-benefits.