Sometimes I find it hard to pull myself out of these digital lands we gamers visit so often. Either it’s a casual game that I can’t stop thinking about, or a triple-A title that’s world entrances me so well, reality starts to blur. Gaming tech has come so far in just my life time. I remember playing my brand new N64 as a child, Super Mario 64 if memory serves. It wasn’t my first game ever, but the jump in technological capabilities from SNES blew me away. Now, with things like Microsoft’s Hololense and the various VR units, the same thoughts occur ‘How can they make gaming better than that? What’s next?’ yet I am always surprised with the next steps in immersion.

immersion
Hololens plays Minecraft
To better my point, lets break down immersion a little. First, the definition of immersion in this context is a deep mental involvement. Every game has something in mind to make the player feel it out, or create the illusion that you are the character, and consequences matter. Case in point, take Final Fantasy (really any of them). I am a huge fan of the series, which as any fan could tell you, is not for the action, but for the story and development of characters. This is one way of drawing players in, and various games have found balance between story and action. However this would only stand true to a sliver of the gaming world.
We all know how popular Shooters like Call of Duty and Destiny are. Many fans of these games never touch the single player, instead striving for that sweet PvP action. I’ve played the story of Black Ops 2 and loved it, however this was obviously not the focus of the game. Nothing gets you pumped quite like hunting your enemies on a chaotic battlefield while running for your life. The Halo franchise was at the forefront of the multiplayer shooter revolution, and its approach to immersion has evolved alongside its players.

In Halo 1, Bungie put most of their efforts into the story, which really showed. The campaign was co-op, which was awesome, but making the story the main driving force didn’t really work. It was the gameplay that hooked so many gamers. To this day I couldn’t tell you the names of the levels or how the story progresses, but I can instantly remember the entire level as soon as first contact. When Halo 2 came out, its story and multiplayer were closer in balance, leaning slightly towards the PvP side. The environments in this game were definitely a step up. The immersion was evolving all around the gaming world at this time, reaching higher and higher for more ‘realistic’ worlds, and it was working. Halo 3 was obviously a huge leap in immersion, as it made use of the brand new Xbox 360 hardware. It introduced new elements, such as ‘power ups,’ like the Bubble Shield or the Jet Pack, which, alongside the refined graphics and gameplay tweaks, kept the game looking and acting fresh. Adding new content and remastering the most popular maps made things new with a touch of familiarity that players loved. So, to sum up Halo’s history, with each game the features have always evolved and adjusted to allow the frantic mayhem we see today, while bringing ‘realism’ to the world from weather and dust particles to ambient environmental sounds.

Immersion
Halo’s Master Chief over the years

Speaking on realism, games like The Division, Dark Souls, Fallout and Far Cry all have their own aspects of ‘realism’. The Division is almost a building for building model of Manhattan, with an epidemic that has sent the island into quarantine. Society collapsed quickly without law enforcement or regulation of supplies, which doesn’t seem too far removed from reality.  The presence of intricate lighting and weather effects lends a great deal of credence to the authenticity of the environment, which simply wouldn’t be possible on weaker hardware.

immersion
The Division matches realism and immersion

However, most games are not based in actual places. For example, Dark Souls takes you to a dark, ruined world, with fleeting connections to our own. These games are famous for not caring about the player, leaving survival up to your skill and luck alone. The draw of Dark Souls for me was the realism of being dropped in this world, with little in the way of hospitality. You’re given little direction, and sent on your way to handle whatever seemingly-insurmountable obstacles stand before you. Your character behaves differently depending on your equipment, — the heavier your stuff, the slower you move — which is a big problem in this game. Moreover in all of the Fallout games, you are left in a world after nuclear war. Having to deal with everything from mutants and zombies, to running errands and saving the ‘world’. This is an almost alien world for you to experience, yet its connection to reality adds a degree of familiarity, and aids in immersion. As Bethesda further developed this harsh world they added more realism to it, with radiation storms, heavily irradiated areas and more mutated wildlife. Lastly, Far Cry has an amazing engine in it which enables the game to create a random experience each time you play. Random encounters of enemies or events can happen almost anywhere, at any time. To top that off, FarCry Primal has such an organic world with such beautiful design and detail that it left me almost speechless for days. Also like a few of my older favorite games, you cannot understand the language in the game, you must read subtitles and hear the beauty of the pseudo-language of the Wenja tribe. They really nailed the environment here. This world actually looks, sounds and feels alive.

immersion
Stunning environments in Farcry Primal
To wrap this up, immersion, like all of gaming, will always be developing. Exciting new worlds will continue to improve, both in quality and graphics. I, for one, think that with coming VR and various other devices, gaming will forever be changed. Imagine actually walking around Whiterun or visiting the Traveler at the Tower in person. How about actually piloting your own spaceship? Riding a dragon? Slaying hundreds of orcs? Free running on roofs to avoid detection? It makes me shiver with anticipation thinking about the possibilities. Looking towards that expansive gaming future, it looks awesome, like always.