So many important points were brought up regarding immersion and addiction in the comments to my previous post, “Immersion: Good to Great,” that I felt it was worth writing another post that addresses this issue specifically.
First, I need to thank Pasduil for bringing up this point, which I completely neglected in my previous post. There is definitely such a thing as addicting stories. The aspect I was trying to describe is different, but the line between them can be very thin in places. We certainly don’t want to make addicting stories or games, especially if there is little value in them. Immersion doesn’t create the value for our games, either, but it can help take them a step further in engaging our audience. A game needs to be worth our time before we try to make it something people can be immersed in.
To help clarify the concept of immersion, I want to further draw a distinction between immersion and addiction. In a great research article on these two modes of engagement with video games, “Having to versus Wanting to Play,” the researchers refer to them as harmonious or obsessive engagement. My “Introduction to Film” teacher called it escape versus escapism. There are many names to call it, but the idea is the same: getting lost in a world for a little while and on occasion is okay, maybe even good for you, but making it into a lifestyle is not, and—in order for it to be beneficial—you must choose to get lost.
Addicting games seek to take away that choice, to force you to stay there. The producers of those games (or TV shows or books or Disney sequels or what have you) aren’t interested in creating a beneficial experience for their audience. They’re interested in money, in getting more bang for their buck, in using gimmicky tricks to keep you coming back and in cutting costs by hiring people lacking real creativity. Is this déjà vu, or have I gone on a rant about producers who are just in it for the money before? Oh yeah, in my comment on “The Grind.” I guess that’s the artist in me speaking.
So, bottom line, immersion and addiction are not the same, at least not in my book, and immersion is good, while addiction is bad. Addiction can be aided with simple, cheap tricks. Anybody can write a story with a lot of crazy plot twists and questions that are always about to be answered (e.g. Lost or any other TV show that just won’t die.) It takes skill to write a good story that can stand on its own two legs without the crutch of addicting tricks, and it takes skill to create a world to match it. Immersion won’t do any good until you have that as your base. To amend what I said earlier, immersion won’t create value for our games ex nihilo, but it can enhance the value already in it.
Now that I’ve declared what immersion is not, in my coming post I want to talk more about what it is. The best way to understand the concept of immersion I’m trying to express is through exploring how to create it, so my post will focus a lot on that. I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am.
Note: To access the article “Having to versus Wanting to Play: Background and Consequences of Harmonious versus Obsessive Engagement in Video Games” you must either pay a ridiculous amount of money or retrieve it through an organization that has access to it, such as a university or library.