Role-playing games and Immersitivityness - PART THE SECOND.
Two Days Later: Phew, okay. I don’t really expect to have my thoughts in any better a working order than I did last time; but I said I’d finish this off, and finish this off I will.
My intention, if I cast my mind back to the hazy mists of last Saturday, was to write about how the games in question, for all their visual and general polish, are just not immersive.
A note going forward: I don’t really have any clear-cut answers for why this might be, or at least not as I write this sentence; let’s see if I can tease anything out of my knotted synapses as I slap ineffectually at my keyboard for a few hundred words.
I love video games. Or, at least, I love the idea of video games that I have in my head. And in my head, an advantage that video games have over every other art form is interactivity and immersion. Just for the record, I’m not saying games are better than any other art form, before anyone jumps feet first towards that conclusion. But on the big list of video game pros and cons, these are the two big entries on the former column.
So. Interactivity and Immersion. The first is pretty self-explanatory - you get to interact, that’s all fun, it’s something you can’t do in movies, books, et cetera, et cetera, blah blah blee bloo.
Immersion is the funny one in my opinion.
For me, I can spend hours at a time playing a game, as I have in Skyrim, and still not feel particularly immersed. As much as I can enjoy the graphics, the intricate construction of the world, the many many dialogue options and so on, I’m still oh so achingly aware that I’m playing a game. I think this is why I spend so much time, as I mentioned before, trying to force some semblance of narrative cohesion onto my stupid guy - otherwise he ends up looking at best incredibly suggestible, at worst, borderline schizophrenic:
Random NPC: Hey dude, do you want to collect some herbs for me?
Me: Sure, that’s a charmingly benign bit of busywork to be getting on with.
~Two minutes later~
Another NPC: Hello, would you like to murder someone for me?
Me: This doesn’t really make sense, on account of how I was just looking for dragon fronds or whatever. I’d have to be a very special kind of entrepreneurial to branch out from plant-collection to casual murder, but I could use the XP. Oh, and I get a free sword? Well then, colour me murderous.
And so on.
Again, I’m not sure what the solution is here, other than locking out certain parts of the game based on your ‘character type’, which is bound to piss off players who don’t share my intrinsic need for intimate characterisation.
But I think the lack of immersion goes deeper than that. It can’t just be to do with story, because in Minecraft, a game that has no story whatsoever (ostensibly), I routinely play up to the aforementioned perfect extent of immersion, the point at which the game literally falls away, and all I know is that I must have iron ore in a most immediate and plentiful fashion.
I think it’s the little things. Story’s definitely part of it, especially in the case of Bethesda’s output, but I wonder if it isn’t more important for me to feel like I’m actually in the world, rather than just clipping through it. One thing I can’t believe wasn’t fixed in Skyrim’s new shiny engine is the propensity for characters to just kinda float-run around, especially when trying to scale a mountain. And guess what, you guys? There’s a lot of mountains in Skyrim. It’s just that kind of a place.
I can’t begin to explain, except in this coming paragraph; how much better I’d feel about that game if my character had a robust climbing animation in which he/she/it clambered up the face of a mountain, clinging to the rock, occasionally shielding their face from the wind and rain, before triumphantly ascending to the top like a mythical hero. Instead of running in place, an inch off the ground, as I defy gravity by rising inexplicably to the top of this one-hundred-and-fifty degree slope. Upon which I find a trio of half-dressed bandits, despite the temperature probably being about as cold as the top of a mountain, in Skyrim. I couldn’t find an analogy for that because NOTHING COULD BE COLDER, OKAY?
Maybe I’m just nit picking, and if that’s the case, I apologise. Hell, it’s not like everyone else didn’t love it. It’s not even like I didn’t have fun playing Skyrim in the last year. But to be the one of the most acclaimed developers means you get the most scrutiny I suppose. And guess what, I’ve made my decision. Give me, any day, a somewhat constrained world that actually makes sense and feels like a world I have agency in, over a flimsy freedom that doesn’t just fall apart, but catastrophically explodes, with the slightest push against it’s wet-paper boundaries.
I know I just spent several hundred words ragging on Bethesda, but this goes for all game developers, especially triple-A ones. If you’re going to try and make me a sandbox, let me act how I want to act, fight how I want to fight, and win how I want to win. Or else don’t bother.
Because when this:
feels more real than this:
well then, you’ve got problems elsewhere I think.