If you are like me, you share an an avid love of video games and tea. But this article is not about tea. Video games are vast and myriad worlds of discovery, accomplishment, and immersion. Whereas previous analog games, such as Stick and Hoop or The Game of Life, were mostly a system of gameplay wrapped around the shape of a central concept, video games are heavily influenced by role playing games. Ah, role playing games. Keep your top hat metal game pieces and spherical throwing object, if you have ever wanted to pretend to be a wizard, throwing lighting bolts from your hands and saving villagers from unreasonably sized lizards, an RPG is the game for you. Or let us instead posit that you want to be a cybernetic-ridden gangbanger on the mean streets of Seattle, you are in luck, there is an RPG game for you. Want to be a ghost, wrestling with your past as you try to move on? There is an RPG for that. Perhaps you want to be a bunny. Well, guess what? Yep. There is an RPG for every genre of fiction, no matter how bizarre or hormone driven.
And these storytelling games heavily influenced video games. There was a time in which the cutting edge of computer based entertainment was reading short vignettes, the typing how you wanted to react to them (in highly predefined code) in order to change the vignette. These text based games evoked incredibly diverse worlds, even those lying all disk shaped on the back of four elephants and a turtle. These games took their culture and gameplay from Tabletop Roleplaying games. You no longer needed friends to defeat dragons in dungeons. As graphics developed away from double digit bits, video games became more immersive for those who are highly visual. Kings Quest, Baldur's Gate, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls all grew out of this era.
Were these games better than previous games because their graphics held more detail, their immersion used more spatial reasoning than previous games? YES! Heh, I mean no. But I bet a third of you were pretty steamed there for a bit. The fact is that a certain category of people find visual differentiation more immersive than linguistic differentiation. It is beyond my guess why I, a kid born with 20/400 vision, is one of those people. When reading a narrative, language is so important to me, my imagination can summon whole planes from oblivion and well written prose makes the all the more easy. However, when it comes to interactivity, I will always feel more immersion through artificial visuals. Trinity was a great game, but Morrowind made me feel like I was there.
Although, admittedly, you didn't really want to be there all the time. -Ed
But Jarys, I pretend to hear you say, don't you play numerous tabletop games? Where are your artificial visuals now? All you have there are words and the expression of acting, confined by sitting at a table. Well, you have a point there, I do find tabletop games very immersive, but they do have an element video games lack, and it's not Cheetos and Mountain Dew. Community and socialization are huge parts of what makes a table top game immersive to me. Other people acting, as I am. However, the visual is not lost here, I find LARPS, in which fictitious situations are partially realized through full body acting and real world settings, to be far more immersive than tabletop games. All you sacrifice are the more robust rule systems of table top, to make moment by moment improv easier. Too bad they are harder to throw together. That social element requires getting a lot of people together.
So then, it might follow, I should be a fan of MMORPGs. You have visuals like video games, a tabletop' style system (often even better defined), and the community of a LARP. This community is even more available than the LARP community. A large amount of people are always on, and they are just a few clicks and the speed of your ISP away (sorry). But the fact is that I have not enjoyed a MMORPG in a long time. We just grew apart and it all came down to the last three letters: too few MMORPGs are actually RPG enough for me anymore.
The games that I grew up on, Everquest and a few others, were heavily geared toward the RPG experience, not the gameplay. Now, this made them difficult for many players to access, and I generally see MMORPGs as being more universally appealing now, but they are not for me. The emphasis on roleplaying, on rules that push roleplaying, on staying in character has diminished more than the worth of my Star Wars Galaxies crafted items. I do not blame World of Warcraft for this shift in MMORPG culture, I lack the hard numbers for that, but that behemoth of player devouring has come to represent the shift in my mind. I noticed that game change it's emphasis as the culture changed. Too few communities I found were focused on playing the game, not roleplaying. Without that element, the only thing driving me toward immersion is the visuals am your interaction with the elements that lie within. Unfortunately, every MMORPG I have played since Galaxies has sacrificed graphics and world interaction in order to run a smoother game for more players.
I am not saying there is a right way to build or play a game, just to explain why I can't get into these games any more. For immersion I go to Elder Scrolls RPGs, or shooter RPGs, single player experiences with interesting physics engines and vast worlds to explore. As a final note, I find that the ability to view a first person perspective majorly improves my immersion. I chalk it up to my vision. I have horrible vision still and the ability to explore a world that presents a 20/20 view of the world makes me feel transported. I love the Mass Effect games, but the fact that I can see Shepherd always reminds me of the fact that I am not shepherd.