Yesterday, I was watching someone play Alien Isolation on YouTube, as you do. From what I can tell and have heard, Alien Isolation is a particularly atmospheric game. The visual and audio design all appears to be coherent an in-check. It all seems like it just works; it blends into one to create a unique feel and experience.
Of course, Alien Isolation is also a horror game so to get the ultimate ‘satisfaction’, many gamers will choose to play in dim-lit environments and late at night, to help add to that emotion of fear. In other words, Alien Isolation is one of many games that are all about immersion.
Now, I usually roll my eyes when I see someone describe a game world as immersive because as far as I’m concerned, I’ve never been truly immersed by any video game. Yes, when a game gets the design so on-point it can make a game world feel more real, but nevertheless, video games just never break the fourth wall. You can have as many sound effects and visual objects as you like, but at the end of the day you can’t make me forget the fact that I am sitting on a chair in a room in my house looking at a monitor, as opposed to actually being in the game. If you ask me, full immersion would occur when you actually feel like you are the character you’re controlling and you are in that game world for real.
Naturally, we will never truly reach this point because in the back of our minds we will always know that we are simply playing a video game, but there are steps that can be taken to further that immersion and here I am to put forward some suggestions.
First of all, it’s worth pointing out that devices such as the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, and Microsoft’s HoloLens are all going some way to solving many of my problems, but ultimately, none of these gadgets are tried and tested as of yet. They might not be far away, but at the time of writing the public just hasn’t had it’s hands on virtual or augmented reality for real, and few of us are actually convinced that the technologies will be any good.
Regardless, devices like the Oculus Rift can help to create greater immersion as they direct your vision toward the game your playing. Because of the nature of the system, you can’t see outside of the game world unless you take the device off of your head. In that essence, virtual and augmented reality is a step in the right direction. Moreover, HoloLens provides an interesting blend of the real world and the digital world.
However, home consoles aren’t going away. Just because these new technologies exist, it doesn’t mean that people are going to stop playing on their Xbox One, PS4 or any other platform they might own. Microsoft, SONY, and the like are all going to continue to support their products so unless virtual reality is absolutely revolutionary, traditional gaming will not cease to exist.
Therefore, we need more methods to make video games more immersive. So here’s my pitch. One way of creating greater immersion for gamers would be to provide them with more physical, real world items that actually relate to the in-game world. You see, when I was watching the aforementioned Alien Isolation video, the player stumbled upon a pass code for a door. As far as I could tell, the game has no sort of journal to keep track of these numbers, so how about providing the players with their own? When the player reached the door he had forgotten the pass code and so needed to navigate back to where it was, making sure to bypass the alien.
Someone with little imagination would respond to this by suggesting that you simply “write the code down on a piece of paper”. Sure, that would work, but if you do that you only remind yourself that you’re in the real world as opposed to the game one. Now, my suggestion won’t solve that problem entirely, but here me out. Why not ship more, specific goodies with video games? For example, give us a notepad with Alien Isolation that’s tailored to the game. Make it feel like we have these meta items for real. Collector’s editions of games sometimes offer such objects, but not everyone can afford them. Of course, this would be expensive for publishers but would ultimately make the whole experience of the game its publishing more believable and immersive.
Ok, so maybe you do need to slap a high price tag on a collector’s edition. That’s fine, but give us something cool that we could actually use alongside the game. Imagine playing Fallout 3 with an actual Pip-Boy! Obviously this would be a ridiculously expensive endeavour for Bethesda to replicate the in-game item, but the immersion would be through the roof! What if you didn’t have to press a certain button to look at your map, but instead you simply check out the device strapped to you wrist?
That’s where advancements in technology comes in. We’ve already seen mobile phones being used with apps to accompany a video game experience. For instance, in games like Battlefield and The Division players can control certain elements to affect the experiences of gamers using a pad. Who’s to say we won’t have some sort of watch in the future, much like Apple’s new Apple Watch, that could act as a Pip-Boy or some other device?
There are plenty of limitations and risks involves, and therefore plenty of reasons why it won’t happen, but if publishers were to blend video game worlds with the real world more often via real world objects, video games would become much more immersive.