Monday, 17 February 2014

The Immersion is BLINDING!

Immersion is considered a major factor when designing games, but as we get better technology that allows us to get more and more immersed in the games we are playing, we have to ask is there a ceiling to how immersed we should be before the experience is no longer enjoyable. This is mainly targeted at horror or action games, as most of these situations we would not want to be in if they where real. Just how immersed can we be with the current technology available? The gadget show made a simulator for battlefield 3 using a bunch of different technologies. Although this was an entertaining show, using some of these gadgets and joining them others currently available may make the simulating a bit too realistic for some.

If you haven't watched it yet, you can see the gadget shows experiment here. I'll be using this as a starting point.

In the episode there is a multi-directional treadmill, there is several kinds currently available with the Virtuix Omni probably being the most affordable for home use. For now though we will use the example from the program as it seems more sensitive and natural for movement. In the program they use a large tent with 360 degree projection to simulate being able to see in all directions. More recently however the Oculus Rift has been made publicly available and (although I have never had a chance to try it) has had a lot of people saying that its just like being in the game. Next we have the control, which in the program is being done by a smart phone taking over the mouse control. The Oculus Rift however takes over mouse control, so if we wanted the gun and the camera to function separately, we would have to have a game which they are not connected. Theoretically this is very much possible but games made like this would have to be specifically made for this setup. Right so now we have movement, vision, and control covered, let me start to make things a bit unsettling. In the program there is the use of paintball guns to represent being hit, but there is a more high tech way of getting people to feel like they are being hit. There is a form of brainwave manipulation that can trick the brain into thinking its feeling pressure, pain, or pleasure from different parts of the body. This same manipulation can forcefully cause you to feel unease or panic as well and it all has to do with electromagnetism. Unfortunately I cant find a clip of the documentory I saw this on but it has the same idea behind it as the Koren Helmet (aka God Helmet), a experiment that was carried out in the late 80s - early 90s. It's currently considered a medical science, but has seen some use outside of medicine for relaxation purposes. Adding the sense of pain and panic to the sights and sounds, as well as having everything in game reacting as though the player was in the protagonists situation, then we might start having some players having un-enjoyable experiences, as they feel its all just a bit too real.

Don't believe that there could be a roof for some of us, well think of this. You are playing assasins creed from a first person perspective, as you make a jump off a ledge you don't quite make the next building and go plummeting to the street below. You take some falling damage so you feel a sharp pain in your right ancle as if you had twisted it. Next a group of guards spot you and you get into a fight with three of them. You clash swords with one of them before slicing a cut in his gut, letting his guts start to fall out as he falls to the ground. Suddenly one of them plunges a knife into your back giving you a large sharp pain in your back and a smaller pain in your chest. Your low on life so you start to panic, more guards show up from an alleyway. I'll stop here but I would suggest reading that through again and thinking hard about what it would feel like if you where really feeling those pains and emotions, not though any choice of your own but through the equipment that was immersing you in the game. If you think its fine, good for you, but just so you know some of us start to feel uneasy when things are a bit too realistic. One last thing to think about is if you have ever played a game where you kill? well think about that game and then think about the same situation in real life and think about whether you could watch the same scene knowing it was real.

Don't get me wrong, I think immersion is a great thing. Graphics, sound and control all make us feel that little bit closer to being part of the game. But separation is good too, knowing it is all just a game, being able to look around at the room you are in and thanking "I'm glad I'm not in their shoes". Besides, I'm sure some people might realize that having to run a mile every round of Team Fortress 2 gets exhausting quickly.

I have a lot more to say about horror games (even though I don't personally enjoy playing them), and how good ones use their environments and mechanics to give good, yet horrifying experiences. Unfortunately that will be for another time.

Now, on with the readers challenge. This time we are going to get creative, so I have a brief for some of you to try and come up with an idea for. Design a game with no visuals, and the player uses gloves with contacts on the palms, to touch objects around them to play. The contacts could be swapped with lights and light sensors if you wish. Lets see some creativity, and again I will post my design next Friday-Saturday, along with my train of thought, so I'll see you then.

Next week, join me for my next post "The Toxicity of Multiplayer".

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