Article Analysis #2: FPS Games and Immersion – Justin Groot


March 26, 2012 by justingroot

Immersion is one of the most interesting topics we’ve discussed in class this semester. Indeed, the fact that video games can make the player feel present in another world is perhaps their greatest selling point. “First-Person Shooters: Immersion and Attention,” a paper by Mark Grimshaw, John P. Charlton and Richard Jagger in the Eludamos Journal for Computer Game Culture, explores the causes and effects of immersion in the FPS genre. While I agree with many of their assertions, I don’t think these kinds of immersion are unique to FPS games.

In The Video Game Theory Reader, Alison McMahan outlined three basic requirements for immersion: the game environment must match the player’s expectations of that environment, the player “must have a non-trivial impact on the environment,” and the conventions of the world must maintain consistency (McMahan 68-69). “First-Person Shooters: Immersion and Attention” actually references McMahan’s definition directly, although it also explores a variety of other definitions as well. According to the article, immersion is a complex topic that does not lend itself to any particular exact definition.

However, the authors of the paper do believe that immersion, whatever its slippery definitions, is something FPS games do particularly well. “Aiding the illusion of being present within the gameworld displayed on the screen,” note the authors, “the FPS game typically posits the player with a first-person perspective in which an arm clutching a weapon recedes from the player into the perspective of the game world” (Grimshaw 32). They seem to believe that a 3D, first-person perspective is implicitly immersive. While I agree with this assertion, I would also argue that less realistic games, for instance those that utilize an isometric perspective (like Starcraft II), can still be incredibly immersive.

The article also notes at least one way in which FPS games tend to meet the “conventions must match player expectations” requirement of immersion: “the most outlandish weapons which are impossible to manufacture in the real world conform to visual expectations in having a ‘business’ end and a means of engagement such as a haft or hilt with which to thrust or a trigger to pull” (32).

The article then turns to analyzing the role of attention and “process allocation” in immersion. According to the article, an important component of immersion in a video game is that it fully involves the player’s concentration. As the player gets better, “routines that are well learned eventually become relatively automatic, requiring little attentional control,” which frees the player up to focus on higher and higher planes of in-game thinking (34). This is consistent with my own experience playing FPS games at a competitive level — the actual controls necessary to move my character around the map become, as the article notes, “invisible,” and all my attention becomes focused on the diegetic components of the game rather than the controls (38). It is also consistent with my feelings on the immersiveness of games like Starcraft II, which immerse the player by demanding their full concentration and “attentional control.”

This “invisibility” of controls is central to “engrossment,” the second of three tiers of immersion described in the article:

“…here the player becomes more immersed in the gameworld because they no longer need to pay much attention to the paraphernalia of the game that exists in the non-virtual environment. This enables the player to become emotionally involved with the game and the controls become ‘invisible’. That is, the player does not need to pay attention to the controls because their use has become automated; this leaves a player free to concentrate on events in the gameworld and how they should respond to them… In the gaming situation the gamer could be thought of as actively selecting appropriate schemata to complete previously learned or familiar tasks and override inappropriate ones. For example, the sight of a particular character may trigger a schema for evasive action, while some other perceptual input, for example a particular sound, may trigger a search and rescue schema” (38).

This is contrasted with “engagement,” the first level of immersion, which occurs when players are still trying to learn how to play the game and master the controls, and total immersion, in which “one becomes so immersed that one is mentally transported from one’s present physical surroundings into the gameworld” (38). The article cites research that implies that this type of immersion is rare and does not last for very long.

Here I am inclined to disagree with the article. I do not think total immersion in competitive video games is necessarily fleeting. From my experience playing Starcraft II, for instance, I know that I lose track of everything that is going on outside the game when I am playing. People enter and leave the room, loud noises occur in my apartment, my phone vibrates, and yet I tune out all these distractions in order to focus my full attention on the diegetic world. Once I was streaming (broadcasting my Starcraft games over the internet for others to watch and listen to my commentary), usually a fairly active process in which I try to voice my thoughts on what is happening in the game, and I got involved in such an incredibly tense in-game scenario that I went completely silent and literally forgot I was streaming at all. Thus for twenty full minutes I lost all awareness of everything except what was going on inside the game. For professional players participating in tournaments with money on the line, I imagine it is like this all the time.

Therefore, while I agree with much of what the article says about immersion, and I agree that FPS games and other games in which players compete against one another are immersive in large part because they demand so much attention and concentration from the player, I disagree with the assertion that this kind of total immersion is implicitly short-lived.

Works Cited

Grimshaw, Mark, John P. Charlton, and Richard Jagger. “First-Person Shooters: Immersion and Attention.” Eludamos Journal for Computer Game Culture 5.1 (2011). Print.
Wolf, Mark J. P., and Bernard Perron. The Video Game Theory Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

4 thoughts on “Article Analysis #2: FPS Games and Immersion – Justin Groot

  1. bnoble6 says:

    I agree with most of what you say, but I think FPS games do provide extra immersion that just seems lacking in other genres, such as strategy games with isometric perspective, sports games, and even 3rd person shooters. This is not to say that one type of these games is more difficult, better overall, or requires more skill than any of the others, but I just think in terms of being transferred into the game world and feeling truly engulfed in it, FPS games are at the forefront of the field. An argument for this is when someone is playing an FPS game and they shoot someone, get killed, or capture a hill, they refer to their actions in the first person as well, saying, “I just shot those three guys then captured the hill before their last surviving teammate killed ME.” Whereas, in RTS games, you would more often hear, “I sent in an army of guys who fought his army and they won, taking over that region of the map.” Or in a sports game, “Did you just see that goal by Ronaldo?” You can still feel incredibly involved and invested in these other genres of games, but they don’t provide that direct and complete immersion of FPS games by placing the player directly into the body of the character.

    • justingroot says:

      I think your point has some validity. That being said, I would note that often in games like Starcraft the distinction between “my army lost the game” and “I lost the game” is an insignificant one. For instance, if you listen to professional SC2 players discuss a game they just played in an interview, they refer to things in a very personal way: “he attacked me in too many places at once and I couldn’t fight it off,” or “I hit the perfect forcefields and he died,” rather than “his army attacked my army in too many places” or “my units used the spells correctly, causing his army to collapse.” Indeed, there is a very palpable sense in a game like Starcraft of the units you control being tools (like bullets or grenades in an FPS) that are manipulated as extensions of the player himself.

      Nor do all FPS games succeed fully in placing the player directly into the body of the character. Based on the position of the gun on screen in an FPS, the player character generally seems to be holding it at the level of his mouth. In many games, looking down will reveal no torso, legs or feet, but rather disquieting emptiness. This does not detract from the immersiveness of these games. Similarly, in an RTS game like Starcraft, one does not need to see the complicated array of controls an interstellar general would use to direct his troops in order to believe that one is acting as an interstellar general.

  2. aakang says:

    I also disagree with the article’s claim that immersion is rare. In class, we discussed immersion as being “the sensation of being surrounded by a completely other reality.” In addition to this other reality, “deep play” can be at work here. When playing video games that require total concentration like Starcraft II and League of Legends, an action RTS game, I tend to be immersed whenever I play. Without being immersed, I feel that it would be difficult to concentrate on all the subtlest game mechanics that separate the good from the great players. Games that require immersion like League of Legends require deep play and ask more of the player; I block out everything else and only focus on the video game: the video game becomes my reality. Thus, I am completely immersed whenever I play these video games. However, I can see what the article means in saying that immersion “does not last for very long.” Although I am completely immersed while playing the game, the immersion usually does not last longer than the duration of one game, which lasts from about a half an hour to an hour at most. Also, the immersion does not last long so that it extends itself into my activities outside the game world. Instead, I am immersed for only a limited amount of time. If I were to be immersed for hours and hours without any breaks, I would be mentally exhausted.

    -Andy Kang

  3. vreddy92 says:

    I feel that all games can be immersive, depending on the realism presented. Even not, in certain cases. In Starcraft, you are a proverbial God with the ability to impose your will on units and make buildings sprout and do all these amazing things, and you can be really immersed in that. I think part of it is a willful suspension of disbelief, and the rest is just how you take it. Immersion is a personality thing, in my opinion. I can be really immersed in a game of Halo to the point that I ignore my surroundings except for the people in my headset and the game. The controller is then an extension of myself. Although, I feel less immersed in Grand Theft Auto, just because the game isn’t as enjoyable to me (note: “not as enjoyable”. It’s still enjoyable.) Just…I think immersion is relative. Justin, you love Starcraft, so you’re immersed in it. I would likely be less-so, just because I have no idea what to do and would probably give up. It’s nothing you can absolutely state, I don’t think.

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