April 11, 2012 by aakang
I used to enjoy playing video games that were photorealistic and had a first-person perspective, qualities which I thought were crucial for video games to be immersive. However, this standard of mine changed as MMORPGs like World of Warcraft were able to immerse me. Despite its cartoon-like graphics and lack of emphasis on the first-person perspective, it was able to immerse me more so than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. From my experience, video games like World of Warcraft are able to be most immersive when they emotionally compel the user through customization of the avatar.
Going to the World of Warcraft lab session made me nervous because I was aware of this video game’s ability to immerse me; in the past, my enjoyment of this immersion has led to unhealthy video game addictions. I initially watched my fellow classmates play. Watching my classmates play World of Warcraft did little to make me interested in the game. Once I started to control the avatar, I saw glimpses of customizability that the game had to offer. I explored this area of customizability by choosing to receive Moraya’s Belt instead of another piece of armor after completing a quest. Still I was not immersed in the diegetic world because I was controlling a shaman that one of my classmates had already established and did not have the opportunity to customize it as much as I wanted. I could not make such modifications to the avatar’s skills and equipment because I only had 30 minutes to play the game. Thus, I did not have the opportunity to discover newer quests and monsters.
To become immersed and to encounter opportunities for customization, more than 30 minutes of playing the game is needed. Because I did not set the avatar’s name, sex, appearance, race, and class, I could only partially identify with the lightning shaman that my classmate had created. Because the video game had disappointed me in class and I saw the video game’s potential to immerse me, I played World of Warcraft again on my friend’s desktop after the lab had ended. I picked my avatar’s name, changed its appearance to look like an attractive, female night elf, and chose the warrior class. I played as my night elf warrior for about 12 levels. Despite the fact that my avatar was a female night elf, which I am not in actuality, I felt that I was exploring the land of Shadowglen as one. At one point, I completed the Westfall Stew quest in Saldean’s Farm and chose to receive a tightly cinched belt, which netted me more armor than the other options I had. I made this decision in order to make my warrior more efficient as a tank, which has the role of taking damage for the team. As I reached these higher levels, I also allocated points into the protection talent tree for additional toughness. In the diegetic world, I saw many different possible race-class combinations, such as night elf druids and troll hunters. Instead of arbitrarily going with one of these alternatives, I wanted to specifically mold my night elf warrior to have durability. I even made shortcuts for the spells that I felt were most relevant for my avatar. I decided to stop playing the video game at this point and stop myself from getting even more immersed.
I feel that when one is immersed, he or she is caught up with the world of the game’s story and can emotionally identify with it. World of Warcraft gives its users the freedom to customize their avatars in any way possible resulting in their emotional identification and getting lost in the game’s world. Miroslaw Filiciak explains this idea well when he says “it is in MMORPGs that the possibilities [the ability to change an avatar’s characteristics] are most abundant…in which the emotional relationship between the player and the character directed by him is the closest” (VGTR 92). Although video games like Call of Duty and Guitar Hero are able to immerse players through its sense of realism, World of Warcraft immerses users to an even greater degree through avatar customization. For instance, the first person perspective and photorealistic graphics give players the feeling that they are holding a gun and firing at someone in Call of Duty. Also, Guitar Hero utilizes a controller shaped like a guitar to give the feeling of actually holding and playing a guitar. However, a deeper level of immersion, which goes beyond realism and realistic controls, occurs when one’s consciousness merges with that of the avatar; one can emotionally engage with the avatar. The illustration of my experience playing the game in two different settings shows and explains this difference in emotion. By customizing my female night elf’s appearance, class, race, sex, talents, and equipment, I felt that I had fostered a stronger emotional relationship with my night elf warrior than with the shaman in class. I can attribute this emotional relationship to the fact that I had the opportunity for more customization from the beginning of the game along with the customizability that became available at higher levels. This emotional relationship helped me to identify more with my avatar, which acts as a representation of the user in the World of Warcraft. I could strongly identify with my avatar after I had specifically molded my avatar to be a female, night elf tank-warrior, who excels in player vs. monster scenarios, and equipping armor such as the cinched belt. While I was playing the video game, I could tell I was immersed because I would ask myself what I need to do instead of what my avatar has to do to maximize my damage reduction. By this point, I had become the avatar.
Although many of my classmates may have been disappointed by the repetition of killing raptors, World of Warcraft offers interesting combinations and customizability with the game’s progression. When I played World of Warcraft in the lab, I was dismayed by the lack of customizability early on in the game. But once I played outside of class and customized my avatar’s talents and equipment after gaining a few more levels, I understood that all these modifications reflected my intentions. Each development I made to my beautiful night elf made me more emotionally attached to it. Eventually, these emotions became so compelling that I felt that I was the night elf tank completing quests and enduring the damage dealt by the wild monsters. At the same time, this sense of immersion is not to be confused with the fact that I believe that I am a beautiful, female, night elf warrior in real life.