im(me)rsion

There’s a repetitive article about the keyboard interface, sort of, at Adventure Classic Gaming, the kind of article where I’m still not sure what its main point is. However the author, Leopold McGinnis, dances around what I thought was an interesting point. There are at least two kinds of immersion in a game (maybe more than two, I don’t know), especially with text adventures, immersion in the game interface, call it the parser level, and immersion in the story world.

Some game designers are talking about making their games more immersive by streamlining the interface. However McGinnis talks about getting really into interaction with the parser interface, exploring the text game space by trying out things that probably won’t get a response but are very rewarding when they do. All of this is separate from immersion in the story world itself. In a FPS it would be like standing in one spot and pressing different combinations of buttons to see what you would do, eventually you could learn the vocabulary of the keypad or joystick to express phrases and see what results you got from the game world. I have a feeling no one actually ever does that. It is not exactly like his example:

In Warcraft, you couldn’t just start to build a garden or crossbreed orcs with demon hunters.

That is more in the story world, no?

The thing I like about this expressiveness is the player is asserting their individuality. In the story world you necessarily limit the player’s options to what makes sense within a point of view. In the text game, in conversation with the parser, the player can reject this point of view as they please. I wonder if there’s a way to make this parser conversation have more meaning than the usual, where the player types a bunch of phrases (game conversation) until they get a response that has been coded (story conversation). Yes, in a sense some of this parser conversation deliberately is part of the story world, but I’m talking about what McGinnis writes about, where the player types things they sort of know won’t be in the game, but they’re playing a guessing game with the author: did they code that reply? A game operating on two levels.

Whether you want two levels of immersion, whether you want to emphasize the individual, is another question. I’ve been thinking lately about the value of a text adventure to a population that might be transforming itself into a post-literate, ex-self collective society. The ultimate cycle, from the tribe swapping stories (games) around the campfire, to the text as artifact, and back to the tribe(s) swapping video and audio games (stories) digitally.

Do I really want to make something of the past or something for the future? If self interest as self expression and text (not a ‘text’ if you know what I mean) is fundamentally an instrument of authoritarian power, you know, do I want to go there? Does the interactivity of the text game trump the (authoritarian) reification of its text, or for that matter, am I just screwed because text games aren’t really interactive anyway?

What I really need is a philosophy lesson.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] player can do within a performance. This builds on what I’ve been thinking about in terms of two levels of immersion in IF. Since I think it might get old for the player to be in the world-space by themself, there is […]


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