Last year, Ready Player One unleashed passions: a futuristic universe in virtual reality in which everything becomes possible. A kind of Second Life in VR, a little more “bad-ass” and very immersive! I told myself at the time virtual reality will change the world ! Yeah, but here’s the thing : If we only relied on her, we’d be in trouble.
The Art of Conceiving a Video Game
If virtual reality can indeed be at the origin of new game experiences, creating immersion is a little more complex and older. To understand it, let’s start with the b-a-ba of video games. In his book, Conceiving a Video Game, Marc Albinet describes the creation of a video game experience as the combination of substantive and formal elements of the game :
Gameplay is the game mechanics : it is the interaction modes that are proposed and that allow to pass from the spectator to the player.
Video represents the visual and sound aspects that create a particular atmosphere. It is not only the graphic or sound quality of a game, but also the elements of representation (light, artistic style, scenography, camera, etc.) to bring credibility to the universe we want to propose.
Dramaturgy is the storytelling, or the creation of a story and inspiring characters if you prefer.
Moreover, even the communication of a video game is often centered around these three elements, as can be seen in the example below :
The question is how to create a sense of immersion using these three elements.
I-MMER-SION, It’s in the game! The content is counter-attacking!
Let’s get back to the point : is what we envy in Ready Player One just virtual reality? Or is it the universe and its possibilities? Driving crazy cars on wild roads, dancing on unimaginable suspended tracks, get in mystical environments are all opportunities that make you dream… In fact, immersion comes above all from the quality of the content!
For Marc Albinet, among the three components of a video game, it is the “video” that is the vector of immersion since it allows to offer a coherent representation of dramaturgy and gameplay by creating a particular atmosphere. The latter will then have a significant impact on our ability to “get into the game” and enjoy it. In this sense, video is indeed the visible marker of immersion in a video game.
This does not mean that the other two elements, gameplay and dramaturgy, have no role to play.
Gameplay is very important: it is what makes a game different from a movie. You have an active role, and no longer just a spectator, which will require increased concentration and the ability to impact the game. You become a part of it with the feeling of being in the game.
Dramaturgy allows, as in cinema, to create emotional links between a subject and an object. This reduces the distance between you and the medium (your screen). An exciting story and charismatic characters will probably tape you up for several more hours in front of your screen.
“Immersion is a key factor success of video games” by Yann Garreau, 2018 (yes, this sentence is a collector’s item, I know)
In other words, to create a strong immersion, it will be necessary to create coherence between these three elements. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a miracle recipe.
On the other hand, it is possible to make clever mixtures that can lead to this sensation and offer high-impact experiences.
“The benefit[of playing a game] becomes colossal when it is able to change us, to transform our vision of the world and ourselves, to modify our relationship to what surrounds us” — Marc Albinet
Yes, but well, virtual reality can still reinforce immersion, can’t it?! Yes, but it is not the only way to reinforce this feeling.
Level Up : when the immersion rises by one level
1. Use technologies : To enhance the degree of immersion, immersive technologies (including virtual reality) can indeed be used. These technologies will be able to reduce the distance between the real and the virtual by mobilizing all or part of your senses. Thus there are devices that play on sight, smell, haptics, etc. The uses change significantly: goodbye the old controllers, hello the controllers that track your movements and reproduce them in the game allowing an even stronger immersion.
We chose to show you a device that we appreciated testing: Hypersuit, an exoskeleton that allows you, among other things, to fly in virtual worlds!
2. Don’t forget the licenses! Ready Player One, it’s tons of little nods to the world of video games and science fiction! And it works. You will appreciate an experience even more if you find elements to which you are attached. I really enjoyed finding Tracer from the Overwatch game (picture below).
3. Face the facts ! What Ready Player One does not necessarily show is that we also observe the opposite phenomenon : video games are increasingly trying to encroach into your real space. As such, the Assassin’s creed experience at Les Invalides in Paris or Pokémon Go are attempts, with varying degrees of success, to get the game out of virtual space alone. Immersion will be encouraged here by human encounters between fans, the breakthrough of video games in another sector, that of sport, or their use in historical sites (walking in the Invalids is quite great anyway) or usual (catching Pokémon on the street is a child’s dream!). Only the opening ceremonies of the Worlds of League of Legends can make you understand that physical/virtual coexistence clearly has a bright future !
Thus, virtual reality does not do everything! Immersion is first and foremost a matter of content. It also seems that we still love our good old world enough for us to fight the temptation of the “all VR”! However, the universe of Ready Player One slapped us around and we loved it!