‘Who cares if Skyrim wasn’t realistic with some imperfections’: From immersion to incorporation and Player Involvement Model

Realism in Skyrim

Recently I’ve been investigating especially the term immersion in the use of understanding human-virtual environment relationships. Many have criticized the real usefulness of this term. I especially enjoy Ryan’s argument that

It has become so popular in contemporary culture that people tend to use it to describe any kind of intensely pleasurable artistic experience or any absorbing activity. In this usage, we can be immersed in a crossword puzzle as well as a novel, in the writing of a computer program as well as in playing the violin. (Ryan, 2001, p. 14)

Some note the definition of immersion is often heavily preceded by a too simplified techno-naturalistic worldview – fellow traveller, that means BS about technology doing the whole thing and us being just cogs in the digital wheel. This seems to be the case especially in virtual reality research. I think I am beginning to see why lots and lots of virtual “worlds” just seem to fail to raise any real engagement, involvement, [your term here].

Lately I’ve also been reflecting how Gordon Calleja’s idea for a replacement, incorporation, might fit in all of this. Calleja describes incorporation as

the absorption of a virtual environment into consciousness, yielding a sense of inhabitation, which is supported by the systemically upheld embodiment of the player in a single location represented by the avatar (2014, p. 232).

It’s important to note that Calleja thinks a bit differently about the age-old virtual “there” and physical “here” division. Instead of technology somehow teleporting us to the virtual ‘other place’, he focuses video games to be something that take place in our consciousness – well, phenomenologically speaking, doesn’t kind of all interaction despite if for example a ball is on the screen or in our hand?

I also hope to have some time to reflect Calleja’s Player Involvement Model to some games I’ve been recently playing (Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, Skyrim, Diablo III & Bayonetta). Some have already used it with Bioshock, and discussed developing it further. Academic term jerking aside, let’s test in future posts how this really works in reflection to some gamez.

Oh, and I also want to debate this post about Skyrim being soulless, a kind-of-a-game-review I lately saw cited in Farrow and Iacovides (2012). As a sneak preview, I can say the dude has fallen into his subjective trap of “for some reason this particular aspect of the game needs more realism”. At the same time this guy is also right, but I don’t personally agree with him. Check out the discussions around Skyrim (for example here and here), and you might get the drift why (hint: player types like in the Bartle test).

References & more to read:

Calleja, G. (2011). In-Game: From immersion to incorporation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Calleja, G. (2014). Immersion in Virtual Worlds. In M. Grimshaw (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality (pp. 222–236). New York: Oxford University Press.

Check also Calleja’s Philosophy or Computer Games Conference keynote at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs95e-L26SI

Farrow, R., & Iacovides, I. (2012). ‘In the game’? Embodied subjectivity in gaming environments. In: 6th International Conference on the Philosophy of Computer Games: the Nature of Player Experience, 29-31 January 2012, Madrid, Spain. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/33357/ Paper presentation on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUDAHcBEDgw

Ryan, M-L. (2001). Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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