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Community Spotlight: Is MMO Immersion Still Possible?

Posted by MikeB Thursday April 14 2011 at 5:17PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Is it possible to be immersed in an mmo nowadays?" by otter3370. Otter3370 wonders if it is still possible to be immersed in the game world of an MMO these days with the amount of players who break down the game into all the nitty gritty technical details:

I've read a lot of threads discussing upcoming and current mmos. Many times they delve into everything from what type of graphics engine the game uses to what kind of dance animations the avatars can do. Gamers know so much about an mmo, right down to its game mecahnics, is it possible to even get immersed in the character or story of an mmo anymore. Does knowing too much about the game before hand ruin in any way its immersive potential for you?

I've been in games where gamers were discussing how they need one piece of equipment because it will will boost another ones str by .3% or something like that. When you start discussing percentages and ratios, crunching numbers, when you basically have playing an mmo down to a science, are you really immersed in the mmo or is this just another type of game play style?

These types of gamers are the ones that usually find the exploits, bugs, etc., that plague some games and can be a positive force in stabilizing them.  But I can't help but wander if it hurts their enjoyment of an mmo in the long run. 

Can knowing too much about the technical side of an mmo remove the simple wonder of being in a new world?

JB47394 shares his thoughts on the topic:

I found EverQuest pretty immersive for the year or so I played.

World of Warcraft (WoW) was very nicely immersive for about half an hour.  WoW destroyed my sense of immersion because of all the gubbage on the screen.  Numbers floating out of characters during combat, punctuation floating over NPC, quest boxes, spell icons, item icons and so on.  When I finally got around to raiding, it only got worse, with all the raid UI stuff to allow support characters to track the status of everyone in the raid.  It got to be more like air traffic control at O'Hare than playing at being a Tauran Druid.

EverQuest stayed immersive because the game interface was so crude.  All the information was jammed into a lttle box in the corner of my screen.  That meant that I spent the majority of my time looking at the uncluttered game world.  If the game had been usable without the floating name tags, I'd have enjoyed myself that much more.

Until MMOs can go back to a streamlined interface while keeping the game playable, I'm fairly certain I won't be able to get immersed.  Making advancement less frenetic would help quite a bit as well.  With so much change in the character, it's hard for me to think of my character as much more than a place to hang gear.  A slower pace of advancement would also give players an opportunity to learn the game world instead of racing through quests and zones using all sorts of builtin aids to guide them.

Loke666 feels that he can still get immersed into an MMO, it just takes a certain type of game world for him to do so:

If you can get immersed in a P&P RPG without more than some paper and possibly a few dices you can of course get immersed in a MMO still.

But I can admit that the last game that did it for me was GW from 2005 and even that didn't have the feeling I had in some of the old games.

AoC actually got me into it for a few days but it kinda lost me after a little while. The world was actually pretty well made but it was too small, buggy and I just lost the feeling for the world after a while.

I think a game needs a certain size for it to work for me, and it also needs small details that isn't really for anything but to add to the feeling that the game is alive. Like a small part of an old fence in the middle of nowhere, a few stones that might once been part of an house, a tree with some pretty birds in or other small stuff like that.

Not too many but a few so the world actually look alive. Also the world need some planning I havn't seen in MMOs lately, you don't just place mobs and animals with certain distance from eachother for the players to kill. It is actually nice with a small part of the wood with almost nothing, maybe besides a squirrel and a few birds. 

But I do have the hope things will be better soon.

I am of course certain other people still are immersed in their games, but I feel that this is a point that can be bettered a lot.

LydarSynn feels it's certainly still possible, but it requires a believable world:

I think the biggest thing that breaks immersion is that there is no sense of reality at all in any of these games. When MMOs were new and the game mechanics were not completely understood (i.e there was little concept of end game), it was easier to become immersed. Once you have played a half dozen of these games, you know what the game is all about. Sure, there are different graphics and mechanics but in the end, your character is simply an immortal fighter, mage, crafter or whatever. While most of these games are built on fantastic premises, there is no consistent reality other than one- you cannot die or even lose anything except some time that you played. The world is static and the player cannot affect it at all. The econmies of most games are also completely unrealistic.

IMO immersion can only really come from playing in a world that is somewhat believeable. Believalbe means that there is some risk to the player of loss and not just from death. Also, the players have to be able to affect the world and change it for better or worse. That also means putting limitations on what one player or a small group can do.

However as another poster put it, your mileage may vary as far as immersion and some may be able to forget all that I just mentioned and be really immersed in the current crop of MMOs.

I'm not often as immersed in MMOs as I was in the past due to the fact that I'm older and understand them on a much deeper level given the nature of my job, but even if I were younger and not working on this side of the fence I can see how contemporary MMOs are a good deal less immersive. It really does have a lot to do with a lack of mystery in newer games, at least for me.

There is a lot of handholding and leading around that makes for a much more linear progression in most new games and so it feels like I'm playing them with the same attitude as a single-player game, and by that I mean I'm trying to "beat" the game. A lot of the older games had a bit more mystique to them and didn't really focus on pushing players from quest chain to quest chain.

Can you still be immersed in an MMO? Share your thoughts in the comments below!