Sunday, February 7, 2010

Immersion is in the eye of the beholder

Wolfshead is worried that the immersion of World of Warcraft is eroding. Apparently he used to be immersed in WoW, and now, thanks to additions like Mr. T and the Dungeon Finder, he is not any more. Immersion is a very personal thing, but I find it a bit strange to draw the line right there. At what point was World of Warcraft so realistic that you could suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the fantasy world?

The latest WoW patch added the last wing of Icecrown Citadel to the game, and now it is possible for the first time to bring a long series of events to a conclusion by battling Arthas, the Lich King, himself. So imagine this top guild, in shiny armor battling their way through Icecrown Citadel, to finally arrive in Arthas's throne room. How does the fight start? Well, the warrior walks up to Arthas and shouts: "Hey, Arthas, yo mama is so fat, the last time she took a sun bath at the Borean Tundra beach, D.E.H.T.A. tried to roll her back into the water." At which point Arthas, apparently sensitive to yo mama jokes, in spite of being the most powerful and most cunning being in the World of Warcraft, starts to mindlessly attack the well-armored warrior who taunted him, instead of doing something a 5-year old could figure out: Attacking the healers first, then the dps, and ignoring the tanks. Taunting also works perfectly on creatures like skeletons (diet jokes?), animals, and even blobs of slime. Actually the only enemies who are completely immune to taunts are real humans, you can't taunt other players in PvP. And that isn't a recent addition to WoW, taunt always worked like that. And you find that realistic and immersive?

Fact is that not only World of Warcraft, but pretty much any MMORPG is full of completely unrealistic rules. You can swim in full metal armor, but you can't climb a 4-feet high fence. Killed monsters pop up back into existence 5 minutes later. People in virtual worlds never sleep, and never go to the toilet, except some dwarves for comic effect. It is always winter in some places, always summer in others. Not to mention that orcs, fireballs, dragons, and flying gryphons aren't very realistic to start with.

So what makes some people look at some flying dragon, whose weight and wingspan clearly mean that aerodynamically he could never lift off, and find that dragon totally realistic and immersive, and then meet Haris Pilton or a gnome on a motorcycle and start complaining about erosion of immersion? Funnily enough that gnome on the motorcycle is actually *more* realistic than the fire-breathing dragon, not less. How come the same person who never had any problems teleporting people to the dungeon entrance using the meeting stone is now complaining that teleporting people inside using the Dungeon Finder is breaking his immersion?

Berating a developer for this or that feature breaking immersion is just silly, if the whole game is not realistic at all to start with. Immersion is in the eye of the beholder, and among other things can also depend on totally subjective variables like how often somebody saw the same content. Maybe that same dragon looked realistic and the player was totally immersed in the action of fighting him the first time around, but on his 10th fight against the same dragon all immersion is gone. One player finds one feature immersive, the next player thinks it breaks his immersion. How could a developer possibly create a fantasy world which is immersive to everyone at every time? It just is impossible!

I think that various comments on lack of immersion tell us more about the state of burnout of the commenter than about the game in question. Immersion is too subjective for us to be able to measure it and draw lines of which physical laws fantasy worlds can and cannot break. If you are pretending to be a fireball-throwing elf mage, you just look silly if you start discussing realism.

No comments:

Post a Comment