The Evolution of Immersion

By: Billy Bunce

Help me. I’m being pursued. I desperately flee from four shadowy figures, each of whom desires nothing more than my death. Oh, but what a relief it would be were that my only dilemma. As I was first abducted by these four (though I luckily just escaped), I have absolutely no knowledge of my surroundings. In fact, I feel almost…trapped. I have no idea how to escape. My only chance of temporarily evading my captors would come from thoroughly surveying the area in which I currently find myself. Then and only then might I possibly be able to find some fleeting escape to postpone my inevitable demise. Maybe I’ll be able to find a weapon soon and fight back against my captors for a brief while. But until then, I run.

Now, reread that paragraph with the newfound knowledge that I just presented a more absorbing, epic, and slightly altered synopsis of the game Pac-Man. Such an involved mindset, though actually rather commonplace in modern console and computer games, is never encountered in classic arcade games. This, in my opinion, is the primary difference between arcade/board games and contemporary video games: a sense of immersion.

I’ll never forget the evening when I finished the fourth case in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on the DS. The ending was so shocking and mind-blowing that I literally found myself unable to study for the AP exams that I had the next day. Lost in contemplation, I was only able to think about the game, the characters, and the complex murder mystery that had just been revealed to me. It was then that I first realized just how absorbing a video game can truly be if done right.

However, it wasn’t just the narrative that caused the game to affect me the way it did. The graphics, music, and presentation all combined to make Phoenix Wright one of the most enthralling experiences I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. None of these great aspects, though, can be found in arcade or board games. Although the original arcade games should be appreciated for the difference they made in shaping the present state of video games, the truth is that I will never be as enthralled by a game of Pac-Man, Monopoly, or Galaga as I am by Phoenix Wright, Metal Gear Solid, or Final Fantasy VII.

This difference in the immersive abilities of a game arises primarily due to the evolution of the medium of video games as a whole. Board/arcade games are, more than anything, relics of a time when video games were naught more than quick, simple endeavors. The purpose of video games was once solely to have mindless fun, while they are now transmedial fusions which can provide involving, absorbing, and potentially life-changing experiences (Kingdom Hearts actually fell into that final category for me). Sure, a game of Dig-Dug or Donkey Kong is still fun every once in a while if I just need to kill some time. But for me, an immersive console game will always beat a simple round of an arcade game.