Emotion and gaming go together like a hand and a well fitted glove. Our emotional well being is like a gas tank and when it runs on empty we don't really go very far. As such, one of the means of helping ourselves is to relax and enjoy something. Games are like stories that pull us in and manipulate our inner workings to produce joy, sadness, happiness, and more. Good games can make us feel a certain way, great games give you a choice in how to feel and a world to feel it in, like a brush and palette. What really drives immersion, to me, is the ability to be Human and make choices.
Life is Strange knocked me out with just how immersive and emotionally driven it is and how it really captures the roots of what a game is supposed to do - immerse you. I am big on immersion, after all my favorite game trifecta (Longest Journey, Vampire the Masquarade: Bloodlines, and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura) are realistically large sandboxes with a primary story, but with different ways to reach the ending.
In The Longest Journey, you can make choices and see the world as little or as much as you want. You can power through and only solve puzzles, but the fun comes from wandering around and interacting with the world and finding out all of the interesting stories. In VtM, the game has so many different ways to move through it and so many choices that affect the ending, but doesn't ever really reveal the veil, letting all to your imagination (who is the Taxi driver?), and then of course Arcanum, a game in which an entire city can either love or hate you based on very small choices.
In each of these games, you're given various choices on what to do and where to go, and each one has a profound impact on your enjoyment of the game and how the game plays out. Each in their own way, but that's why they're my favorite games: they're hyper immersive. Life is Strange is more so than any game I have yet to play, but there is some bias, the topics it deals with and the atmosphere it presents is something I can relate to so well - for others, Telltale Game's is what scratches them on a internal level.
A Quick Aside: As technology gets better, there are more and better creative ways to use it to really pull you into a game. In this screenshot, you can tell so much from the character itself and the surroundings. Life is Strange uses a nice and tasteful mix of artistic camera angles and rich sounds to really pull you in. While never a requirement and some games go too far, there is that point of just right that amplifies a game. I think of many games like a good soup, too many or too few ingredients can work, but often the right mix is the perfect taste.
I won't speak too much about the game itself, the topic here is emotion, but I will say that much like Gone Home, it puts you into a situation and expands a world in front of you and lets you do as you see fit to get from point A to point B. Each choice has a profound impact on how characters act / move / say. It is, almost as if, you are the character yourself and the world melts away as you move through the game.
Games have to have that element of immersion to be good. This is why games like WoW, even with their dated graphics, are capable of compelling the masses. When we play WoW, we can easily see the world around us melt away, because our attention and focus is on the game at all times. The combat, characters, etc. are all fluid and the game does its best to set an atmosphere where the hunt for prestige items is ever so critical.
Yet, WoW and most MMOs don't really bring you into the world, they distract you, although successfully because they are the embodiment of choice. Games that can pull you into the world and invade your senses are games that last a lifetime. I can tell you there is rarely a week that goes by that I don't mention either TLJ, VtM, or Arcanum in some capacity and I think of them regularly. They touch you and get into your head and they provide enjoyment that's long lasting (look at how people still play VtM so regularly).
This is achieved through creative use of dialog and world building. The more a world is built out and presented to you in a way that you want to find out more, the easier it is to get lost in the world. For others, games like Skyrim are what drives them to keep playing. The world so graphically fleshed out and the various side quests and tasks give players so much choice in how to play and experience the game, almost as if they were there themselves.
Anytime we're put on rails and told to move in a specific direction, restricted if you will, we become frustrated. Look at the lament for FFXIII, which removed the open world for tunnels that you walked through. Even with atmosphere and story, without choice, we can easily lose interest. The reason that MMOs can lack story and atmosphere, but still be immersive, is that they do give us so much choice.
Truly, choice and free will are the most important parts of Humanity and games should always take note. See everyone Monday, while I sit and wait for the next chapter of Life is Strange.
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