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Once more with feeling...

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Anonymous

Hi Everyone,

I'd like to solicit opinions and thoughts on a topic that is, in my opinion, one of the core elements of non-abstract game design - how to create a feeling for the theme and make the players think they are actually participating in the event. I'll give some examples.

I have rediscovered games after a 20+ year absence and most of the examples, I'm afraid, are somewhat negative but should serve to illustrate the problems I have in design, trying to ensure the players are involved with the game. My partner in this is my wife, Julia, who is not a games player as such but who does enjoy many of the games.

Ticket To Ride. This came heavily recommended by many people. For me, it's a rummy game and there's no sense of 'building a railroad'. Not a criticism of the game as such, we both like it, and it's one of Julia's favourites because she enjoys 'connecting things'.

Carcassonne. No sense of 'building' or 'creating' a land, and the Farmers, Monks and Knights don't give the game any sense of 'feel' either although we enjoy trying to create big castles (probably not the best strategy but there you go). Enjoyable all the same but essentially abstract.

Lost Cities. Another highly-recommended game that is rummy. There's absolutely no sense of 'adventure' at all. Having said that, it's one of Julia's favourites and we usually end up playing this at the end of a session.

St Petersburg. We've played this about a dozen times and continually think we're missing something. We keep playing to see if it will 'fall into place'. Maybe we need more than two. But there's no sense of atmosphere or period.

Korsar. This is the updated version of Pirat but, again, it's rummy with a touch of whist. This proved very disappointing, absolutely no sense of yo-ho-ho.

Formula De. Recommended as the best motor racing game. Interesting and clever mechanics although the one who gets a couple of good throws inevitably wins. Not bad but we think there must be a better racing game out there somewhere - already invented or not!

Battle Cry. I played a lot of war games in my early days and someone who reviewed this said that said even his girlfriend liked it, but wargames were totally new to Julia. War tends not to be a girlie thing and she really didn't like it at all. However, the mechanics are interesting and perhaps with the right opponent it could have been more 'involving'.

So maybe I should give some examples of games that I did feel involved in. Well, the truth is most of my gaming experiences were over 20 years ago and although I can remember playing lots of games, I'm afraid none particularly stick in my mind. We played a lot of D&D (I'm not counting RPG here), Avalon Hill, TSR, SPI and a whole host of others - Waddingtons, abstract, card games... I just know I enjoyed many. Perhaps it's an age thing...

So I'm wondering what it takes to make a truly 'involving' game. I think the artwork in important but not necessarily the most important aspect. Good mechanics, I think are essential - too much luck and you feel that you have no control over events.

What part does complexity play? Does a game need a certain level of complexity for the player to become involved? Too much complexity, on the other hand, will turn may players off.

Is it down to the people you're playing with? Does a knowledge of mechanics diminish the game play? Do you analyse the mechanics more than 'playing the game'?

So many questions.

Essentially, I'm looking for opinions about what makes a game involving for the players. All thoughts welcome.

Ian

GeminiWeb
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Once more with feeling...

Not sure if I'm reading you correctly, but I get the feeling that you want a strong interaction between theme and mechanics, which might lend itself more towards simulation games.

For example, I like the theme of Peurto Rico but some people might have problems with the idea of choosing roles and what that simulates. Alternatively, other might like the mechanics of seeing cargo loaded onto ships and placing indiviual colonists in the various buildings to man them.

Hmmm ....

Anonymous
Once more with feeling...

I'm not sure what I want :-). Having been a little disappointed with the 'feel factor' of several games (although not necessarily their playability) I was wondering how feeling and involvement might be incorporated into a game - mechanics, artwork, whatever?

Sims are obviously one way and my fuzzy memory suggests that I did enjoy these games many years ago. However, most sims tend to be quite complex and long which would deter many players. Is there a correlation here between complexity and involvement? Possibly. Are there any short involving sims?

Is it possible to get some sort of 'feel' in a card game, for example, or are you doomed to regurgitate rummy/whist variations?

Puerto Rico we didn't get so I can't comment on it, I'm afraid.

Ian

Scurra
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Once more with feeling...

The BoardGameGeek is another good place to find the arguments about theme vs simulation vs abstraction laid out in stark relief.

I think it's fair to argue that a game that is supposed to last an hour or two can rarely approach the heights of "simulation". That doesn't, however, mean that it isn't "thematic".

Your examples are largely shorter games - and therefore cannot invoke the same level of immersion as a game intended to last three hours or more*.
But equally I think you are being rather harsh on what you are expecting from them: the actual process of board-building in Carcassonne is indeed very abstract, but the final result is surprisingly evocative of that region of France (with cities scattered across a lush green landscape.) And it always looks beautiful too.
Likewise, Ticket To Ride isn't about "building" railroads: it's about crossing the country from point A to point B via existing routes. (In the UK we can probably grasp this more easily since the various competing railroad services generally don't accept each other's tickets which can lead to all sorts of problems!)

(*OK, so a game of Chess or Go can last several hours, but not usually at the "casual" level.)

Steven Tavener put it like this on the Geek:

Quote:
think the bottom line is that in an "abstract", I expect a battle of wits with one other player (exception: partnership games), where superior play will win you the game. I may not win, but if not, then I expect to have at least learned something! In a themed game, I have lower expectations; I'll play my best, but I'm looking around and enjoying the scenery, and am more interested in the experience than the result.

I think that that captures my feelings pretty well too. Interestingly, that same thread had a comment that "abstract" games were largely ones in which the player essentially does the same thing turn after turn, which inevitably leads to a less immersive experience.

(St Petersberg is a curious example. I think that the theme itself is remarkably solid: when I'm playing I do feel like a noble hiring workers & administrators and paying for impressive buildings all out of a limited budget. It's much more solid thematically than Puerto Rico, in which you are expected to change your role every round; something that works as a game mechanic but sucks in the immersion stakes! And yet St.P. has a dangerous mechanical progression to it that makes you feel as though the game is driving you, rather than the other way around.)

As far as your comments about card games are concerned: I don't think the issue is whether we are doomed to repeat rummy/whist forever, but that people are endlessly bringing new ideas to these games in a way that prevents them from becoming stale: you (and indeed I!) might think that Lost Cities has no theme to speak of (I love the art but it doesn't fool me), or that it could be played with a regular pack of cards, but does that invalidate it as being one of the great two-player card games? Not in my book. What matters is that there are people who have never and will never encounter it and they should.

Anonymous
Once more with feeling...

Hi Daivd,
I'm still trying to find my way around the geek board. It's interesting, though, to see different people's comments on the games - even with the Top Games there are people who don't take to them. Anyway, that's not the point of my Q.

Also, I'm not criticising any games, I only used those as examples to try to clarify my Q. Its not whether it's a good game or not (as Tribes and Ticket may be) but whether they involve you in an 'immersive' experience and how to capture that in game design.

I think we need to clarify the difference between 'theme' and 'immersion'. A game can have a greeat theme and superb artwork but not involve the players at all.

I think the Steve Taverner quote is spot on - but how to achieve it.

Do you think you can only get 'involved' with a game if it's a long one? An hour or two is long in my boook :-). If it were indeed an 'involving' sort of game, surely the process would start right at the beginning, anyway. And just because a game is long, it doesn't mean it's involving. What I'm trying to do is find out why some games involve you and others don't. Leaving aside, personal preferences if possible (although I've no doubt that that's part of it).

Are there any short(ish) games, say <60 mins that involve you in the experience? I'd also be very interested to know if there are any card games with an immersive quality.

Ian

Anonymous
perspective...

I think this is an issue of perspective. One player can see pretty cards and feel immersed, while another doesn't.

Even the level of simulation is important, and subjective.

For example (and I'm using it because it is rich with theme) Evo is a game about evolving dinosaurs. Art is cool, mechanics are cool. But does bidding on the next genetic trait simulate evolution well? Not really, but the effect is everyone's dinosaurs being unique and changing round after round. Does the placemat that represents my dinosaurs make ME feel like I AM that dinosaur? Not really. All though the bits are nifty it kinda simulates a "dinosaur wrangler or breeder" closer than becoming the dinosaurs.

But you can look at this same game on different levels. It's an interesting evolution game of dinosaurs. Yes. It's a proper simulation of the theory of evolution. No.

Also one's involvement is very personal. If you love a certain topic or theme, or if you like to mix a bit of role playing into the game (even when it's a strategy game) you'll feel more immersed than a game that may handle the mechanics of simulation better. Plus the group/person you play with can make all the difference too.

I say design for the "feel" you want, and then it's up to the players to either "get it" or not.

Anonymous
Re: perspective...

Hi jjacy1,
You're absolutely right - I think personal perception and perspective play a vital role.

I haven't played Evo but it sounds like fun. However, from what you say, it doesn't sound as though the players are supposed to take on the role of dinosaurs. As you say, dinosaur breeders more like, and I can see that being appealing, and even 'immersive!' :-)

I think what I'm getting at (and it can take me a while to get there!) is that there are games with 'themes' that are essentially abstract and have no 'immersion' quality. Korsar is a prime example. We think of playing blue cards to protect our 4 points, etc, rather than thinking 'pirates' and 'coins'. Lost Cities is another - we think we need to play the Red Hands card because we have the 9 and 10. It's certainly enjoyable but the theme is lost or certainly totally irrelevant.

Now, whether or not these games are supposed to be immersive or not, I don't know, you'd have to ask the designer. I suspect Lost Cities isn't and okay, that doesn't make it any less of a game and I'm not out to criticise any game here.

What I'm interested to know is how you clever game designer people go about adding the 'immersive' factor? You can take a mechanic and stick a theme on it (like Korsar and Lost Cities) but that doesn't make it immersive. It sounds as though Evo immerses you as a dinosaur breeder which is pretty good.

So let's say you want to create a game with a particular feel such as pirate, gladiator, pilot, farmer or whatever - how would you go about it? Are there any 'tricks' or methods that can help? Are there any mechanics that are evocative of certain types of game? Do games have to be complex to be immersive (I hope not)? Can this quality be instilled into 'simple' games such as a set of cards?

So many questions...

Ian

Scurra
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Once more with feeling...

Well there's your problem right there.
Do you think St Peterberg is "immersive"? As I said above, I do, even though I might have issues with other aspects of the game*. But I can see why other people might well disagree.

(*it's still clearly one of the best games of the past year, regardless of those aspects however!)

A card game is inherently harder to make immersive since it's difficult to create a convincing mapping between your cardplay and some real world action that it is simulating. I don't think that Wyatt Earp is at all immersive, but set against that, it captures the theme of hunting outlaws nicely if you are prepared to invest a bit of imagination in it (in a way that Lost Cities just doesn't, no matter how hard you try.)

Anonymous
tips for emmersion...

Okay, here are some steps that may help create an immersive game.

Art Design. Create artwork (board, cards, bits etc.) that evoke feeling.

If you can pull off unique bits, use them because then the experience of using them is unique to your game. Meeples are nice, but if he's supposed to be a farmer, make it look like a farmer (easier said than done considering the cost of unique bits).

Mechanics. Use a mechanic that both gets the result you want, but is integrated to the action.

So if you are trying to mount a defense of a city, make sure that set collecting of cards is put forth in a way that feels like you are drafting citizens, or training armies. The language used is important in this regard because "Pick up a card" isn't really the same as "Conscript a peasant into the army by taking a draft card".

Choices. Tied with mechanics, but give players choices that tie into the theme and who/what you are supposed to be.

In a pirate game I expect certain things; ships, battles and booty. You'd better give those to me or I'm not going to feel immersed. Don't make it an area control game where I choose which hut I want to set up on the beach. Pirates and negotiation don't really go together as they are supposed to be ruthless, etc.

Theme. Pick a theme that lends itself to immersion. I guess that these are usually action orientated themes, or based on history, but they don't have to be. Think of the "It would be great to be X", and then make the theme around X. I'm not going to pick a profession people don't want to be in fear of being insulting, but more than a few people who would never in their real lives try to be a cop or fireman or CEO think the idea is cool.

I'm sure that all these things have to be done together for immersion, but these are some "basics" I can think of off the top of my head to help one create an immersive experience.

I hope others have tips and tricks and theories on how to immerse players.

markmist
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Immersive games

This is an old topic, but I have a point that wasn't brought up before, so I thought I would offer it.

I think a part of the problem is that you are playing the wrong type of games. If you want a more immersive feel, then play party games (like Balderdash or Cranium) or negotiation games (Diplomacy, I'm the Boss). Werewolf (Mafia) also comes to mind. You can become totally immersed in playing werewolf, but its game mechanics are quite shallow (how good of a liar are you?) The truest immersive games would be live action role-playing (but also the most time-consuming and difficult to pull off).

Another example of potentially immersive games are simulations (simulating real-life events - alot of war games fit into this category), and dungeon crawl/adventure type games. Some CCG's might fit here as well. However, these will be hit or miss in immersiveness depending on your preferences. The more closely a game trends towards role-playing and away from tactical or strategic decision-making, the more potential it has to being immersive - but you lose something in the process.

On the whole, you typically have to sacrifice other game elements such as strategy to feel completely immersed in a game. I have personally never played diplomacy, but that might be the only example of a highly strategic game that is completely immersive, but I've heard the game is an all-day affair!

Rick-Holzgrafe
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Once more with feeling...

Quote:
On the whole, you typically have to sacrifice other game elements such as strategy to feel completely immersed in a game.

I'm not sure I agree. If a game commands your full attention, it's immersive. Chess is immersive, if you're any good at it: you don't think about anything except chess when you're playing. Candyland (to choose an extreme example) is not immersive, at least not for an adult or older child, because there's nothing to think about.

For me, A Game of Thrones is incredibly immersive. Okay, it's mainly a war game, and markmist acknowledges wargames as simulations. But El Grande is also immersive, and it isn't really a simulation of anything.

Give your players important and interesting choices to make, ensure that those choices will impact the decision-making of the other players, and you'll have an immersive game. Wrap it in a good theme with distinctive artwork, and you'll have a memorable experience as well.

Now if I can only manage to do this for any of my games... ;)

markmist
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Once more with feeling...

Good points...

I completely agree that chess and similar type games can be immersive.

Maybe the original intent of this thread was not really immersion, but something slightly different. I think he was looking for games where he felt he was actually playing a part in the game as opposed to superfically affecting the game on a strategic level. That is why I recommended party-type or negotiation games where you can feel like YOU are the one IN the game. I don't know what you would call this term. It's not role-playing as that invokes the idea that you are playing a game without ending conditions (for example, Dungeons and Dragons). Does anyone else have a better term for this?

larienna
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The most important and complex element in a game.

Getting the right feeling for a game is the most complex but most important element of a game. I would say that the important is not to have a balanced game, good rules, theme or artwork. You must have a good game feeling while playing the game. This will make you come for more and become addicted to the game.

It is the same case in video games. Take for example an old video game named Contra 3. Look at the specs of these game : No Story / 6 stage only ( finish game in 1 hour ) / Goal of the game: Shoot aliens ( seem pretty boring) / Little replay value, etc. But if you finish the game 3 times in a row you will still want to play again since you are addicted.

Also in video games, there is 3 type of addiction classes:

Constant event (Master of magic/Orion and civilisation) : it consist of having always something that happen to keep you in the game. New tech, cNew building, new army to invade.

Object Supervision (Diablo) : it consist of taking care of something. It`s also the idea behind the tomagochi. You wan't to make your character or creature evolve and place all your attention on it.

Social Relation (MMORPG) : This is a new type of addiction where people feel needed by others or are craving for recognition or a social rank.

So making a game with good feeling is essential. But how do you do it? This is the invisible element of a game that I cannot put a finger on it myself. I think it is a combination of many element that create the feeling. These element include the rules, artwork, material, theme, etc. For example, in hero quest, just seeing the board with the furniture makes the game look cool and intriguing. You want to play it even if your friend say that the rules are bad.

The best way is to play test intensively your game and make test on different variation. In other word it is the test and error method. Test various aspect and keep the ones which creates a better feeling.

I am not sure if there is really a rule, law or theory that could be followed to make a good game feeling. Like some other said, it might also be different for each player. One thing for sure, is that I won't be satisfied with a game that does not have the right feeling element involved.

For example, I had made some sort of CCG demo where you where making Mecha duel. You deck was all the abilities and equipment of you mecha and when you received damaged you where loosing card from your deck(you damaged mecha lose equipement). The idea looked cool and interesting but when we played the game, even after some rule change, it was just boring to play.

In CCG, making the deck can also be a part of the feeling of the game. I remember thinking about various ways to build my deck in magic the gathering. While making decks for other CCG was not as much interesting.

So there is not really a way to get the feeling correctly, you have it or not. You must rely on your luck to hit bulleye while having some control on the bow and the string.

Anonymous
Once more with feeling...

A lot of what I have wanted to say after reading Ian's original post has already been said here. Even the more side-track ideas like comparing video games. A few years ago, I was big into the Pokemon craze. I was a little old for it, and my friends made fun of me for playing a stupid little video game, but I found something truly immersive in it. I think it's another type of immersion to add to Larienna's list: Growing Something.

The game was addictive because you collected your own little troupe of cute monsters and nurtured them into more mature, developed creatures. The Tamagotchi fad was something I never got into, but it had a similar idea-- taking care of a virtual creature. The problem with Tamagotchi was that you never interacted with other people, and that's why IMHO Pokemon was so much more successful on that level.

This is something that I love to find in video games, but I don't see it much in board games. Evo sounds like it, where everyone starts out the same every time they play the game, but thru a combination of chance and design, they end up with very different creatures.

It doesn't have to be a creature that gets you 'into' the game, tho. It can be a castle, a town, an alien, a business, or something--anything that you can look to and say "That's mine; I made it, and I raised it up from the floor, and set it off against other peoples' stuff and we did alright!"

I think that while often immersion can be found simply by mere interest in the theme or intense concentration on the game (high level Chess, e.g.), a serious way to get more casual gamers is to have them make something. I think that's the key to getting someone 'into' a game.

-Peter-

Velociryx
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Once more with feeling...

IMO, the "feel" of a game stems from three basic "hooks"

1) Your (personal) connection/affiliation with the theme presented. (ie, if you could give a rat's behind about exploration in the amazon, then a card game that simulates this probably won't heavily involve you, no matter how innovative its mechanics).

2) The extent that form matches function. Some games, form matches function very well (Magic: the Gathering, for example...I cannot even ENVISION what the game would be like if it were anything but a CCG. Can you imagine trying to develop a board game adaptation of it? It'd be a logistics and planning NIGHTMARE...*shivers at the thought*). So some games clearly work better with certain mechanics. To a lesser extent, your own "comfort level" with said mechanics plays a role here. If you're not much into card games, then even the most intricate, wondermous card game on the planet depicting exploration of an ancient mayan temple isn't gonna get it done for you.

3) The art/writing. These are the visual cues we take from the game itself, and these, much more than any mechanical aspect of the game, will make or break the immersion factor. For example: Imagine how immersion-destroying it'd be to be playing this fantastic medieval, sword and sorcery game, and you're really into it, Good Lord it's so great! I wonder what'll happen next, and you draw a Sorcery Card, flip it over with the greatest of anticipation, and........

..........find a full color photo of a Dodge Viper sitting on the card.

Huh?

All stop.

Your brain rejects it, cos it simply has no place in the game, and in that moment, immersion is totally wrecked.

Of course, that's a rediculous, blatant example. In reality, it'll be a death by a thousand cuts. A thousand little things that you might not notice individually....bad writing, use of modern words or concepts in what's supposed to be a medieval setting, artwork that isn't "on theme" etc....these things can ruin any chance you may have had at an immersive experience, even if everything else falls nicely into place.

-=Vel=-

Velociryx
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Once more with feeling...

One more thought on this topic....

I totally agree with the notion that complexity plays a role, and I think this is the main reason that empire building type games tend to be relative more immersive than most others. The variety and scope of the decisions to be made are what helps keep your eyes and mind so focused on the game that everything else falls by the board, so to speak....:)

-=Vel=-

FastLearner
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Once more with feeling...

Oops, what topic? I think you accidentally created a new topic instead of replying to an existing one.

-- Matthew

zaiga
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Once more with feeling...

FastLearner wrote:
Oops, what topic? I think you accidentally created a new topic instead of replying to an existing one.

Or not... :)

FastLearner
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Once more with feeling...

D'oh! Page 2!

Willi_B
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Once more with feeling...

IF feeling like a character is the desire, then RPG's are always best obviously.

On the other hand if feeling like you are somewhat like what is advertised on the box, simple party games are always the next best thing.

Try How To Host A Murder or LARP's for the best immersion of "roles".

Personally, I can talk in German accent while playing Axis & Allies to amuse myself.

But if you merely are looking for an addictive quality immersion without the "role" immersion, try Magic: The Gathering.

bluesea
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Once more with feeling...

Can a game that allows for player elimination help to create an immediate desperation that, in turn, opens one's mind up to the immersive quality that is being talked about here? I tend to feel more attached to my 'role' in the game when there is a chance that you can be sent off if you aren't playing your 'A' game or if the dice just aren't a fallin'. Even if it is a roll and move game, I feel I want roll 'harder' because I want to stay in the game.

Even in video games, you are IN the game, but if that game had no elimination, i.e., god-like powers and infinite life, do you really feel like you are playing the game or are you really just taking a "let's smack 'em around for fun" tour of the game.

clearclaw
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Re: Once more with feeling...

iantrader wrote:
I'd like to solicit opinions and thoughts on a topic that is, in my opinion, one of the core elements of non-abstract game design - how to create a feeling for the theme and make the players think they are actually participating in the event.

There's also a large middle ground of players who like theme but aren't addicted to it. In general it seems that they like the idea of whatever the theme is (It is a train game, see, it has a picture of a train on the cover!) but don't actually need it to have anything to do with the game mechanics or play patterns (as you say, TtR is a rummy variant). I personally fall into a different camp of this subset in that I like and enjoy themes, but I prefer games whose themes I can strip off and ignore during play, and I dislike those games whose theme is too invasive or hard to remove from consideration.

Quote:
So I'm wondering what it takes to make a truly 'involving' game.

Are you interested only in thematic involvement? How about simple immersion in the challenge of the game outside of any theme? For example I find the 18XX games to be intensely immersive. When playing they have my rapt and continuous attention to the exclusion of almost everything else. I am in that sense "in the game". However the thematic aspects are utterly ignored and if present at all are really distracting from the core values of the game.

Quote:
Is it down to the people you're playing with?

Yes. Some players will get heavily into the themes of games. They will use funny voices, role act, etc. Other players will greatly enjoy the atmostphere that those players create and will support and accentuate that theme with them. At this level the game becomes more of a cooperative emotional experience lightened with a frisson of competition. For certain groups this is the ne plus ultra of gaming. Other groups and players will avoid such players like the plague.

Quote:
Does a knowledge of mechanics diminish the game play? Do you analyse the mechanics more than 'playing the game'?

This depends on what your primary purpose for the game is. Are you primarily playing to win (ie the most efficient path to your own victory is the most attractive)? Are you playing for some sort of unified shared emotional experience (ie that everybody has a similarly valuable and enjoyed emotional experience is more important than all else)? This is not to say that those two are the only reasons for play; they merely mark common extremes. Other primary considerations might enclude learning/education, intellectual exploration, and ego/status/reputation.

Quote:
Essentially, I'm looking for opinions about what makes a game involving for the players.

I like games with difficult decisions wherein the primary question is in what ways my evaluation of a game position for a particular player will be different than their own evaluation.

Rick-Holzgrafe
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Once more with feeling...

I think a couple of points have been made here recently that address a misconception in my earlier post of a couple of months back. That is that there are two kinds of "immersion." One is the kind where you're so wrapped up in the game that you forget that the rest of the world exists. The other is related to role-playing and is the feeling that while the game lasts, you are being "somebody else."

Call the first kind "flow" and the second kind "role-playing." Flow is a term that some psychologists use to denote a state of mind where you are completely and continuously focused on your task, and as a result you are unselfconcious. Role-playing is perhaps not an ideal term because it brings to mind a certain kind of game (the RPG) and I don't intend to suggest that only RPGs can offer the role-playing experience.

This weekend I played two long games: one of Railroad Tycoon, and one of Arkham Horror. I find RRT to be incredibly immersive, but it is the "flow" kind. I definitely enjoy the theme and flavor of the game, but I am not imagining myself to be J. P. Morgan.

Arkham Horror is the opposite. Its rules are so fiddly (IMHO!) that I can't get into flow at all. But the theme is so rich, and there is such opportunity to identify with your character, that I can see why so many people seem to experience the role-playing kind of immersion. It's hard to imagine another game other than an out-and-out RPG that offers a gamer such a rich opportunity to be somebody else, somewhere else, for an entire evening.

I think that flow immersion requires at least these characteristics: a constant stream of significant and non-trivial decisions to make; minimal downtime (or at least, plenty to think about while your opponents are taking their turns); and clearly understood, internalized rules. (That last is where Arkham Horror breaks down for me.) A good level of tension always helps, too: the constant worry that your opponent's behavior will upset your carefully laid plans.

Story arc is another factor, I think. Doing the same thing for three straight hours can get dull; but if the gameplay evolves in a way that forces you to continually modify your thinking to meet different kinds of challenges, that helps to keep your interest, and therefore helps to keep the flow going.

Role-playing immersion probably has similar requirements, but perhaps with less dependence on a rich decision tree, and with the addition of strong relevance to an attractive and exotic theme. (I don't know how important story arc is in this case, but I doubt that good story arc ever hurts a game!)

Someone suggested that length of game might be a factor, and I think that may be at least partly true. It's hard for a 45-minute game to have much of a story arc, for one thing. But perhaps Through the Desert is a good counterexample: it typically lasts under an hour, yet has all the other characteristics that I associate with flow-immersion games.

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