Why immersion in video games is so strong
Interest in gaming is surging, with the number of people playing video games across the globe rising over 6% this year to reach 2.7 billion. While we’re still a long way from the societies depicted in films like Ready Player One – where the majority of life is lived in a virtual world – immersion in video games is already exceptionally powerful. The average gamer spends eight hours per week playing online games, a figure that rose to 10 and a half hours during lockdown.
As a technology PR agency we work with a number of clients in the sector – from gaming platforms to in-game advertising providers – and we understand the level of engagement that can be achieved in the virtual environment. Let’s take a look at what makes immersion in video games so strong:
The psychology of immersion
For psychologists, the concept of immersion in any form of media is known as spatial presence. This can be defined as “the subjective experience of a user or onlooker to be physically located in a mediated space, although it is just an illusion.”
There are various characteristics shared by successful video games – especially immersive open world games – that make players feel that they have left real life behind and are physically there in the virtual environment. First, video games deliver information via multiple sensory channels such as sight, sound and touch to make the gaming experience more realistic. The combination of large screens, headsets and controllers already floods the senses very effectively, but the emergence of technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality is making immersion in games even more powerful.
Second, effective video game environments deliver complete sensory information rather than letting the player think too much about filling in the blanks, which might pull them out of the experience. The more familiar the environment is, and the more objects within the game behave as they are expected to, the stronger immersion in video games will be. Third, video games provide cognitively challenging environments that require players to focus on the task in hand and don’t necessarily allow their brains to remind them they’re playing a game. And finally, successful video games have a strong and interesting narrative or story that intrigues and engages players.
Personalisation of the virtual world
Another factor behind immersion in gaming is the investment players make in their gaming environment. This can be a financial investment, with gamers spending over £250 annually on accessories, downloads and micro transactions, but it is also an investment of time and skill.
A Fortnite player, for instance, might purchase the latest season’s battle pass but they still need to spend time progressing through the tiers, playing matches and completing challenges to gain rewards such as skins and cosmetics along the way and ideally completing the pass so they can level up for the next season. Just as people enjoy furnishing and decorating their real life homes with items they have collected over time, gamers inhabit personalised virtual environments filled with items they have bought or earned, and these can often be customised to reflect the player’s individual character.
Social interaction increases immersion
Advances in gaming chat functionalities mean gamers are overturning the old stereotype of being isolated and lonely and are using gaming to form or maintain social relationships. A recent survey of gamers in India found 43% of gamers found friendship or love through gaming, while 40% were able to meet more people and friends via games than in person. When gamers are playing with people they have a personal connection with, immersion in video games is sure to increase.
With lockdown restrictions limiting personal interaction in recent months, many people have relied more heavily on video games to keep in contact with friends through a fun, shared experience. Multiplayer games allow gamers to work together and develop valuable skills such as teamwork, communication and problem solving, even though they are using those skills in a virtual world rather than in real life. Analysis of chat during online multiplayer games reveals there are more than three times as many socioemotional messages as there are task-oriented messages, and these emotion-based messages are almost three times more likely to be positive than negative, revealing the largely supportive nature of social interaction during video games.
With gaming environments designed to promote spatial presence, gamers investing time and money in their virtual worlds, and social interaction via gaming increasingly common, it’s little wonder immersion in video games is so powerful.