Wednesday to Sunday!
31 Jan – 4 Feb 2018
People who play do so because it satisfies some basic needs. That's what motivates them to play. The article " Why we play – Part 1: our motivation to play" describes intrinsic motivation as defined by Andrew K. Przybylski, C. Scott Rigby, and Richard M. Ryan. People who play make self-determined and game-influencing decisions (autonomy). They demonstrate their skills (competence). And they enjoy the sense of community with their fellow players (relatedness). What incites people to play games is, therefore, their innate motivation.
But why are we so fascinated by games? The three researchers discovered that the sense of immersion is strongly linked to intrinsic motivation: the more the game offers players autonomy, competence, and relatedness, the more immersed in the game they feel and the deeper they dive into a fictional or virtual world of illusion.
In order to create the feeling of immersion, the game has to relax and challenge players in equal proportion, but not overwhelm them. They then achieve a state whereby they feel "part of the game". Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi speaks of a state of consciousness called "flow", a state of happiness.
Only when a game challenges people's individual skills does it engender the feeling of flow. As part of his studies, Csíkszentmihályi interviewed chess players, who said they lose all sense of time playing and are glued to the chessboard, in an almost disembodied state. This also applies to avid players: the more immersive the game and the more it casts a spell on the players, the more detached from their surroundings they feel.
The term 'immersion' is a 20th century neologism and describes the effect that virtual or fictional worlds have on the viewer. Immersive play, however, is not just a phenomenon of digital games. Every game can immerse players in fantasy worlds and bring about very different levels of intense gaming experiences, just like digital games.
Richard Bartle explored the phenomenon of immersion in the gaming world and divided it into four levels:
As players get older, their ability to enter into fantasy worlds generally changes. Infants dive completely into the world of the game, even with the smallest of means. They turn simple objects into complex worlds and are themselves part of these worlds. A child feels like Mario when playing Mario Kart, that is to say he's taken on a 'persona'. On the other hand, an adult player sees himself merely as a "player", guiding Mario through the world as a 'character'.
When developing games, the age and the ability of players to immerse themselves in fantasy worlds are important factors to ensure a successful game. Whereas younger children are still able to easily lose themselves in the worlds of play they come up with themselves, older players often require greater effort to create immersive worlds.
Everyone knows how books, games, movies or radio plays can fascinate people. But how intense the game experience becomes with the use of game tools depends on the extent to which the game can be immersive. In this context, digital aids aren't necessary but possible – as are the level of development of the player and players' willingness to get involved in the game. The further a player plunges into the virtual world of the game, the more the intrinsic motivation to continue playing it increases and the real world around the player fades into the background.
Contrary to what game developers long assumed, there is usually a big discrepancy between technical possibilities and game content. Technically enhanced games rapidly seem to be needlessly overloaded and digital additions are superfluous for the course of the game, as digital tools are only required if they're an integral part of the game scenario and shouldn't be merely superfluous bells and whistles. As long as the content of a game is of an immersive nature and satisfies players' intrinsic motivation, the technical perfection of the game world is of secondary importance.
Having said all this, the basic questions that arise with any game development apply: Is the game fun for the player? Does it encourage and challenge him to carry on playing and play the game again?