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Art as an Immersive Device

Artistic style in a game can create an emotional response without being graphically amazing and realistic. In fact, realistic graphics and texturing may change the overall feel of the game.
Bioshock Screenshot
As game developers it seems we are always trying to make games that are more graphically awesome.  We keep upping the ante in audio-visual style.  There is no doubt that this is a successful technique.  Bioshock, for instance, does an excellent job of creating a completely immersive environment.  Everything in Bioshock was themed, from the art-deco style of the crumbling architecture, to the notes on the wall.  Players seeking completely immersive play needed only to spend the time in every room exploring the treasures that were included in this game.

It's not hard to imagine you are underwater when the environment is dimly lit, the sound effects define the dampness, and all around you the environment demonstrates the wildlife and the feel of an undersea home.  Similarly, fog, echoes in the distance, haunting music and dimly lit dampened walls effectively create a spooky atmosphere that can make our hair stand on end. Immersion creates emotion.  Movies have used environment and music to create emotion for decades.  But, we make games, not movies.  The goal is to create an experience, not a brief distraction.  It would seem that an emotional response is the basis of truly immersive play.   It surprised me, then to find a game that had me totally immersed in the experience without the intense audio-visual style of more modern titles.

SSX Screenshot
SSX is a snowboarding game with a decidedly cartoon-ish artistic style.
  It doesn't try to be cool.  It doesn't try to be graphically correct.  It succeeds in what it does do.  It creates a fast-paced, fun environment.  I found myself surprised to be so immersed in a game that wasn't graphically amazing.   And I learned something.  Audio-visuals don't create immersion; content does.  SSX uses the graphics effectively to give the game a lively, boisterous feel.  I realized that, if the game had been made in a more realistic graphic style, I would have played the game more competitively.  It would have felt different.  Instead of playing for the challenge and enjoying the antics of the NPC's, I would have had an emotional response that was somehow more "human".  If SSX had become a competitive, realistic snowboarding game, I wouldn't have found it as enjoyable.  As it stands, SSX has become a favorite game.  And it's taught me a thing or two about art and immersion along the way.

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