Educational Feature: ‘Invisible Walls’

Hit points, repeat objects, and HUD interfaces can all break a player’s immersion in a video game. But do they always? has a new article that argues why some of t
Hit points, repeat objects, and HUD interfaces can all break a player’s immersion in a video game. But do they always? has a new article that argues why some of the things that theoretically disrupt game play are actually necessary for an enjoyable player experience. The article is an adaptation of an academic paper by Luca Breda, a contract designer and developer, who was originally educated as a programmer at University of Udine, Italy. In the article, he looks at popular theories about maintaining immersion, such as the rule of consistency. He also posits that there are at least three distinct types of immersion in games: short-term, long-term, and narrative. And while many (especially tools vendors) promote “realism” as being the make-or-break factor for player immersion, Breda looks beyond mere realism to explore other obstacles that he classifies as “invisible walls.” He writes: “Realism arises in part from the player controlling a character or other on-screen representation of himself. If his actions render the expected result in the game, the player feels in control and perceives the game as real. The actions are perceived as ‘real’ even when carried out in a fictional world. For this reason some kind of realism is important: the brain needs to be told that the virtual world is somehow genuine for the brain to decide how it should act and react. If the player feels immersed and present in the world, his actions matter more than the mechanisms of the game. The player begins to act in the environment consistent to what he perceives in that environment. The environment becomes real per se and is no longer viewed as a set of stimuli and an interface. Invisible Walls The realism of the representation does not assure that a game player will achieve total immersion due to certain barriers, or invisible walls. It’s an emblematic situation. The passage seems clear -- nothing is in front of the player; and yet it is not possible move forward. These invisible walls are sometimes considered errors of level design because they are unforeseeable, irritating, and nonsensical. I extend the meaning of “invisible walls” to include all barriers that limit immersion, including those within the game system that are present without being visible. However, I question whether all invisible barriers should be avoided in the first place for the sake of immersion. Some examples are common physical obstacles, gauges on the screen, stylistic and narrative solutions -- anything that constitutes a layer between the player and the game space. Are they the deterrents to immersion that they seem to be?” To read the complete article, which also discusses player affordance, HUD interfaces, and more, visit, Gamasutra’s sister site for education in game development.

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