There is no end of discussion on video game immersion and presence. A number of theories have been proposed (see Jamie Madigan) and some empirical studies conducted (see Dustin Chertoff and Laura Ermi).
My lab (The Laboratory for Automation Psychology and Decision Processes, LAPDP, a member of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, at the University of Maryland) just finished a laboratory study in which 176 participants filled out a questionnaire about themselves, played a video game, and filled out a questionnaire about the game. The idea was to separate immersion into two parts, one having to do with the player and the other the game.
The study is reported here:
Development of Instruments to Measure ImmerseAbility of Individuals and ImmersiveNess of Video Games
Here is the Abstract:
Two instruments were developed to assess the extent to which individuals can become immersed in different activities (IAI, ImmerseAbility of Individuals) and the extent to which video games create a sense of presence (ING, ImmersiveNess of Games). Participants in a laboratory study filled out a demographic questionnaire about themselves and then the first survey on ImmerseAbility of Individuals (IAI). They were then asked to play a video game for about 15 to 30 minutes, after which they filled out the second survey on ImmersiveNess of Games (ING). A wide variety of games were sampled to generate sufficient variability in the ING ratings. Games ranged from Internet flash games and Facebook™ games in computer web browsers to console games on the XBox 360™, Nintendo Wii™, and PlayStation 3™ projected on a 4 by 6 foot display. Factor analyses identified both positive and negative attributes of individuals and of games that correlated with the sense of presence in a video game. In play testing games, the IAI factors can be used to control for individual differences among testers while the ING factors can be used to evaluate the video game.
ImmerseAbility of Individuals (IAI)
Just to give you some of the results, seven factors of ImmerseAbility of Individuals (IAI) are were identified. Four of the factors had to do with susceptibilities to get immersed in (a) daydreaming, (b) media such as movies and television, (c) video games, and (d) sports. The other three factors had to do with abilities to control immersion by (a) dual tasking, (b) focusing attention, and (c) maintaining alertness to the real world.
The positive IAI factors had to do with involvement in daydreaming and different forms of entertainment.
Daydreaming. The tendency to drift off into daydreaming makes one susceptible to immersion in video games. This factor could be related particularly to involvement in fantasy games, role playing games, and identification with video game characters. While males and moderate gamers tended to be higher on daydreaming than females and casual gamers, the difference was not significant.
Media Involvement. The tendency to become absorbed in watching a movie or a television show makes one susceptible to video game immersion. Many video games today are like films, they include animated cut-scenes and have a graphic rendering with HDTV quality.
Video Game Involvement. While somewhat circular, the tendency to like and play video games predicts the extent to which someone will again become immersed in a video game. Past tendencies are highly predictive of future behavior.
Sports Involvement. The tendency to become immersed as a spectator or player of sports makes one susceptible to video game immersion. Many video games involve both watching sports and playing sports such as Madden, Fifa, and Grid.
Three of the IAI factors were negative in that they tended to mitigate immersion in video games.
Ability to Dual-Task. People who can or at least think that they can dual task are less likely to become immersed in video games. Males tended to be higher on this factor than females and high gamers than low gamers although the latter difference was not significant.
Ability to Focus Attention. The ability to focus or control one’s attention makes one less susceptible to video game immersion. There was no difference between males and females on this factor or between low and high gamers.
Ability to Maintain Alertness. The ability to stay alert and aware of one’s physical surrounds reduces one’s susceptibly to video game immersion.
It is interesting that these last three factors are positive in terms of cognitive abilities, but negative in terms of video game immersion.
Game designers have no control over these factors of the ImmerseAbility of Individuals (IAI) other than targeting different games to different markets of individuals. Obviously, one would target sports games to individuals high on the Sports Involvement factor and narrative games to those high on Media Involvement. But it is not clear what to do with the negative factors.
ImmersiveNess of Games (ING)
On the other hand, game designers have direct control over the factors of ImmersiveNess of Games (ING). These factors pertain to aspects of the game. Six factors of ImmersiveNess of Games (ING) were found. The first four pertain to positive factors of visual presence, audio presence, sensory engagement and sense of control. The last two are negative factors that have to with awareness of the interface and awareness of the world around the game.
Visual Presence. Games that convey a sense of visual presence tend to be immersive. Graphic realism, 3-d rendering, and animation of characters help a game to be immersive. Needless to say, the game industry knows this and has invested heavily in making games that convey visual presence.
Auditory Presence. The auditory environment in a game is much more than beeps and gunshots today. Game developers worked hard to create realistic, 3-d surround sound output for their games. The auditory presence includes the feedback and responsiveness of sound. Games can be surprisingly immersive with high quality sound systems and faithful audio rendering.
Sensory Engagement. This factor pertains to the unique way in which the senses work together to engage a person in the game and to interconnectedness of the visual and auditory feedback from the game.
Sense of Control. This factor has to do with the feeling that one is in control of views and actions in the game. What the player intends to do is conveyed through the game interface and results in the expected outcomes.
There are two ING factors that are negative and work against video game immersion.
Awareness of the Interface. If one has to think about the interface, what buttons to press, what commands to select, what icons and displays mean what, immersion is lost. Game designers have to carefully craft the use of the game controller and information displays on the screen. Of course, with more and more practice and familiarity with a game, these can be well learned and immersion will increase. However, the challenge for game designers is to use interfaces that are intuitive and easy to learn.
Awareness of the Real World. This last factor has more to do with the gaming environment than the game itself. If one can shut out outside distractions, immersion can be increased. Un-interruptible times and rooms without distractions are necessary to guarantee immersion.
Profiles are Different for Males and Females and for Level of Gamer
Males and females differed in terms of immersability. Females are more immerseable for movies and TV while males are more for video games and sports.Casual gamers differed from moderate to heavy gamers. Casual gamers more for movies and TV and moderate to heavy gamers for video games and sports. Gamers are also into dual tasking.
The instrument used to assess ING has the potential of being used as a standard measure for evaluating games. For example, below are the factor profiles for Wii Sports and CAll of Duty: Modern Warefare.
For Wii Sports, Sensory Presence, Sensory Engagement, and Sense of Control were low. Players tend to complain about the animation and the initial difficulty using the Wii Remotes to control their movements. Audio Presence is somewhat positive but also Awareness of the Interface and particularly Awareness of the Real World. The latter was very high, probably owing to the fact that other players are in the room, and one has to be conscious of hitting other players or objects.
For Call of Duty, Visual Presence was low. While surprising, this could be because the visual environment of the game is hostile, uninviting, and distracting. Sense of Control was somewhat low, probably due to riskiness of the combat situation and the difficulty of aiming and firing in a first person shooter game. On the other hand, Audio Presence and Sensory Engagement were high. Awareness of the Interface was fairly low probably because most of the players of this game were fairly experienced. Like other multiplayer games, Awareness of the Real World was positive again due to the fact that typically there were other players in the room interacting with each other.
Overall Game Experience
So the experience of a player playing a game depends on their own ability to be immersed and the on the game that they are playing.
Finally, it is anticipated that the ING instrument will be used to assess the immersiveness of video games and virtual environments. The IAI will be used to covary out individual differences among gamers. The idea is that some individuals will be susceptible to video game immersion and others will not. Knowing who is and who is not susceptible will help in forming the panel of gamers used to evaluate any particular game in the future.