Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Over Gaming

Mark J. Kline | 9 Dec 2010 09:00
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Dear Dr. Mark.

I have never really been a hard-core gamer but I used to play video games several hours a day. I would nerd stuff like Crash Team Racing and the Dragonball games to extreme degrees.

This was me around 10-14 years-old. I have recently turned 17. While I still often game these days, I have tripped down a lot. Homework is getting really heavy and there are many other real-world things I need to attend to.

However, I got to wondering the other day exactly what happened? I was playing Bayonetta, and while I was getting to understand the combat combos, I found myself kind of bored and not really hypnotized by the game.

At age 12, I would have been a drooling zombie before the screen, but at 17, I wasn't amazed by the surprises the game has to offer, even though, thinking back on it, they are actually really good. I simply can't immerse myself in the gaming experience as well as I used to. This isn't exactly a bad thing, because it means I have more time to do things I actually need to do. I am just wondering why it is happening.

Is it just because I am growing up, and I'm harder to impress, or do I now need the game to point out how awesome I am in some new way, rather than just enjoying the thrill of playing?

A big part of why some of us game so intensively has to do with the experience which you call immersion. What does it mean to become immersed in a game? While this may seem a simple question to The Escapist's readers, many non-gamers find it quite puzzling.

Immersion seems to involve a deep absorption in a game and engrossment with the dynamics of play. The game world may seem more vivid and interesting than real life, and the experiences one has while playing feel more dramatic and intense. Despite excitement, anxiety and frustration, there is a kind of relaxation and soothing that comes from being transported to an enchanting place, a beautiful world with many fascinating possibilities.

While some gamers talk about the thrill of novelty in their game play, there is also a kind of comfort in the reliability and predictability of the gaming world. While there may be plenty of new surprises and challenges, the more skilled you become at a game, the greater your sense that you can handle these. There is also the feeling that this world is available whenever you want to go there, another kind of reliability that can provide a sense of control when the rest of life can feel out of control.

Another quality of immersion is the way you can journey to a game world in your mind even while you aren't playing. This may be a kind of obsessive preoccupation, but it can also be a way of reuniting with a fantastical and thrilling universe where wondrous things can happen, a way of extending and revisiting feelings of pleasure and soothing using the brain's capacity for representation and imagery, which plays a significant role in generating immersion in the first place.

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