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Default Gamasutra - First Person Immersion Myth

September 4th, 2009, 23:27
Here's one that will probably spark debate. This piece at Gamasutra contends a first-person view is actually a barrier to immersion, rather than more immersive than other views:
Are first-person games inherently more immersive? A lot of developers seem to presume that they are, but letís take a second look. Consider the last time you felt like you actually were the character in a game you played. Iíd be willing to guess that most people will say ďnever.Ē We donít generally take on the role of the character weíre playing, except as children in imaginary play.

What most of us do is identify with the character — and how can you identify with a character you canít see, a character who usually doesnít even talk or have any opinions about the horrible things going on around him? This goes back to the ďsilent heroĒ dilemma that has existed ever since role-playing made its way into the electronic world, notoriously perpetuated by the Japanese console RPG.

Almost all first-person games have this sort of silent character, one whose only interaction with others is usually taking orders until they turn their backs, and then just shooting and collecting things. That doesnít seem inherently immersive to me. It can be, but it isnít necessarily, as is often assumed. Western RPGs like Fallout 3 (or earlier games like Ultima IV) do a somewhat better job by at least allowing the player to make some dialog choices — but still, the character isnít you.
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September 4th, 2009, 23:27
I have to agree, at least for my own play style. I don't like first-persononly games at all. Course the best is when you can choose.

When I play I tend to be a mix of the character and myself. For the most part I act like the character is me, yet somewhat removed from myself. First person doesn't really change that. I can immerse myself just as easily being distant. Almost like when you sometimes dream and watch yourself in the dream.

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September 4th, 2009, 23:38
I'm not sure, if the statistical basis for conclusions is good enough.

Most first person games are shooters, where the hero isn't really strong in "thinking" and stuff usually. So there is not much identifying with the hero in those games.

3D Games with strong focus on story, like RPGs (e. g. Gothic) , Adventures, or even some of the Tomb Raider sequels (I have 2 and 3 in mind for story) use mainly third person view. In such games you have strong identification, but this does not neccessarily depend on the type of view.

And there are notable exeptions: Might and Magic VI has first person view and I had a strong immersion feeling. Also I prefer to play VTM:Bloodlines in first person view and feel very strong immersion.

So my summary would be: Yes, in average I had stronger immersion in games, which had no first person view, *but* that may simply be based on the fact that most games using first person are not about a main character with much personality.

By the way: If you have mirrors in the game, you can also look at yourself in first person games, and one of the few FPS with (for me) strong immersion based on a unique main character, Duke3D, had mirrors…
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September 4th, 2009, 23:56
Most of his argument has nothing to do with the first person view specifically but rather choices the developer made when creating the game. His argument against first person view is mostly invalidated by himself because of that. There haven't been very many first person rpgs that have done well but when they do rather then seeing the character from a third person view you see yourself through the people you interact with and the actions you take which makes up your characters essence rather then a shallow visual representation of your character.
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September 5th, 2009, 00:07
One additional thought:

I don't believe that questions like "which view do you choose" have anything to do with the amount of immersion.

For example, I feel usually much more immersed into the world described in a thrilling book than that of most games I play.

So for me the quality of story and setting are the deciding factors for immersion. The games I was most deeply immersed into were PS:T, Gothic, VTM:Bloodlines, Spellforce SotP, and several adventures.
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September 5th, 2009, 01:05
I too think that the "graphical" viewpoint of a game doesn't really make or break the "immersive" factor of that game.

The stories, gameplay, setting of a game is much more important. I tend to be lenient when it comes to games, so if a game made me care enough for it to play till the end, or made me interested enough to be thinking about it when I am not playing, then it is "immersive" enough. (And then, there are the games that I would think about constantly and even dream about… )

That said, I do prefer games that offer more than just "First Person View." Esp. in the case of RPGs, I like to be able to see my avatar in the game world, it helps me get into the "roles."

Also, I am the type of person that just "have" to have as much situational awareness as possible. And the limited FOV that FPS view offers tend to make me "restless" and spend more time turning from one side to another than actually get into the game.
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September 5th, 2009, 01:22
1st person feels a bit more immersive to me. In 3rd person I inevitably get in some situation where my character is looking right at something 20ft in front of him that I can't see at all, or I can see something around a corner that the character shouldn't see at all. 1st person matches much better.

However, as Guenthar said, there are a lot of other things out there that are important to immersion. Being unable to get past a low wall {ahem} leaps to mind as an example.

Another caveat: immersion is not the be-all-end-all. 1st person isn't likely to work well when you are tryong to control 3 characters at once, for instance.

Now, about this "except as children" tripe….
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September 5th, 2009, 07:17
I don't find a big difference between 1st and 3rd person when it comes to "immersion", but I do find both of those views to be more immersive than isometric.

That doesn't mean that an iso or overhead view makes for an inferior game of course, because immersion is not the only factor when it comes to judging a game.
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September 5th, 2009, 08:32
Well, I dunno about the immersion, but I don't like first-person games at all too.
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September 5th, 2009, 09:36
The game I was the most immersed in ever must have been Daggerfall. I have never been so surprised by enemies before or after. That said I don't think the immersion stands or falls with first-person view. The view must match the general feeling of the game though (in my opinion of course ). If a game aims for realism I think it should have first person, and if it aims to be creepy I think first-person does a better job as well, etc.
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September 5th, 2009, 11:29
Ah, this old never-ending debate…


I'm not sure the word immersion is the better world here. And maybe it's the only problem with this immersion vs camera-point-of-view issue.
What if we talk about the "simulation factor" instead of "immersion" ?


Originally Posted by SveNitoR View Post
If a game aims for realism I think it should have first person, and if it aims to be creepy I think first-person does a better job as well, etc.
That's it. That's what I mean by "simulation factor".


Originally Posted by Brandon Sheffield
We tend to accept first-person as a de facto viewpoint for several popular genres today,
Really ? You're kidding, right ?

Originally Posted by Brandon Sheffield
and it also saves developers from having to develop a camera system independent of the playerís control.
… which is a total loss of control in some bad designed 3rd person cameras. "Frustration, here I come !"


Originally Posted by Brandon Sheffield
But it is rather daunting, and has a high learning curve for those who havenít already experienced many first-person games.
Oh, it's too hard for casual gamers, huh ?
Hey, that's the point for the whole article !

Originally Posted by Brandon Sheffield
If I see a little running guy, and I try to make him jump, I can gauge that distance.
Mirror's edge proved this is not so difficult with FP either.
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September 5th, 2009, 20:16
I vastly prefer first-person for immersion. And I'm going to call it immersion because that's exactly what it aids for me. I am significantly more likely to stop thinking of myself as me and think of myself as the character I'm playing when I'm playing in first-person. I can't express strongly enough how much of an impact this has for me. I regret it, in fact, because forced third-person is so common these days that it means it's rare that I get that added massive immersion boost anymore.

I do not feel that there is any need to make first-person characters voiceless, however. I've always felt this was utterly stupid. It's just as frustrating to me when my character expresses him or herself in a way significantly contrary to my own personality or the personality that I am role playing whether it is in first-person, third-person, isometric, or any other viewpoint.

I really resent how many games force third-person when, with a little added effort, they could at least allow first-person, even if it is an unsupported hack.

Additionally, while I appreciate that immersion is not the only important aspect of game-play. It is, for me, the most important. I'd rather be immersed in a game that doesn't challenge me than be detached and challenged. There has to be something engaging to do with that sense of immersion, don't get me wrong. I do care about all aspects of game-play, but my #1 is immersion.
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September 6th, 2009, 08:36
Is it more immersive to have the perspective of one who's actually there, or someone who is watching those who are there?

It depends on what you think of as immersion, because the world CAN be immersive without FP perspective, but you're not going to feel as if you're the character(s) in the game to the same extent.

As such, FP perspective is for CHARACTER immersion more than anything else. I don't know if the perspective in itself implicitly makes the world more immersive - but I think it has more to do with how the developers approach their game, and what they choose to do with the tools at hand.

However, it's been my own experience that I feel more connected with the world - and I feel more as if I'm really there with FP perspective. I don't immediately recall any 3rd person game as immersive as, say, System Shock, Bioshock, AvP 2, or even Unreal.

Some over-the-shoulder games come very close, like Gothic - but certainly, I've never been in doubt as to whether FP perspective adds to immersion.

Frankly, I don't see how anyone could think otherwise - but that only tells me we have a different way of approachng games and we all immerse ourselves using a variety of senses and that our connection might vary from emotional to cerebral.
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September 6th, 2009, 11:05
Generally I don't like first person view, since it cuts off a lot of stuff at the edges I would be able to see perfectly if I was there myself, which makes me constantly move the view around, and this is frustrating a little and makes my eyes tired after a while. In third person view this is compensated, the camera is steadier, it's just better for exploring. I prefer this mode even for shooters, with switching to the over the shoulder view, when aiming (e.g. Mass Effect, GTA IV).

As for immersion, it makes an easy option for a horror game (like AvP or Doom III) to use the first person view, but I was much more terrified in Silent Hill 2, because of the setting and mood of the overall game. The cutscenes in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic were pretty good, shot in first person view, everybody talking to you, while you were looking at them, it just felt natural, but despite having one of the best first person implementations (like showing your body parts, when looking down, and not just a floating camera in space), I didn't finish the game primarily because of the first person view.
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September 6th, 2009, 19:07
@DArtagnan: Yes, I agree. It's significantly more of a factor for character immersion than world immersion. I can get almost as immersed in a third-person game's world, but not even close when it comes to character immersion. Both are important. For example, I get immersed just fine in the Gothic game world, but I never get immersed at all in the character I'm playing, which is my biggest gripe w/ Gothic.

I'm lucky that the narrow field of view of FP doesn't bother me even a little, I suppose. But there's an easy (okay, not easy) solution to it: TrackIR. If all FP games supported head tracking, this wouldn't be nearly as big an issue. It works _very_ well in ArmA, so it's not just for flight sims and driving sims. It does take some getting used to but that's true of anything new and worthwhile. That said, as long as you don't get disoriented by the quick looking-back-and-forth view movements in FP, mouse-look is almost as good as head-tracking in a non-shooter.

As for horror games, I sometimes choose to play them in third-person when given the choice because I don't get any where near as scared in third-person as I do in first, and I'm not a fan of being scared when I'm playing games (I'm a great big wimp). I feel almost no fear in a game if I play it in third-person whereas I'll be chucking the mouse across the room regularly in first-person on the exact same game. That's a good indicator of how much an impact the perspective makes on me. One might argue that I'm confusing immersion with something else on this point, but I disagree. The fear is because, with immersion, I trick myself into thinking I'm the person in the game, not a safe detached controller of that person's actions.

@srabuseen: I argue that it's simply your preference for third-person that makes you say that viewpoint is better for exploration. I know I can say that my preference for first-person is why I feel exactly the opposite. I love exploring in first person. I'm so much closer to the world. I'm in the world. Again, it's my preference for first-person that makes me feel that way. I'm just pointing out that it's a matter of preference and not that either is inherently superior for exploring.

I'm also lucky that I don't find first-person unsteady, disorienting, or nausea-inducing. Well, that's not quite true. There was one FP game once that made me very nauseated, Witchhaven. I don't know why, but it did. Third-person games, on the other hand, are _far_ more likely to make me nauseated with the camera swinging around all over the place. I barely made it through Psychonauts despite absolutely adoring it. I was constantly nauseated w/ a horrible headache throughout the entire game. And that was just the worst case - I'd say 1 in 3 floating-camera third-person games causes me some form of nausea or discomfort. It's more prevalent in modern games than older ones, probably because older ones had a less floaty camera.

Finally, as far as third-person goes, I have to say that I hate over-the-shoulder the most. I'd rather be over the head if I am forced to play in third-person. Over-the-shoulder blocks so much of the screen that I'm constantly trying to account for it and I find it constantly irritating. Oh how I hate over-the-shoulder.
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September 8th, 2009, 14:41
I also prefer first person view for immersion. I don't feel like I'm the person in the imaginary world when I'm looking at everything like a faerie godmother behind and above the person. Now, when battle ensues I do 'zoom out' for strategic reasons, but when I'm in town or travelling I'm in FPV.
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September 8th, 2009, 14:50
I find immersion unrelated to what perspective a game have. I know plenty of first-person games that are very immersive, and plenty that isn't.

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September 8th, 2009, 14:55
Originally Posted by srabuseen View Post
Generally I don't like first person view, since it cuts off a lot of stuff at the edges I would be able to see perfectly if I was there myself, which makes me constantly move the view around, and this is frustrating a little and makes my eyes tired after a while. In third person view this is compensated, the camera is steadier, it's just better for exploring. I prefer this mode even for shooters, with switching to the over the shoulder view, when aiming (e.g. Mass Effect, GTA IV).

As for immersion, it makes an easy option for a horror game (like AvP or Doom III) to use the first person view, but I was much more terrified in Silent Hill 2, because of the setting and mood of the overall game. The cutscenes in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic were pretty good, shot in first person view, everybody talking to you, while you were looking at them, it just felt natural, but despite having one of the best first person implementations (like showing your body parts, when looking down, and not just a floating camera in space), I didn't finish the game primarily because of the first person view.
I agree with this. There are places where first person view has benefits, such as aiming, but overall it is no more "realistic" than other views - we don't view the world through a square shaped tin can. Humans have excellent sight both above, below and to the sides of where we are currently looking, making it considerably easier to orient ourselves than what it is in FPS games.

If we're ever going to create immersive FPS gaming, we'd need giant bowl shaped screens instead of the flat square shaped ones we have today. For example a 40" bowl shaped screen where you more or less poke your head into it while playing, so you see the world on all sides, just as the main character would see things. That's the only way I can think of that would make FPS even remotely realistic.

I'm not saying 3rd person view is a whole lot more realistic, I'm just saying realism and immersion comes from other sources than point of view, such as being able to believe in the character and the world he is exploring.
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September 8th, 2009, 16:11
Originally Posted by bkrueger View Post
So for me the quality of story and setting are the deciding factors for immersion. The games I was most deeply immersed into were PS:T, Gothic, VTM:Bloodlines, Spellforce SotP, and several adventures.
Hmmm . . . don't think I played that expansion but if it's worthy of being in a list like that I might have to . . .
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September 8th, 2009, 16:24
It's truly interesting to me that people are so divided on this.

For some, FP perspective is absolutely essential for immersion - and for others, it apparently is completely unrelated.

It makes me wonder if we think of the same thing when we think about immersion.

I guess what makes us feel as if we're really present in the gameworld has a lot to do with how we approach games in general. I suppose my own way of approaching a game is less cerebral and more "visceral" - as in I like to start out with the notion of being within the gameworld and even playing something like an RTS or a 4X strategy game - I like to imagine I'm really some kind of general or leader.

In a game where I'm just one person in a world that's meant to be experienced as if I'm that person, I don't see any doubt whatsoever that the perspective is vital to that particular illusion.

In fact, if I hadn't heard from lots of people - lots of times - that they really don't find that perspective so important, I'd have assumed it was totally and completely universal. It's really strange that it isn't the case, and I'm trying hard to "get it" - I just can't.
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