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Wavinator

Objectives are bad for immersion?

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Do objectives create a ceiling in terms of how much you can immerse the player in the game world? In today's games you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a mandatory mission / quest objective. Objectives primarily serve to vary gameplay, break up and organize challenges and (in theory) provoke thought while increasing tension. They can also give weight to story in the rare cases where they offer an actual choice that somehow changes the world. I wonder, though, if they don't also automatically reduce immersion. It's a subtle point, but when you're thinking about getting something done, you tend to be pretty business minded. You don't really have time to stop and smell the roses. When you run across something in the world, it either serves your objective or it feels pointless. Encounter too many things meant to deepen the world when you've got a mission to accomplish (especially when timed) and it can become downright frustrating because it bogs you down. While objectives are great for tactics and strategy, in which the world exists to be obstacle or ally, I'm wondering if they seriously hurt immersion because they force you to think about the world in a very objectified, utilitarian way. If so, it might stand to reason that if immersion was your goal, objectives could really harm an RPG. Instead, you might have to settle for times when the player is supposed to be immersed and times when they're supposed to feel forward momentum and progress. What do you think?

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As human beings, we want to see a direction to the flow of our lives. We want to see how things connect with each other, and by doing so, we integrate all these pieces together and create meaning out of them.

It is for this very reason that I feel that gameplay which is too freeform, or which has as its main seeling feature the ability do "do anything you want anytime you want, anywhere you want" will ultimately become boring for players. In such games, ultimately, what makes the players come back for more isn't the game itself, but rather meeting new people.

Exploration without either direction or meaning (which can be seen as a goal or objective in either case) is ultimately futile. Okay, let me take that back, it's not futile, but it's not engaging either. Without goals or objectives which have meaning and direction, then we have created nothing but a toy through which we can occupy ourselves to alleviate our boredom. But toys never make us reflect on how this relates to our own lives.

Games that want to immerse us in a setting must in some way capture our attention and make us ask ourselves to become a part of that world. As I said at the beginning of the post, as human beings, we want and need a world (whether our real one or a make-believe one) to make sense. Moreover, for the immersion to work, continuity of direction and meaning must be maintained. In other words, things have to make sense for us to suspend our belief. If the goals and objectives in the game do not support the meaning of the game world background, and if the goals do not move us into a different cognitive, emotional and/or socially aware states, then we will lose interest in the game.

I believe that trying to create immersive games which are also free-form games are somewhat antagonistic to each other (though theoretically, not impossible). Immersion requires a fully-fleshed out background and a series of events (that are not necessarily linear...it is possible to create dynamic branching paths that lead to multiple conclusions) that absorb our attention and our spirit. Freeform games are a more sophisticated game design in some levels, because they can either be toys that we simply play to alleviate our boredom (which in my opinion isn't something we should do all the time), or they can be games in which we the player must form our own direction and meaning. However, to create a game that can do this requires an ingenious setting as well as players with a maturity level capable of understanding this.

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sigh.....that was me again

Okay, that's what I get for using Firefox and not signing in my password. Sheesh, man that's like the 5th time I've forgotten or didn't have my password fill in!!

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Original post by Wavinator
Encounter too many things meant to deepen the world when you've got a mission to accomplish (especially when timed) and it can become downright frustrating because it bogs you down.


Encounter too many things meant to deepen the world when don't have missions to accomplish and it can... wait a sec... why am I here? o_O

What are you intending to immerse the player in? The gameplay? The story? The characters? The world? The "one step more realistic, but still no where close to the real world" details?

If I'm not trying to complete some objective, why am I playing? If you're not using objectives to draw the player into the story, the characters, the world, the gameplay, what are you using?

I have objectives in real life, and it's never once reduced my immersion in the real world.

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An example. When you read a book, you're reading a story. However, if you're like me (not everyone is) the world and characters are more interesting than the story. Take "Watership Down". I care much less about their objectives (big picture: Finding a new home. small picture: Fighting a lynx, finding women, etc.) and much more about the world from a rabbit's perspective, about Fiver, about Hazel, etc. However, if it were instead "The World from a Rabbit's Perspective, Fiver, and Hazel" I wouldn't care to read it. I would be "learning about" the world, not "immersed in" the world.

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Original post by Dauntless
As human beings, we want to see a direction to the flow of our lives. We want to see how things connect with each other, and by doing so, we integrate all these pieces together and create meaning out of them.


Yes, Carl Sagan once noted that this is why we see faces on Mars, animals in the clouds or characters in the constellations of the stars.

Quote:

It is for this very reason that I feel that gameplay which is too freeform, or which has as its main seeling feature the ability do "do anything you want anytime you want, anywhere you want" will ultimately become boring for players. In such games, ultimately, what makes the players come back for more isn't the game itself, but rather meeting new people.


Setting aside the "do anything you want" which will never happen until a virtual reality is an analogue of the real world, the question with freeform play becomes whether or not players are motivated enough to be self directed. I'm speaking, btw, solely of imposed objectives on the player. I don't think immersion goes away when you're imposing objectives on yourself because you can waffle on them and stop and smell the flowers, so to speak.


Quote:

Exploration without either direction or meaning (which can be seen as a goal or objective in either case) is ultimately futile. Okay, let me take that back, it's not futile, but it's not engaging either. Without goals or objectives which have meaning and direction, then we have created nothing but a toy through which we can occupy ourselves to alleviate our boredom. But toys never make us reflect on how this relates to our own lives.


I agree with you partially but I don't see how goals, which narrow our focus, switch to strategic (even predatory) thinking and call us to objectify the game world help here either. You start thinking "what is this?" and "how can I use this to get that."

Take the issue of prisoners in an RTS. Objectives don't call you to think, "wow, what would a real army do with so many prisoners." No, instead you think, "Dammit, I can't win until I hunt down and kill all this damn cannon fodder."

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Moreover, for the immersion to work, continuity of direction and meaning must be maintained.


So if you're dropped into a sim of say downtown Manhattan, this won't be immersive?

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If the goals and objectives in the game do not support the meaning of the game world background, and if the goals do not move us into a different cognitive, emotional and/or socially aware states, then we will lose interest in the game.


Again, I should have specified the difference between self-directed play and imposed play. If you have nothing to motivate you, you'll become bored, and this will break immersion.

Quote:

Freeform games are a more sophisticated game design in some levels, because they can either be toys that we simply play to alleviate our boredom (which in my opinion isn't something we should do all the time), or they can be games in which we the player must form our own direction and meaning. However, to create a game that can do this requires an ingenious setting as well as players with a maturity level capable of understanding this.


You may be right. OTOH, there may be ways to encourage self-directed play, which simply by being user defined in pace, may allow for more immersion (maybe not).

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Original post by Way Walker
Encounter too many things meant to deepen the world when don't have missions to accomplish and it can... wait a sec... why am I here? o_O


Clarifying as with Dauntless, I assumed that objectives would be imposed as they are in 95% of all games.

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What are you intending to immerse the player in? The gameplay? The story? The characters? The world? The "one step more realistic, but still no where close to the real world" details?


The backstory entries, the little NPC vignettes, the breathtakingly beautiful graphics, the areas where reading about the world pay off in gameplay bonuses, etc.

Quote:

If I'm not trying to complete some objective, why am I playing? If you're not using objectives to draw the player into the story, the characters, the world, the gameplay, what are you using?


Your own choices and consequences?

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I have objectives in real life, and it's never once reduced my immersion in the real world.


[grin] You're assuming you have a choice in the matter.

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Original post by Wavinator
...the question with freeform play becomes whether or not players are motivated enough to be self directed.


If you can develop AI sophisticated enough to make self directed gameplay worthwhile, I'll not only be extremely impressed, but you'll have a guaranteed sale on your hands [grin].

If your game doesn't provide the player with forward momentum of some kind; If you don't provide a definable objective, it's not a game at all. It's a toy. See: The Sims, Sim City, Sim Ant, Sim Gynocologist, Sim Whatever. See also: every MMO* ever made.

I'm not saying this wrong. Some of my favorite moments in games are when I'm allowed to go off and do my own thing, but eventually I get bored and return to the story line. The point is: Games have a story line of some sort. This story line eventually ends, providing the player with some kind of finale for all the effort they've put into playing the game. It doesn't matter if it's the bouncing cards at the end of MS solitaire, or a beautifully rendered CG sequence, as human beings we need an introduction, we need drama, and we need closure.

I think the idea of a fully articulate world is wonderful, but I realize that it probably won't happen in my lifetime. I guess what I'm saying is, give the player the ability to venture off the beaten path, let them explore, but in the end give them something to make your game worth playing.

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It all depends on the subtlety of the objective.

If the game just comes right out and says: "Do this. Do that. Optional bonus: Do the other!" then yes, I agree, to an extent... the game becomes less of a virtual world and more of a medium for the achievement of certain tasks (and given that those tasks exist purely within the medium, it explains why many people feel playing games is a pointless waste of time).

However, I reckon it's possible to induce objectives in the player that do not harm immersion. Say the player's settled into their role as a compassionate and upstanding citizen, and that they identify with their character. Present them with a scenario: an elderly woman, living nearby, is sick.

Don't give anything else. Let them visit the woman to talk a little (she's sick though, so she can't talk much), let them walk around her house and look at the pictures on the walls, let them chat to her gardener about what a great employer she's been and how sad it is that she's sick. Most importantly, don't tell the player to go and get the medicine. Allow the player to set that as their own objective - exploiting their emotional attachment to the characters - and them just sit back and watch as they get on with it. Because it's a player-set goal, it's much easier for them to say, "meh, I'll do it later. It's not like I have to do it to advance in the game.. it's just something I want to do at some point."

It's difficult to do - principally because it depends on the player cooperating - but I think it's doable.

I also think, judging from what I've heard, that I should play Fable at some point. [grin]

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Quote:
original quote by Wavinator
So if you're dropped into a sim of say downtown Manhattan, this won't be immersive?


For me, no. Simply having lots of detail or freedom of action does not absorb my attention and interest. It may be interesting to explore for a short while, but if I have no over-arching goal or objective, then it will never amount to more than mere backdrop.

Now, don't get me wrong, without a vivid backdrop, creating that sense of immersion will be extremely difficult. However, I believe that goals and objectives help define one's purpose for being in the game world in the first place.

Now, I think a difference has to be noted between game-designer enforced goals and objectives (whether you wish to call them missions, levels, or what not) which are unavoidable and which are forced upon the player, and between player-derived goals and objectives which are either truly made up by the player, or are merely choices that the game-designer offers. In the case of the former, you'll need a freeform system with a richly detailed game background which allows the player to make up his own mind about what he wants to do in the game world. In the latter case, instead of being railroaded into one objective after the other, there could be a decision-tree based objective system, wherein the initial choice of the player (and success or failure) determines other successive goals (I guess similar to a state machine in a way).

I'm guessing what you had in mind was a freeform style of play with a richly detailed world which allowed the player to have a choice. And in which there was no imposition of goals or objectives other than objectives which are self-imposed by the player himself. For example, in your other post about politics, you mentioned how you liked to free slaves....so being able to free slaves could be a goal in the game.

Self-imposed goals would practically by definition serve only to reinforce immersion rather than take away from it. By being able to choose how the character influences the world, it provides a sense of meaning and direction. Game-designer enforced goals and objectives can still provide a sense of immersion and absorbtion if the material happens to pull on certain emotional, cognitive or social strings that the player has. The advantage of the freeform style is that it is more poen-ended, allowing a much greater range of exploration of issues. On the down side, technically, this will be much more difficult to achieve, plus the widened range of possibilities can also overwhelm the player. Sometimes information or choice overload can be just as boring as not enough (ask any channel surfer).

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