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Realism vs immersion

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I've always been one of the people pushing the realism boat. I've always felt that more realism can make the game more immersive. Then I just started thinking, does realism cause immersion or does immersion cause a game to feel more realistic? Now that I've seriously confused everyone I'll go into an example. I'm working on a (not so) simple text based RPG. Being text based everything has to have descriptions. Since I'm only building up the game engine right now my descriptions are utilitarian: North Dock, Hanger, Control Room Hanger Entrance, etc. While this works just fine, it isn't very immersive. You feel like a third person perspective reading a map. On the other hand, the eventual descriptions might be less specific: A room with a desk, a large room with many ships, a small door, etc (though with more thought). Is it possible this is part of what is causing the conflict between realism and fun? Say for injuries, a simple % guage for health with healing powerups work but how much harder would it be to add to this injuries to specific locations and choose to heal a specific location with that health powerup. So am I just crazy or is what people are craving is a more immersive environment to increase fun, not so much a more realistic one?

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Why is there a contradiction?

I think between realism and immersion, what you're looking for is contextual consistency. That the immersion generated by the game meshes with the realism of the world you've created.

Not everyone considers the same stuff to be fun anyway... but you knew that.

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I believe there is an important difference between realism and versimilitude. Realism is slavish mimicry of every real-world detail even when it makes the game less fun to play. Versimilitude, or believeability, is what causes immersiveness and suspension of disbelief. Versimilitude has to do with internal consistency within the worldbuilding and psychological consistency in the way the characters speak and act. As long as everything is internally consistent a story or game can be immersive, regardless of whether the content matches anything in reality or is instead fantastical or surreal.

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What I was looking at is you can have realisim that pulls you into a game and makes you feel like you are there, and then realism that doesn't change anything (caling a room by what it is vs what it looks like). And this may be nothing more than a context discussion that means compeletely different things depending on who reads it, more just a random thought stream I had <shrug>

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Well, I disagree with you, but I'm not going to rate you down for it.

Unless you're working on a historical game, there's really no need for realism. In fact, I think realism actually make a game less interesting. Fictional things, let it either be character, weapon, or technology always gives player something new and not something they are already fimiliar with.

People are curious animals, they are attracted to things that are new to them.

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Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Porco Rosso... all animated films that maintain immersion without realism. The realism of a game is a Dead Sea fruit; it amazes one who is used to last years games, then turns to ashes in your mouth when you realize it isn't absolute.

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Here's a real world example. Look at Burnout or Need for Speed or any of the high speed racing type games (other than simulation attempts, I'm talking about games for the average player.) Are there physics? yes. Are they always 100% realistic? No? Could they be? Yes.

Why aren't they then? Because driving at 200 mph through city streets is not fun. It's too fast for your average player to be able to drive a real physics model car through the streets without crashing every moment or slowing down to be cautious. These games rely on speed and adrenaline so they sacrifice the reality of unstability in steering and other things at those speeds in an attempt to make it more immersive for the player.

I think that realism should be left to sims. If you want a game, aspire for immersion and where unrealistic settings detract from that immersion, strive to make it realistic only if it would improve gameplay.

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Realism and immersion are not two ends of the same scale, neither are they synonomous. If you plot them on a graph then you would use Realism as one axis (say the X axis) and Immersion as the other axis (say the Y axis).

You could have a very realistic game, but due to other limitations (such as the controls) it might not be all that immersive. But on the other hand you could have a completly abstract game and the player could be very much immersed in it.

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I agree that realism and immersiveness are completely unrelated in most cases. This is something that is actually researched fairly heavily by psychologists and others involved in simulation/training research. Typically, immersion is something that is sought in tactical type scenarios, and realism (especially in graphics) is downplayed. There are other types of training scenarios, though, where realism becomes important... flight sims, and that sort of thing.

I personally believe that realism in graphics would tend to enhance the immersiveness of a simulation, but so far the research apparently doesn't support that.

Quote:
Original post by lightblade
Well, I disagree with you, but I'm not going to rate you down for it.

So, people actually rate people down because they have different opinions?!? That kinda sucks. Is disagreement considered "somewhat unhelpful"?

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Quote:
Original post by Drethon
I've always been one of the people pushing the realism boat. I've always felt that more realism can make the game more immersive. Then I just started thinking, does realism cause immersion or does immersion cause a game to feel more realistic?

Now that I've seriously confused everyone I'll go into an example.
I'm working on a (not so) simple text based RPG. Being text based everything has to have descriptions. Since I'm only building up the game engine right now my descriptions are utilitarian: North Dock, Hanger, Control Room Hanger Entrance, etc. While this works just fine, it isn't very immersive. You feel like a third person perspective reading a map. On the other hand, the eventual descriptions might be less specific: A room with a desk, a large room with many ships, a small door, etc (though with more thought).

Is it possible this is part of what is causing the conflict between realism and fun? Say for injuries, a simple % guage for health with healing powerups work but how much harder would it be to add to this injuries to specific locations and choose to heal a specific location with that health powerup.

So am I just crazy or is what people are craving is a more immersive environment to increase fun, not so much a more realistic one?


Well, you can't be immersed in the unbelievable. Even fantasy follows some realistic rules - you've got gravity, swords, balls of fire etc. Magic is "impossible" by real world terms but believable because if follows logical rules. Concepts like death, life, victory, defeat, good, evil, energy, spirit, "mana," health and the like are almost universal in fantasy games (as one example) - and they are realistic. You can take so much of a beating before you die, you can dish out a certain amount before you tire (mana). The key is that your world is coherent - and the more depth to your world, the more realistic it has to be. Simple reason: we associate with the real. Your player will never feel as immersed in an abstract storyline with alien creatures and rules as they will with more familiar faces. Pong isn't ever going to be as deep as a game like Metal Gear Solid, for example.

You'll probably hear alot of people saying that realism isn't important, the only thing that matters is that your world follows its own rules. This is false. Take for instance the concept of a "humanoid" character. The moment you introduce a human character into a game, you've set the player up to expect a huge set of rules about how humans act and interact with their environments - you've taken something from reality and put it into your game. Most games assume gravity and properties of matter similar to the real world. Coherence then requires realism, and immersion does by extension as well. Shallow games don't have to be realistic (e.g. pong) - but they're too shallow to be immersive as well. Deeper games (those that tend to draw on storyline and emotion) require realism as the player has to relate to something for the game to be more involving. This thing is going to be, at the very least, personified to give it human traits or somehow have it relate to people in the real world. Thus, you're going to have to have realism. You're going to need to extend this realism to keep the simulation homogenous lest you break the immersion.

But what is this "realism" thing? People will argue against realism assuming that it means "no fantasy magic" or "no flying superheroes" or "nothing fun." This is also a misunderstanding - aren't fantasy characters realistic? They cry, laugh, kill, and die like any other person. Their behavoirs are understandable. They can shoot fireballs, but that doesn't take away from their characters' being realistic. If you associate with it, it likely harkens back to something in the real world. Even in the more abstract games - the gameplay follows some understandable concept.

However, the nature of the beast is that there isn't a strict doctrine for using "realism" and "immersion." The fact of the matter is that if it's fun, it's got whatever it needs. Everything else is theory. You can have debates about theory, but I'd stick to the real if I was trying to get something done. My $0.02.

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Quote:
Original post by Nytehauq
Well, you can't be immersed in the unbelievable.

You can't be immersed in a game of Tetris or Lumines? :) I think the word "immersion" is a bit too vague for a simple answer to realism vs immersion. I like the idea of identifying different types of immersion in this article http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20040709/adams_01.shtml
Quote:
Concepts like death, life, victory, defeat, good, evil, energy, spirit, "mana," health and the like are almost universal in fantasy games (as one example) - and they are realistic. You can take so much of a beating before you die, you can dish out a certain amount before you tire (mana).

I'm not sure I agree with the idea that reality works like this :) In real life you don't have hitpoints... The number of blows with a sword it takes to kill somebody is a lot more complicated and unpredictable than that!
Quote:
Pong isn't ever going to be as deep as a game like Metal Gear Solid, for example.

Quote:
Deeper games (those that tend to draw on storyline and emotion) require realism as the player has to relate to something for the game to be more involving.

If you include "tactical immersion" in your definition of immersion then you could argue chess is a lot deeper than Metal Gear Solid. Puzzle games are usually on the more abstract end of the realism scale but some of them are incredibly deep and immersive but in a more tactical sense.
Quote:
Coherence then requires realism

What could be more coherent than Pong? :)

My point is, the realistic way my jeep gets stuck on small objects among the foliage in Battlefield Vietnam breaks my immersion because it distracts me from the gameplay. So I think there are situations where realism and immersion do oppose each other but sometimes it works the other way round.

I get the impression that the kind of immersion in question here is only relevant to games that favour fantasy/roleplay over tactics/gameplay (eg. Elder Scrolls). Abstract games can be immersive too!

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I think that we not only have some disagreement about the definition of the term "realism", we also now have that same disagreement for "immersion".

Some threads are useless with pics - this one is useless without linguistic precision.

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I am no expert game developer, but I did write a small article on my site that covered this exact subject. Basically I argue that some realism is necessary in order for the player to be able to understand your game and its world, but too much in fact gets in the way. For the article check this link.

http://deleter.phatcode.net/article5.html

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Quote:
Original post by RanmaruX
Quote:
Original post by Nytehauq
Well, you can't be immersed in the unbelievable.

You can't be immersed in a game of Tetris or Lumines? :) I think the word "immersion" is a bit too vague for a simple answer to realism vs immersion. I like the idea of identifying different types of immersion in this article http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20040709/adams_01.shtml
Quote:
Concepts like death, life, victory, defeat, good, evil, energy, spirit, "mana," health and the like are almost universal in fantasy games (as one example) - and they are realistic. You can take so much of a beating before you die, you can dish out a certain amount before you tire (mana).

I'm not sure I agree with the idea that reality works like this :) In real life you don't have hitpoints... The number of blows with a sword it takes to kill somebody is a lot more complicated and unpredictable than that!
Quote:
Pong isn't ever going to be as deep as a game like Metal Gear Solid, for example.

Quote:
Deeper games (those that tend to draw on storyline and emotion) require realism as the player has to relate to something for the game to be more involving.

If you include "tactical immersion" in your definition of immersion then you could argue chess is a lot deeper than Metal Gear Solid. Puzzle games are usually on the more abstract end of the realism scale but some of them are incredibly deep and immersive but in a more tactical sense.
Quote:
Coherence then requires realism

What could be more coherent than Pong? :)

My point is, the realistic way my jeep gets stuck on small objects among the foliage in Battlefield Vietnam breaks my immersion because it distracts me from the gameplay. So I think there are situations where realism and immersion do oppose each other but sometimes it works the other way round.

I get the impression that the kind of immersion in question here is only relevant to games that favour fantasy/roleplay over tactics/gameplay (eg. Elder Scrolls). Abstract games can be immersive too!


Browser ate my response! >.<

In any case, just because it's new doesn't make it realistic. Your jeep getting stuck on objects isn't very realistic - in real life, it'd be much easier to control, especially if you were trained in offroad driving. The problem here isn't too much realism - it's half done realism. If you had a great jeep physics simulation with VR and lots of wonderful stuff and it was easy enough to play, it'd be perfect and very realistic. The problem is that you've got a jeep that gets realistically caught on objects that you can't control worth a damn because of your mouse and keyboard limitation. Doesn't mean they should simplify the simulation - it needs to be easier to control.

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Quote:
Original post by Deleter
Basically I argue that some realism is necessary in order for the player to be able to understand your game and its world, but too much in fact gets in the way.


Hardly anything is realistic in Checkers: you have purely abstract representations on a two dimensional board. Yet millions of people understand that game and its world, as well as the worlds of several other abstract games.

All a good game needs is an internally consistent ruleset. Realism is unnecessary.

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Quote:
Original post by smitty1276
I personally believe that realism in graphics would tend to enhance the immersiveness of a simulation, but so far the research apparently doesn't support that.


Realistic graphics have irrelevant details which can be distracting and confusing, which is of course bad for immersiveness. Icomic graphics (which are simpler than realistic ones) are more easily recognizable and easy to remember what their meaning/value is and thus how they can and should be used/reacted to in the game. But graphics that are too iconic or abstract can also interfere with immersion because they become more difficult to consider meaningful and combine into the impression of being in a story/world, which is how I would define immersion.

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Quote:
Original post by GemuhDesayinah
Quote:
Original post by Deleter
Basically I argue that some realism is necessary in order for the player to be able to understand your game and its world, but too much in fact gets in the way.


Hardly anything is realistic in Checkers: you have purely abstract representations on a two dimensional board. Yet millions of people understand that game and its world, as well as the worlds of several other abstract games.

All a good game needs is an internally consistent ruleset. Realism is unnecessary.


I agree completely, but just wanted to point out that the benefit of realism is that it's an internally consistent ruleset we're already familiar with. It can reduce barrier to entry.

However, I think there's something of a paradox. For me, the closer to realism you get, the less real it feels and the less immersive it becomes because the deviations from reality become even more apparent. I found it easier to be immersed in the world of FFVI than in that of Deus Ex. I haven't played any recent 3D games (my computer would just laugh at you if you tried to install one), but the screen shots are just surreal. The people look like wax figures. I might do a double take (Was that a photo?), but after a few moments examination things just look creepy. Don't get me wrong, I love surrealism, but when that's not the effect you're going for....

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Quote:
Original post by Nytehauq
The problem is that you've got a jeep that gets realistically caught on objects that you can't control worth a damn because of your mouse and keyboard limitation. Doesn't mean they should simplify the simulation - it needs to be easier to control.


Agree and disagree. I agree that that's the problem, I disagree that it doesn't mean they should simplify the simulation. In real life you wouldn't get caught up on every little thing, so you're just drawing attention to the poor interface by making it "close, but not close enough". We're far from being able to provide a proper interface with all the required situational tools (directional sound, 180+ degree views, force feedback to the entire body, etc.), so, for the time being, we should simplify simulations.

That's similar to how people justify hit points. It's not a measure of your "health", but of how "worn out" you are, of your ability to keep dodging and just scrape by (It's only a flesh wound!).

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We're far from being able to provide a proper interface with all the required situational tools (directional sound, 180+ degree views, force feedback to the entire body, etc.), so, for the time being, we should simplify simulations.

This is what I was saying about the interface being the problem. The more realistic you make the game the more complex the interface needs to be to communicate the level of detail to the player. With outnthis fidelity of feedback and player input, then you loose the sense of playing a game, and then start fighting the interface. Once you stop playing the game and start fighting the interfcace, the player can not become immersed in the game because they are no longer playing it.

However, a realistic game with an adiquate interface can work together to increase the immersion that a player feels.

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I think that there are two different ways to look at realism.
There is realism in terms of how close it is to the real world, but there is also how real things seem in the sense of the world that you've created (consistency).

For a game to be immersive it deosn't need to be realistic in terms of being close to the real world (unless your trying to recreate the real world), but the things in the world need to appear real for that world. For example if I see lots of goblins running about then this becomes real for this world and I become more immersed in the world becuase I understand something about it (ie. that is has goblins), but if I see a spaceship in a world that has given me no indecation that they exist or no reason for this one being here i'll feel that its not real and lose my sense of the world thus becoming less imersed.

I guess what i'm really trying to say is that a game can feel real without having to have things from the real world in them if it makes sense to the person brought into the world for them to be there, so by meeting expectations. This means that by providing well written stories and descriptions will immerse the person into the world by making things real rather than them actually being real.

Events of the past are real if you saw them yourself or believe fully that they happened. (eg. religion)

Edit: Corrected ie. typo

[Edited by - Dragoncar on April 14, 2006 8:29:42 PM]

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Guest Anonymous Poster
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Original post by Dragoncar
Events of the past are real if you saw them yourself or believe fully that they happened. (ie. religion)


ITYM eg., or am I a religious man because I fully believe in the American revolution?

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Quote:
Original post by GemuhDesayinah
Quote:
Original post by Deleter
Basically I argue that some realism is necessary in order for the player to be able to understand your game and its world, but too much in fact gets in the way.


Hardly anything is realistic in Checkers: you have purely abstract representations on a two dimensional board. Yet millions of people understand that game and its world, as well as the worlds of several other abstract games.

All a good game needs is an internally consistent ruleset. Realism is unnecessary.


I think you need to reexamine checkers, perhaps after reading my article. Checkers may be abstract at first glance, but in fact there is a lot of realism in it. Number one, there are physical rules and existence rules. Checkers has a world, thats realistic. This world has rules as per how you can move and where you can go. This world contains two seperate entities who must do away with the other. There are precise rules concerning the gameplay. These may be small examples of realism, but if you read my article you will see I say how much realism you "need" depends on what type of game you are making, and in fact I argue that you should use the least as possible. So checkers still fits in my arguement.

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And as someone else on this thread stated: this thread is useless without linguistic precision as people seem to be using the word "realism" to mean different things ...

Quote:
Original post by Deleter
I think you need to reexamine checkers, perhaps after reading my article. Checkers may be abstract at first glance, but in fact there is a lot of realism in it.


Quote:

Number one, there are physical rules and existence rules. Checkers has a world, thats realistic.


Heh? Checkers is "realistic" because it has a "world"?
In that case, your personal definition of the term "realism" is so broad as to be practically meaningless with regards to game design.

Quote:

This world has rules as per how you can move and where you can go. This world contains two seperate entities who must do away with the other. There are precise rules concerning the gameplay. These may be small examples of realism,


They aren't.

They are examples of INTERNALLY CONSISTENT RULESETS. There is nothing inherently "realistic" in having rules.

Let me repeat an earlier post, but this time with clarification:
All a game needs is an INTERNALLY CONSISTENT RULESET, so people know how to play it, and optimize their performance given the rules. "Realism" - the representation of objects, actions, or social conditions as they actually are, without idealization or presentation in abstract form (to use one dictionary definition) - is unnecessary.

Creating rulesets that players are already used to in real life (e.g. how gravity works) may facilitate ease of learning a game, but such rules aren't always necessary (e.g. the way a chess knight moves on a board).

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This thread seems to mix two different comparisons. One comparison is between realism and immersion and the other between realism and abstraction (or immersion and abstraction).

Realism and immersion have been compared in this thread enough already, and I have to agree that realism is not an important thing as such for immersion, but what is important is consistency, especially with regard to being consistent with the player's expectations. Realism won't necessarily hurt immersion either. On consistency, I will simply include a quote:

Quote:
Oscar Wilde
Man can believe the impossible, but can never believe the improbable.


Magic, supermen, and invaders from Mars are impossible; that won't mean I will not be immersed in a world which has them. The lack of consistency creates an atmosphere of improbability, and that will harm my immersion. For example, in most RTS games the game itself is rather abstract (usually one unit really depicts a whole number of individuals), but the representation is rather concrete (the unit is displayed as a "realistically" animated human figure). For me, this makes the game less immersive, because what I see is not consistent of what I would expect from the system by my observation of the rather concrete representation.

Anyway, the original poster juxtaposed a single health measure to several locational health measures. Neither are particularly realistic, but they have different levels of abstraction, so the comparsion is really about abstraction and realism/immersion. Immersion and abstraction don't need to interfere with each other. Tetris can be immersive and it's abstract. Unreal is much less abstract, but can be immersive too.

As for abstraction and realism, I am more than mildly annoyed by the proposed idea that abstractness and realism are somehow opposite concepts. I claim that abstraction will not necessarily lead into non-realism.

Imagine that I was to make a game about running about in forests picking berries (MMOBPG, [grin]). Because the number of berries in the bushes the player encounters has a profound effect on the gameplay, I want to make it realistic. What should I do?

Of course, I could start observing forests and plant life in general and spend all my free time studying about plant biology and the growth of berries. Then I would create a simulation of a forest (using genetic algorithms or what have you for the evolution of the plants etc.) and really make that simulation as good as possible. The end result would be realistic, as it is based on the real world and to an outside observer it would behave like the real world. It wouldn't be perfect, however, because any such model would still be a simplification.

Then imagine I wouldn't do the simulation, but would rather use all that time for running about in forests, counting berries in any bushes I encounter and build up a huge database of berry growth in the local forests. I could then use this data to build a statistical model that would be used in the game to populate the bushes with appropriate number of berries. Again, the end result would be realistic, as it is based on the real world, and it would seem to be like the real world. Again, it would not be perfect, as it is a simplification.

The latter model is easier to control, as there will probably be less parameters to set, and it would be considerably faster. It is also a lot more abstract. Still I wouldn't say it was any less realistic than the former model; realistic in the sense that it is both based on the system it tries to model and also seems like that system to an outside observer.

I'm not saying that checkers or any other similar game would be realistic, necessarily. If you think checkers is realistic, feel free to tell me what real world system checkers models and convince me that it models it well. Still, just because not all abstract systems are not realistic it does not follow that no abstract system is realistic.

Even the most concrete games are abstractions to begin with, anyway. You don't (usually) start by modeling atoms and just letting the game world emerge from this.

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If you think my definition of realism is too broad, perhaps you should define something else. In my opinion, defining it as something the brain can grasp and define and explain to itself and put in understanding with other things is not "too broad". However, the original question was about realism and immersion. Although checkers has only the base elements of reality, it is still very fun to play, while a complex simulation can be boring as heck. On the other hand, some games that have come out recently were very realistic while still being just as fun as checkers. Saying that there is a direct correaltion, or really any correlation at all between realism and immersion is incorrect. I suppose I got diverted from this being the point by trying to argue that checkers has realism, but it doesn't really effect it in the long run. I still hold onto that the game itself will dictate how much realism you can add, and how little you at least need. Board games need minimum realism, modern day RTS games need a lot more (in their current flavors at least).

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