Friday, February 22, 2008

GDC 2008: All about immersion

Clint Hocking is one of the best speakers to present at GDC. For (I think) every year in the past seven he’s had something interesting to talk about. And his style of speaking is dynamic, funny, and fascinating.

In the past year, it seems, Hocking’s been thinking about what is required for a game player to feel immersed in the experience. Referencing the seminal book Hamlet on the Holodeck, the games Trespasser and Guitar Hero, and lots of original Star Trek references, Hocking zipped through a look at how to classify immersion, and how to think about enhancing it for gamers.

Hocking differentiates between “sensual immersion,” which he likens to the emotional and affective sensation of being surrounded by an environment. This kind of immersion is typified by films, in which we can all get lost, and it was attempted by the developers of Trespasser, a video game that claimed it was going to be the most immersive game ever, and was based on the Jurassic Park films.

The other type of immersion, for Hocking, is “rational immersion,” which refers to the fugue state we enter when we are trying to learn a new task, or are making our brain work hard. This kind of immersion is exemplified by chess, for example, or by learning to be a Guitar Hero.

Hocking believes that getting both forms of immersion to work together is critical, because that will be the moment at which “games will be to film what film today is to radio.”

If you ever have the privilege of attending GDC, make sure you keep a spot open for a Hocking presentation. He’s one of the best shows in town.

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