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Fundamental components of the gameplay experience

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Fundamental components of the gameplay experience

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This co-authored paper is based on research that originated in 2003 when our team started a series of extensive field studies into the character of gameplay experiences. Originally within the Children as the Actors of Game Cultures research project, our aim was to better understand why particularly young people enjoy playing games, while also asking their parents how they perceive gaming as playing partners or as close observers. Gradually our in-depth interviews started to reveal a complex picture of more general relevance, where personal experiences, social contexts and cultural practices all came together to frame gameplay within something we called game cultures. Culture was the keyword, since we were not interested in studying games and play experiences in isolation, but rather as part of the rich meaning- making practices of lived reality.
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Changing Views: Worlds in Play. Selected Papers of the 2005 Digital Games Research Association’s Second
International Conference, pp. 15–27. Eds. Suzanne de Castell and Jennifer Jenson.
© 2005 Authors & Digital Games Research Association DiGRA. Personal and educational classroom use of this paper is
allowed, commercial use requires specific permission from the author.
Fundamental Components of the Gameplay
Experience: Analysing Immersion
Laura Ermi
Hypermedia Laboratory
33014 University of Tampere
Finland
+358 3 215 8077
firstname.lastname@uta.fi
Frans Mäyrä
Hypermedia Laboratory
33014 University of Tampere
Finland
+358 3 215 7933
firstname.lastname@uta.fi
ABSTRACT
This paper presents a gameplay experience model, assesses its potential as a tool for research and
presents some directions for future work. The presented model was born from observations
among game-playing children and their non-player parents, which directed us to have a closer
look at the complex nature of gameplay experience. Our research led into a heuristic gameplay
experience model that identifies some of the key components and processes that are relevant in
the experience of gameplay, with a particular focus on immersion. The model includes three
components: sensory, challenge-based and imaginative immersion (SCI-model). The
classification was assessed with self-evaluation questionnaires filled in by informants who
played different popular games. It was found that the gameplay experiences related to these
games did indeed differ as expected in terms of the identified three immersion components.
Keywords
gameplay, experience, immersion
INTRODUCTION: PLAYERS, EXPERIENCES AND FUN
There has been a relative boom of games research that has focused on the definition and
ontology of games, but its complementary part, that of research into the gameplay experience has
not been adopted by academics in a similar manner. This is partly due to the disciplinary tilt
among the current generation of ludologists: a background in either art, literary or media studies,
or in the applied field of game design, naturally leads to research in which the game, rather than
the player, is the focus of attention. Yet, the essence of a game is rooted in its interactive nature,
and there is no game without a player. The act of playing a game is where the rules embedded
into the game’s structure start operating, and its program code starts having an effect on cultural
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and social, as well as artistic and commercial realities. If we want to understand what a game is,
we need to understand what happens in the act of playing, and we need to understand the player
and the experience of gameplay. In this paper we discuss the ways in which the gameplay
experience can be conceptualised, provide a model that organises some of its fundamental
components, and conclude with an assessment of the model with some directions for further
research.
Human experiences in virtual environments and games are made of the same elements that all
other experiences consist of, and the gameplay experience can be defined as an ensemble made
up of the player’s sensations, thoughts, feelings, actions and meaning-making in a gameplay
setting. Thus it is not a property or a direct cause of certain elements of a game but something
that emerges in a unique interaction process between the game and the player. This has also led
to suggestions that games are actually more like artefacts than media [15]. Players do not just
engage in ready-made gameplay but also actively take part in the construction of these
experiences: they bring their desires, anticipations and previous experiences with them, and
interpret and reflect the experience in that light. For example, a certain gameplay session might
be interpreted as fun, challenging and victorious until one hears that a friend of hers made a
better record effortlessly, after which it might be reinterpreted more like a waste of time.
Experiences are also largely context dependent: the same activity can be interpreted as highly
pleasant in some contexts but possibly unattractive in other kinds of settings [2]. The social
context is central in gameplay experiences, which was also illustrated by the example above.
Looking at the discourses of current digital game cultures, ‘gameplay’ is used to describe the
essential but elusive quality that defines the character of a game as a game, the quality of its
‘gameness’. In their book on game design, Rollings and Adams decline to define the concept,
because, according to them, gameplay is “the result of a large number of contributing elements”
[26]. Yet, anyone who plays games long enough will form their own conception of bad or good
gameplay on the basis of their experience. This experience is informed by multiple significant
game elements, which can be very different in games from different genres, as well as by the
abilities and preferences of the players. This starting point can further be illustrated by a quote
from Chris Crawford:
I suggest that this elusive trait [game play] is derived from the combination of pace and
cognitive effort required by the game. Games like TEMPEST have a demonic pace while
games like BATTLEZONE have far more deliberate pace. Despite this difference, both
games have good game play, for the pace is appropriate to the cognitive demands of the
game. [4]
This definition actually translates gameplay into a particular balanced relation between the level
of challenge and the abilities of the player. Challenge consists of two main dimensions, the
challenge of speed or ‘pace’ and ‘cognitive challenges’. The quality of gameplay is good when
these challenges are in balance with each other, and what the appropriate balance is obviously
depends on the abilities of the player. On the other hand, one of the most influential theories of
fun and creative action, the flow theory by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [6], identifies the ‘flow
state’ as a particular successful balance of the perceived level of challenge and the skills of the
person. In this highly intensive state, one is fully absorbed within the activity, and one often
loses one’s sense of time and gains powerful gratification. Digital games are generally excellent
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in providing opportunities for flow-like experiences since the challenges they present are often
gradually becoming more demanding and thus players end up acting at the limits of their skills.
In addition, the feedback given to the player is immediate. The activity of playing a game is a
goal in itself.
People play games for the experience that can only be achieved by engaging in the gameplay. In
other words, a game’s value proposition is in how it might make its players think and feel [19]
and ‘fun’ is the ultimate emotional state that they expect to experience as a consequence of
playing [1]. Expectations and enjoyment are shaped by the schemas that players have. A player
can for example recognize the genre of a game by observing various genre-typical details and
then use her schema of that genre to interpret those details. [8] Brown and Cairns [3] have noted
that players choose games they play according to their mood, and it is to be expected that people
especially seek games that elicit optimal emotional responses or response patterns [25]. Thus,
when choosing to play a certain game, one might anticipate it to create certain types of
experiences.
However, fun and pleasure are complex concepts. Playing games does not always feel fun: on
the contrary, it quite often appears to be stressful and frustrating. Experiences that are usually
classed as unpleasant can be experienced as pleasurable in certain contexts [7]. So, what makes
e.g. failing fun? Klimmt [17] has applied Zillmann’s excitation transfer theory and proposed that
the suspense, anxiety and physical arousal elicited by playing are interpreted as positive feelings
because players anticipate a resolution and a closure such as winning the game or completing the
task. When players manage to cope with a given situation successfully, the arousal is turned into
euphoria, and the players experience this kind of cycles of suspense and relief as pleasurable.
Klimmt has constructed a three-level model of the enjoyment of playing digital games, the first
level of which consists of the interactive input-output loops, the second of cyclic feelings of
suspense and relief, and the third is related to the fascination of a temporary escape into another
world.
Grodal [13] regards digital games as a distinctive medium because they allow what he calls “the
full experiential flow” by linking perceptions, cognitions, and emotions with first-person actions.
The player must have and develop certain skills, both motor and cognitive, in order to engage in
gameplay. It is widely acknowledged that digital gameplay experiences are based on learning
and rehearsing [12, 18], and according to Grodal [13] it is the aesthetic of repetition that
characterises pleasures of game playing. In the first encounter with a new game the player
experiences unfamiliarity and challenge and starts to explore the game. After enough effort and
repetitions the player can get to a point where she masters the game and game playing eventually
reaches the point of automation and does not feel so fun any longer. Thus, games can be
considered as puzzles that the players try to solve by investigating the game world [23].
When playing games, it is not enough to just sit and watch and possibly activate some cognitive
schemas. Instead, the player must become an active participant. When successful, this type of
participation leads to strong gameplay experiences that can have particularly powerful hold on
the player’s actions and attention. This basic character of gameplay becomes even clearer when
we study the way immersion is created in playing a game.
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IMMERSION AS A COMPONENT OF THE GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCE
Pine and Gillmore [24] have categorised different types of experiences according to two
dimensions: participation and connection. The dimension of participation varies from active to
passive participation and the dimension of connection varies from absorption to immersion.
Absorption means directing attention to an experience that is brought to mind, whereas
immersion means becoming physically or virtually a part of the experience itself. Four realms of
experience can be defined with these dimensions: entertainment (absorption and passive
participation), educational (absorption and active participation), aesthetic (immersion and
passive participation) and escapist (immersion and active participation). In terms of this
categorisation, gameplay experiences can be classified as escapist experiences, where in addition
to active participation, also immersion plays a central role.
Furthermore, the concept of immersion is widely used in discussing digital games and gameplay
experiences. Players, designers and researchers use it as well, but often in an unspecified and
vague way without clearly stating to what kind of experiences or phenomena it actually refers to.
In media studies, the concept of ‘presence’ has been used with an aim to assess the so-called
‘immersivity’ of the system. There are different ways to define the sense of presence, but on the
whole, the concept refers to a psychological experience of non-mediation, i.e. the sense of being
in a world generated by the computer instead of just using a computer [20]. As immersion can be
defined as “the sensation of being surrounded by a completely other reality […] that takes over
all of our attention, our whole perceptual apparatus” [22] immersion and presence do not actually
fall very far from each other, and are in fact often used as synonyms. However, since the term
‘presence’ was originally developed in the context of teleoperations [21], it also relies heavily on
the metaphor of transportation. In the context of digital games, we prefer using the term
‘immersion’, because it more clearly connotes the mental processes involved in gameplay.
It is often taken for granted that a bigger screen and a better quality of audio equal greater
immersion [23]. It is of course likely that the audiovisual implementation of the game has
something to do with immersive experiences, but it is by no means the only or even the most
significant factor. McMahan [21] has listed three conditions to be met in order to create a sense
of immersion in digital games: the conventions of the game matching the user expectations,
meaningful things to do for the player, and a consistent game world. Genre fiction encourages
players to form hypotheses and expectations and, according to Douglas and Hargadon [8],
pleasures of immersion derive from the absorption within a familiar schema. On the other hand,
meaningful play as defined by Salen and Zimmerman [27] occurs when the relationships
between actions and outcomes are both discernable and integrated. Discernability indicates
letting the player know what happens when they take action, and integration means tying those
actions and outcomes into the larger context of the game. And just like any manipulation, acting
in the game world requires relevant functionality and ways to access this functionality (i.e.,
usability) [14]. Thus, the audiovisual, functional and structural playability as defined by
Järvinen, Heliö and Mäyrä [16] can be seen as prerequisites for gameplay immersion and
rewarding gameplay experiences. On a very basic level, it can be argued that it is the basic
visual-motor links that enable experiences of immersion even in games in which the graphics are
not very impressive [13, 17]. The increasing demand on working memory also seems to increase
immersion [13]. For example, increase in the difficulty level may cause increase in the feeling of
presence [25].
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Brown and Cairns [3] have presented a classification that categorises immersion into gameplay
in three levels of involvement. Ranging from ‘engagement’, via ‘engrossment’ to ‘total
immersion’, their model is useful in pointing out how the amount of involvement may fluctuate.
But this approach nevertheless fails to adequately respond to the qualitative differences between
different modes of involvement; which is apparent also in the clear individual preferences
different players have in different game types or genres. Brown and Cairns [3] see total
immersion as a synonym for presence. They agree that immersion seems to have many common
features with flow experiences. However, in the context of digital games flow-like phenomena
seem only to be fleeting experiences, which in turn suggests that they are something different
from flow as traditionally conceived. Thus, the flow-like experiences related to gameplay could
be called ‘micro-flow’ [2] or ‘gameflow’ [16], for example.
Funk, Pasold and Baumgardner [11] have created a gameplay experience questionnaire in order
to investigate the effects of exposure to fantasy violence. They developed a measure that
concentrates on what they call ‘psychological absorption’, but it does not differentiate between
different kinds of gameplay experiences even though the theoretical model presented suggests
that there are at least two kinds of experiences: absorption and flow. We argue that in order to
understand what games and playing fundamentally are, we need to be able to make qualitative
distinctions between the key components of the gameplay experience, and also relate them to
various characteristics of games and players. In this paper we approach immersion as one of the
key components of the gameplay experience and analyse its different aspects.
The Attractions of Digital Games
The starting point of our research was the twofold perspective we gained in 2003 while
interviewing Finnish children who actively played digital games alongside with their parents,
who mostly did not play such games themselves [9]. The parents expressed concern because they
thought that their children became emotionally too intensely immersed, or too involved with the
game fiction, while playing. They agreed with the common conception that it was particularly
the realistic and high-quality graphics and audio of contemporary games that explained the
immersive powers. On the contrary, the children thought that the emotional immersion and
involvement in fiction was typically stronger for them while reading a good book or while
watching a movie. They emphasised the role of the characters and storylines in this kind of an
experience, while they also acknowledged often becoming immersed in games, but in different
ways than in literature or cinema, in the case of which emotional identification or engrossment
was more common for them than in games.
Well, you immerse yourself more into a book, I think. I don’t know many reasons for that,
but at least I lose myself more into books than in games. In games I usually only just play,
or then I sort of follow the plot, but in books it is kind of more exciting, because the plot is
having the main part, and in games the main part is moving things yourself and such, in
games the plot is just secondary. (Boy, 12 years.)
When discussing games, children stated that the main difference between games and novels or
movies was the games’ interactivity: the opportunity to make decisions, take actions and have an
effect on the gameplay. Some of them also considered this to be the most immersive aspect of
games.
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In movies I do not identify with the main character at all. I just watch what he does. But in
a book, if I read about the actions of some main character, then I identify with him as I
would be the character myself. Or at least I immerse myself more into it. But in a game you
immerse into it most of all, because you actually do things with that guy, with that
character, most of all. (Boy, 11 years.)
Another thing that clearly separated children’s experiences with games from their experiences
with books and movies was the social quality of gameplay. Children often played together with
their friends and siblings and games were notable discussion topics on schoolyards etc.
When in it [a book] you can go and figure with your own brain like, ok, now it [the
character] is doing this and that. […] Yes it [a game] is a bit different, as you can say to
your friend that hey, look this is doing this and that, but in books you cannot really,
because you are not reading with your friend. (Girl, 10 years.)
As we were curious about these different ways of perceiving game “immersion”, we studied the
responses further and analysed the children’s accounts of playing games and the different
holding powers they had recognized in games in order to shed some light on the structure of the
experience. In the light of the interviews, the pleasures of gameplay derive from several different
sources [10]; see Figure 1.
Figure 1: Elements related to pleasurable gameplay experiences that
emerged in the interviews with the children [10].
According to the children, the audiovisual quality and style was one of the central aspects of
good digital games. For example, good-looking graphics could make the game more appealing,
and well-functioning camera angles were associated with good playability. However, children
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perceived game aesthetics in different ways. Some of them especially liked cartoon style
graphics, whereas others felt they were too childish and preferred as realistic looking graphical
style as possible.
Children also analysed the various ways in which the level of challenge was balanced in games
quite carefully. The pleasure derived from playing was strongly related to experiences of
succeeding and advancing, and uncertainty of the final outcome was an important factor in the
overall suspense of playing. The challenges of gameplay seemed to be related to two different
domains: to sensomotor abilities such as using the controls and reacting fast, and, secondly to the
cognitive challenges. Even though pure puzzle games were not very popular, children liked
games in which problem solving was an integral part of the storyline or adventure of the game.
Thirdly, children considered imaginary world and fantasy to be central in many games. For
them the game characters, worlds and storylines were central elements of the games they liked to
play. One important aspect of the imaginary worlds was that children could do things in them
that were not possible or even acceptable in their everyday lives, for example beating up a
policeman or having two children living in a big house without any adults. After analysing these
observations, we followed the principles of grounded theory approach to create a theory that
accounted for the findings.
A Gameplay Experience Model
Our research suggests that the gameplay experience and immersion into a game are
multidimensional phenomena. The issue here is not that parents would have drawn the wrong
conclusions while observing their child’s playing, or that the children themselves would not be
able to understand their own immersion experiences. Rather, the answer is that immersion is a
many-faceted phenomenon with different aspects that can appear and be emphasised differently
in the individual cases of different games and players.
In the gameplay experience model presented here (abbreviated as SCI-model, on the basis of its
key components; see Figure 2), gameplay is represented as interaction between a particular kind
of a game and a particular kind of a game player. Our model is a heuristic representation of key
elements that structure the gameplay experience. It is not intended to constitute a comprehensive
analysis, but rather designed to guide attention to the complex dynamics that are involved in the
interaction between a player and a game. The complex internal organisation of a “game” and a
“player” are particularly left schematic here, as the focus is on the consciousness structured by
the interplay, rather than on an analysis of games or players in themselves. The gameplay
experience can be perceived as a temporal experience, in which finally the interpretation made
by the player takes into account also other information such as peer influence, game reviews and
other frames of socio-cultural reference.
The first dimension of a gameplay experience that we distinguish is the sensory immersion
related to the audiovisual execution of games. This is something that even those with less
experience with games – like the parents of the children that were interviewed – can recognize:
digital games have evolved into audiovisually impressive, three-dimensional and stereophonic
worlds that surround their players in a very comprehensive manner. Large screens close to
player’s face and powerful sounds easily overpower the sensory information coming from the
real world, and the player becomes entirely focused on the game world and its stimuli.
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Another form of immersion that is particularly central for games, as they are fundamentally
based on interaction, is challenge-based immersion. This is the feeling of immersion that is at
its most powerful when one is able to achieve a satisfying balance of challenges and abilities.
Challenges can be related to motor skills or mental skills such as strategic thinking or logical
problem solving, but they usually involve both to some degree.
In several contemporary games also the worlds, characters and story elements have become very
central, even if the game would not be classifiable as an actual role-playing game. We call this
dimension of game experience in which one becomes absorbed with the stories and the world, or
begins to feel for or identify with a game character, imaginative immersion. This is the area in
which the game offers the player a chance to use her imagination, empathise with the characters,
or just enjoy the fantasy of the game.
Figure 2: SCI-model identifies the three key dimensions of immersion
that are related to several other fundamental components, which have a
role in the formation of the gameplay experience.
For example, multi-sensory virtual reality environments such as CAVE [5], or just a simple
screensaver, could provide the purest form of sensory immersion, while the experience of
imaginative immersion would be most prominent when one becomes absorbed into a good novel.
Movies would combine both of these. But challenge-based immersion has an essential role in
digital games since the gameplay requires active participation: players are constantly faced with
both mental and physical challenges that keep them playing. Since many contemporary digital
games have richer audiovisual and narrative content than for example classic Tetris, these three
dimensions of immersion usually mix and overlap in many ways. In other words, the factors that
potentially contribute to imaginative immersion (e.g. characters, world, and storyline) are also
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apparent in the interaction design (e.g. goal structures) and the audiovisual design (how goals,
characters and the world are represented and perceived) of well-integrated game designs.
The overall significance of a game for a player can be greater than the sum of its parts. In our
model ‘meaning’ is the part through which a player makes sense of her play experience and
constructs her interpretation of the game against the backdrop of the various personal and social
contexts of her life. Thus it relates to the traditions of pragmatics, phenomenology and cultural
studies as much as to that of semiotics or psychology in a conceptual sense. The contexts of a
gameplay experience also include factors such as who the player is (in terms of the rich
complexities of personal histories), what kind of previous experience she has with this game or
game genre, and how cultural and social factors affect the role games have in her life in more
general terms. In addition, situational contexts can have a decisive role in structuring the
experience: Who is the game played with? Is there a specific reason to play this game right at
that moment? Is the player playing to vent frustrations, for example, or is the significance of this
gameplay in the shared moments with friends? All these various contextual factors have their
distinctive roles in the interpretation of an experience and are therefore included in the model.
THE GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCE MODEL IN PRACTICE
After creating the model, we were interested to find out how the different aspects of immersion
actually appear in contemporary digital games. We constructed a questionnaire that initially
consisted of thirty statements addressing the three aspects of gameplay immersion and responses
given on a 5-point Likert scale. In March 2005 we invited players of certain popular games to
evaluate their experiences of these games. The respondents were recruited from among thousand
Finnish participants that had filled in another game-related online questionnaire. The games were
chosen on a two-fold basis: on the one hand we had to pick games that were played among the
informants and on the other hand we tried to cover as wide a range of different kinds of game
genres as possible. The games and the amount of the completed gameplay experience self-
evaluation questionnaires are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: The distribution of the completed gameplay experience self-evaluation questionnaires into different digital
games.
World of Warcraft 35
Half-Life 2 34
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas 25
Halo 2 21
Civilization III 19
The Sims 2 18
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: Sith Lords 16
Rome: Total War 15
Flatout 13
Pro Evolution Soccer 4 13
Nethack 11
Neverwinter Nights 7
NHL 2005 7
TOTAL 234
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There were 193 respondents altogether, but since some of them evaluated two different games,
the total amount of completed gameplay experience self-evaluation questionnaires was 234.
Almost all of the respondents were males (91 %), The Sims 2 being the only exception with 61 %
of the responses given by females. The age of the respondents varied between 12 and 40 years
(mean 21.5 years). The platform used for playing was a PC computer in 71 % of the cases, but
Halo 2 was played only on Xbox and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas only on PlayStation 2. In
the majority of the cases the game was played as a single-player game (75 %), but World of
Warcraft was played as a multiplayer game on the Internet. In a few cases the game was played
as a multiplayer game in which the players also shared physical location.
After examining the correlations between the thirty questionnaire items with explorative factor
analysis, some of the statements were eliminated so that the number of items was reduced to
eighteen. The scale of sensory immersion consisted of four statements related to the capturing of
senses done by the game (e.g. “The sounds of game overran the other sounds from the
environment”), the scale of challenge-based immersion of seven statements addressing the
orientation to goals and flow-like experiences (e.g. “The game challenged me to strive to the
limits of my abilities”), and the scale of imaginative immersion included seven statements that
measured how involved the player and her imagination were with the game (e.g. “I identified
with how the game characters felt in different situations”). Cronbach’s alphas for this sample
were .70, .74 and .82 respectively.
It is not possible to go through the results in great detail here, and again we emphasize that the
main goal was to develop and validate our model. In that respect, the first obvious finding when
looking at the data is that the immersion levels in the examined games were overall quite high so
that no game with almost non-existent immersion experience was found. This is an
understandable consequence of the fact that our informants were analysing gameplay
experiences from games that were their personal favourites. It would no doubt be possible to
obtain results also from the different end of the spectrum if random or less-favoured games and
not so enthusiastic players would be examined. Nevertheless, the results appear to support the
SCI-model and the questionnaire derived from it.
Comparing games that fall to the opposite ends of the scales is illuminating. The sensory
immersion is experienced as particularly strong in Half-Life 2 and lowest at Nethack, as we
expected. The role of audiovisual technology is clear: the sensory experience provided by an old
game from an ASCII graphics era appears distinctly different from that provided by the latest
three-dimensional game engines.
The situation is different as we turn to the results from the analysis of challenge-based
immersion. Here Nethack is the game that acquired the top score, followed by Civilization III,
Rome: Total War and Pro Evolution Soccer 4. These games are interesting also in the sense that
they probably provide players with distinctly different kind of challenges: Nethack with those of
a seemingly simple dungeon game that actually provides players with an endless supply of
complex puzzles linked to randomly generated items and interactions, Civilization III and Rome:
Total War with the predominantly strategic challenges in warfare and empire-building scenarios,
and Pro Evolution Soccer 4 testing players’ reactions and coordination skills at a faster speed.
The lowest challenge-based immersion rating of the examined games was that of The Sims 2,
which can be related to its non-competitive and toy-like basic character.
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Imaginative immersion, the third component of the model, is at its strongest in role-playing
games and plot-driven adventure games, again confirming expectations how the scale should
operate. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Half-Life 2 and Neverwinter Nights lead the
statistics, with Pro Evolution Soccer 4, the rally game Flatout and strategy games Civilization III
and Rome: Total War inhabiting the other end of the scale. The result is logical since games with
characters and storylines provide players with more possibilities to identify with something in
the game and use their imagination.
Figure 3: The average amount of each immersion type reported by the
players in different digital games. The total amount of immersion
reported is highest on the left hand side.
There are several interesting aspects of the results that invite further research. Summing up mean
values of all the three components of gameplay immersion, Half-Life 2 appears to be the overall
strongest game in immersing its players. On the other end, the experience of playing The Sims 2
is apparently not felt as immersive. But it would be mistake to claim Half-Life 2 to be a better
game than The Sims 2 on this basis. It may well be that the more ‘casual’ character of The Sims 2
gameplay is one of the reasons behind its appeal for these particular players. The Sims 2 was also
the only one of the examined games with a notable amount of female respondents, but the
relatively low evaluation of immersion is not related to the gender of the informants, since
females gave overall higher evaluations to the immersion in that game than men.
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CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK
To each and every one of the above “explanations” it might well be objected: “So far so
good, but what actually is the fun of playing? Why does the baby crow with pleasure?
Why does the gambler lose himself in his passion? Why is a huge crowd roused to
frenzy by a football match?” This intensity of, and absorption in, play finds no
explanation in biological analysis. Yet in this intensity, this absorption, this power of
maddening, lies the very essence, the primordial quality of play. – Johan Huizinga,
Homo Ludens.
This research has been driven by a desire to understand better the nature of gameplay experience.
In the existing research, which we synthesised in the beginning of this paper, there proved to be
several useful observations and conceptualisations that address or can be applied into the study
of gameplay. Nevertheless, there is a need for a game-specific model that would take the
diversity of contemporary digital games into account, and that would address its full complexity.
We have presented one version of such model in this paper, while also acknowledging the need
for further research.
In the future we will test and fine-tune the questionnaire further, and also look into the
applicability of the model for evaluation of gameplay characteristics both within a controlled
environment, and as a part of pervasive gameplay experience evaluation. The games examined
here represent only a fraction of the variety of games. For such purposes new applications of the
model will be needed, as well as further extensions of the evaluation criteria to include
dimensions of experience relevant to game types that are not played with a personal computer or
game console and television screen. It is also necessary to broaden the conception and evaluation
of gameplay experiences to include all the other components presented in the model besides
immersion. For example, what is the role of emotions, social contexts and players’ expectations
and interpretations, and how do the different aspects of gameplay immersion link to the
characteristics of the player and features of the game?
In a sense, this research has at this point opened more questions than it is able to answer. For
example, it would be highly relevant and important to examine further the role of social and
cultural contexts for the gameplay experience. Do the pre-existing expectations and experiences
with related games determine the gameplay experience with a new one, and to what degree? And
finally, what are the exact interrelationships and relative weights of the components included in
our model? It might also be possible that game players are able to switch from one attitude or
repertoire of game playing into another one, and the gameplay experience will vary on the basis
of such “eyeglasses” or filters. How much does the situational context really affect the way
games are experienced? As usual in research, when new knowledge is created, also new horizons
into the unknown and unexplored are opened up.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This research is made in conjunction with several research projects in the Hypermedia
Laboratory of the University of Tampere: Children as the Actors of Game Cultures, Design and
Research Environment for Lottery Games of the Future, and Mobile Content Communities. We
wish to thank all partners in these projects. We also thank all those children and adults who took
part in the interviews and/or completed the questionnaires. Special thanks to Satu Heliö, and to
Markus Montola for his comments on the content, and Suvi Mäkelä on the language of this
paper.
13
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