Massively Overthinking: Breaking your immersions in MMORPGs

Veteran MOP reader and tipster Nordavind is going to break your immersions. Just kidding. He does have a question for us all on that topic, however:

"After the discussion about the recent Worlds Adrift article, I started to think about what my limit is when it comes to plausibility in games. I do not need a game to be realistic; I can easily accept no fall damage 'because strong,' shooting flames from your fingertips 'because magic,' and faster-than-light travel 'because sci-fi,' but things like those serial turbines in the article's image [shown above] just utterly shatters the little immersion I bring to games. Don't mess with the physics! Where do you guys draw the line? What odd things do you accept 'because' and what pet peeves can break your immersion in even the most fantasy world of them all? (And the answer "other players" does not count!)"

We're gonna hold you all to that! We posed Norda's question to the MOP staff for this week's Massively Overthinking.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I'm really picky but... the one thing that really breaks my MMO immersion is when lore doesn't address why our characters come back from the dead. That was something big in my first MMOs (RIP AC series, Istaria is still chugging along somehow!), but I remember trying to RP in World of Warcraft but... it was so hard to get into without a death explanation, especially for the Horde. Mankrik's wife was dead and gone, but I died plenty of times before finding that quest. Why couldn't she just spirit walk back?

By extension, any mechanic beyond whispers to nearby players (including chat channels, except in FF11) messed with my immersion. This is mostly in MMOs though, since AC spoiled me by giving a damn about its lore. Even when it used pop culture references, they fit with the game world. Single player or lobby based games, I'll accept anything, but be careful with messing with my MMO immersion!

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I always find this question incredibly hard to answer. I hate "I know it when I see it," but it's true. I somehow managed to wade through the mess that was Star Wars Galaxies' Jedi and the Halloween-themed baby Stinky the Hutt backpacks and the Cupid Ewoks at Valentine's Day; they were stupid and violated every canon and I am the first person to mock them, but in-game, I was able to mentally set them aside as being not part of my reality in the game, even if I was running that content.

And then on the other hand, I can go into a game designed to be "immersive," without maps or compasses or quest guidepoints, and it's all fine until I'm lost or bored by the tedium of hyperrealism -- because when I'm bored, my immersion is gone.

Stuff like fall damage and spaceship logistics don't bother me nearly as much as badly designed economies or social rules, either. Go ahead and make travel instantaneous, but dang I get annoyed when crafting systems use nonsensical components and resources!

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Games need to hold to internal consistency to keep from being jarring. If you're a wacky MMO with an "anything goes" attitude, then that's fine but I probably won't be playing you. Establish your world's rules and then create within those boundaries so that players have a baseline of what to expect.

Little immersion breakers? Game physics that go wonky. Invisible walls. Players being hyperactive jerks. Lava that doesn't burn. No explanation why this one race has advanced technology while the rest of the world still uses outhouses and medicinal leeches. Graphical glitches with terrain and object placement (grass that floats a foot off the ground really bugs me). Factions that can't communicate between each other for design reasons rather than common sense. Ridiculous mounts.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I ran a short series of articles on another website that explored the science behind many video game tropes, powers, and settings. And although I liked to make fun of the conflicts between science and video games, nothing really takes me out of the that would when it comes to powers, or even, really weird mounts. I have trouble with deus ex machina and other items and characters designed specifically to service the plot or in the case of games, mechanics.

My favorite examples come from Star Wars: The Old Republic. During the Fallen Empire expansion, we had to fight some very powerful characters. However, during the actual fights themselves, they were kind of pushovers, until it was the final boss fight and the bosses had to be difficult.

During the Profit and Plunder chapter, we were directed away from fighting Vaylin even though we had fought and one against her brother just a couple of chapters before. (He was supposed to be the more powerful one.) It made zero sense to run away at that point other than it wasn't time to have a boss fight.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I want a virtual world, so for me the biggest immersion breakers are when you can't do something you should be able to in a world. I think the most common example of this is not being able to sit down in a chair at a table in a tavern to swap stories with folks. Sometimes you cant even sit down at all anywhere! Also invisible walls that prevent things like just stepping off a small ledge are also annoying; if I can see the ground, let me jump to it -- even if it's to my death! One pet peeve I didn't even know I had until recently was when you can't move your field of vision to look up, down, and around.

On a different front, auto emotes are a major pet peeve. I can be typing something in chat and my character does some totally inappropriate insane physical emote just because I hit a trigger word. Oh man I really hate that!I also do not like nameplates over players or NPCs, or anything floating over heads, especially glowing quest markers. Autopathing is a big immersion breaker. Luckily, these last two are often things I can control and turn off/not use.

Your turn!

SHARE THIS ARTICLE

LEAVE A COMMENT

49 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: Breaking your immersions in MMORPGs"

Subscribe to:
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most liked
Reader
Suikoden

Interesting question, and some good answers. For me, it's when something completely against the lore or setting gets put in the game. For instance, when they eventually add hover-boards to BDO, that would break a lot of immersion for me. Eastern MMOs are great for that, Western MMOs tend not to do that as blatantly. Like, you won't see that as much in a Lotro, ESO, Neverwinter or AoC (just some examples), but games like Blade and Soul, Tera, or Echo of Soul... yeah, those games have zero immersion for me. When your Tera character is driving a police car as a mount, that tends to break immersion pretty quick.

Reader
Sally Bowls

I am pretty tolerant of consistent things - poop quests and Harrison Jones don't bother me in WoW but would in LotRO or SWTOR.

When I read "immersion breaking", even more so than "p2w", I just assume that it is far more indicative that the author does not like the game rather than saying much else about the game.

Reader
MesaSage

Hills that can't be climbed. Invisible barriers. Door portals. Inappropriate NPC dialog. Gimmicky cosmetic pets. Over-sized weapons. Silly mounts

Reader
Nordavind
Reader
Dajhryne

It seems *that guy* is me. Stylized cartoony graphics. That's just a nope, period. Also oversize weapons, silly pets/mounts, bad voice acting including characters that squeak like mice when attacking and obvious *filler* quests.

Reader
brett

'silly mounts'

As a person who had never played Wow, I decided to take a look with the free trial. Then I saw a chopper mount. Oh ....

Reader
Bryan Correll

Ugh, bad voice acting. If you can't have good readings, then don't have voice work at all. The horrible 'Swedish-chef' accents in Skyrim were one of the things that kept me from getting into that game.

Reader
rafael12104

Hmm. I don't know. I think there might be something wrong with me because if I like the game not much bothers me or takes me "out" of it.

You want to look like a smurf while playing fantasy? No prob. Your Jedi name is "Spank-it"? Cool. You make your toon hideous using every option of your appearance sliders? Neato.

Nope, when it comes to immersion chat doesn't bother me what others are doing doesnt do it, nearly everything is totally outside of what I am doing with my toon. I'm in my own world. Lol!

I'm not oblivious. I hate gankers, griefers and such, but I wouldn't say that takes me out of my immersion persay.

So, bring it on! You want to run our next raid in a speedo? You have a pet snail? You walk on your hands? You want to look like "The Thing"? All good here. Just don't cause me to disconnect, don't block shit because you can and for the love of Mark Kern, quit complaining and telling us you have the answers to making the best MMO ever!

gg

Reader
M Hopper

Fast travel. Especially to places where you can't get to on foot if you wanted to.
Ex. Warhammer Online. I really didn't like being ported everywhere, especially to the capital cities.
I could overlook portals in WoW because everywhere you could port to, you could also take the long route and get there overland.

Reader
Paragon Lost

For me, people who insist on bringing the real world into public chat and going on and on about world world events, politics, movies, history, whatever. That's always the biggie for me and of course "nowadays" it's the norm, sadly.

Once upon a time online game developers of multi-player rpgs err mmorpgs as they're called these days were better about enforcing TOS and policing such activity in many of the online worlds. Then WoW came along and it all went utterly down the shitter.

You don't have to role-play, but you could at least remain in character in what you say in open chat/say. That would go along way towards making the game worlds more immersive again. Keep the politics to private areas, party chat, whispers or private channels. Oh to have just that simple concept enforced.

Until then there is the Friday night Tabletop rpg game instead when I want immersion. Oh look, it's Friday. :)

Reader
Melissa McDonald

l337 speak pretty much ruins RP for me.

Reader
wild-abyss

Feeling like I'm on-rails is the worst for me. Sure, the Chosen One probably shouldn't be out exploring the lower levels of a city planet when there is A Quest to be done, but I should be able to. SWTOR is the worst for this to me. The planets are gorgeous but they're basically paintings. I can't actually explore Coruscant or any of the places I've dreamed about roaming. It's no LOTRO's Middle Earth.

SWTOR's sceneries are beautiful art pieces decorating hallways.

srmalloy
Reader
srmalloy

I have to agree; with the exception of worlds like Quesh where it's clearly thrown in as a time-waster, you've got entire planets to use, and you get to see a few square miles of each of them, with everything artificially compressed to try to hide the fact that there's so little there. For example, back before the planetary leveling, when Alderaan had a 28-32 area and a contiguous 40-44 area, there was no reason besides a reduction in effort on the part of the devs to mash them together. It would have been trivial with regard to the story to explain why you had to take your ship to an outlying secondary spaceport to get to the 40-44 content (the entire planet only has one spaceport? As we see several times through the storyline on the planet, barring the need for maintenance and fuel you can land a starship or shuttle virtually anywhere), and then you wouldn't accidentally take your level 29 character into the level 40 area and get waxed by an ambush you couldn't do anything about -- and it would have helped make it feel as if the planet was more than one small enclave of habitation in hostile clusters all within easy artillery range of each other and was really a whole planet.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

very well said!

Dantos
Reader
Dantos

I guess im lucky, in that I can compartmentalize alot of things. I'm the sole hero, but im also fighting the big bad guy with a bunch of other sole heroes, this is a gameplay and mechanics thing put that in the gameplay folder. Oh my friend is dying in a cutscene, while I, being a healer have about 15 different spells to either heal wounds, cure poison and disease, or even resurrect him, cutscene rules, put that in the story folder. The only thing that really pulls me out is really bad UI, and popups.

Reader
Veldan

I'm with Justin on this. Something does not have to exist in the real world to be immersive. Magic, monsters and anything can be perfectly realistic, as long as they are consistent with the rules of the world you're playing in. I stay away from "anything goes" games too. Design a cool world, make clear what the rules are, and then let all future content obey those rules. It's a simple thing really.

Of course there are still things that can break immersion in any setting, such as invisible walls, game bugs or graphical glitches, dumb or non-existent AI (I once played a game where people were saying that perhaps AI meant Animated Idiocy) and things that are made far too large for the coolness factor (typically weapons, shoulder armor and boss monsters).

P.S. Does it bother anyone else that the comments are now on a white background instead of Livefyre's greyish one?

Reader
imayb1

GW2 flying ships bug me. They're these open-deck toothpick and glue barges with steam-ish engines and horizontal fan blades, attached to a balloon. And we're using them to fight dragons?
Logistically, they just don't make sense. In the story, dragons wing by strafing the tender little morsels on deck with poisonous spit. Why? All the dragon has to do is poke the balloon, tail or claw swipe it to knock it reeling, or even land on it a bit. Heck, scoop up a big rock and drop it on the thing. Why didn't they outfit these suckers with some magic shielding or something? It just doesn't make sense in its sheer impracticality, which kills my immersion.

Reader
Veldan

All dragons in GW2 killed my immersion. They look awesome, but there fighting does not make any sense at all. For example, these dragons in the open world (tequatl, shatterer etc) are big enough that all they need to do is take a few steps forward, and dozens of people die under their feet. They could destroy buildings, perhaps even level towns, by sheer physical force. Yet all they do is stand in some random spot and attack people with fancy animations while occasionally spawning some adds. I can already imagine the devs sitting at a table talking about how to make a dragon fight. "It's a boss, in an MMO! There has to be an add phase!" Sigh...

rondstat
Reader
rondstat

I agree with Brianna that 'I know it when I see it.' There are a lot of things for which I'm perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief, and some that make me want to yell at my screen, and it is in no way consistent.

For instance, one game I (occasionally) play has a very large, very visible Thanksgiving event that doesn't really tie into the rest of the gameplay - and I really enjoy it every year. Another game has a tiny Thanksgiving event that's more-or-less hidden if you don't know what you're looking for - and I despise it! The way it's done makes me feel it has no business being in this fictional world - yet neither event explicitly refers to Thanksgiving, America, or pilgrims.

There's one thing, though, that ALWAYS breaks immersion, and is enough to make me drop a game altogether. That is aggressive microtransactions and cash shop ads. The existence of a pay-to-win cash shop doesn't even irk me, as I tend to be a very casual gamer. If I kill a wolf in the wilderness and it drops 5 gold coins and a suit of plate armor, I shrug it off. If I kill a wolf and it drops a lockbox that generates a popup saying 'go to dumbgame.biz and buy 5 million unobtanium keys to open this stupid gimmick,' there's no way I can feel any more investment in what my character's doing, and I'm almost certain to log out.

shazanti
Reader
shazanti

A quest giver's explanation of your destination not matching the in-game location. Quest giver: "It's well defended on an island, I hope you have a boat or really like to swim and are prepared for the assault!" Actual location: A dinky 'island' with a handful of buildings, situated in ankle deep water, and that is nearly close enough to shore to jump to without needing to even touch the water. WHERE IS MY ISLAND ASSAULT?!

Quick addendum list: Invisible walls. Inability to swim. Inability to jump. Hell, inability to get to a place I should logically be able to get to. Too-quick respawn. Too-quick leashing (I can understand that pursuers will eventually give up, but ...eventually). Inability to interact with items that should be interactable. Haphazard creation of objects/gear/NPCs/creatures that tie in with the real world but no care has been made to have them fit the in-game world. Being forced out of game to learn about something in-game/purchase something, unless that's what the game's about (TSW investigations for example).

Reader
silverlock

Invisible walls, Not being able to jump, Not being able to swim, and not being able to climb something I could easily climb IRL.

camren_rooke
Reader
camren_rooke

Yes this. One of the reasons I hate jumping puzzles in mmos. The devs assume you dont have arms and cant pull yourself up.

Treat my character like Lara Croft or don't bother, because two foot high walls I cant jump over is annoying.

Reader
luxundae

I got really frustrated by Blizzard's decision back in Vanilla WoW to start banning people who snuck into Ironforge to kill the auctioneers. Or snuck into Org to kill the bankers. It's annoying, sure, but it's also exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from two factions that were more or less at war. And Blizzard permitted it in the world! They could have just made those folks tougher, or put in lots of additional guards. Eventually they did, but first they went on a ban streak. It's a virtual world...of course people will try to do everything they can...if it's allowed by the rules of the program, don't ban people for it...just change the rules if it's really that annoying.

That was immersion breaking because it took your character's legitimate motivation, said that the outcome was possible, but that you would be punished by the gods, essentially, if you acted on it.

Reader
Damon

Flashing cash shop icons. Nothing says " it's just a game" like a company trying to get me to open a web page while playing and ask me to spend real money on something.

Reader
agemyth 😩

edit: I don't think I articulated things well down below, so here's a tldr before the rambling:
Clones (too few customization options for PCs and NPCs)
World scaling (environments are often waaay too big)

Bad character creation options which ultimately means bad variety in NPC looks too. I don't mean that I want to be able to move my nose up to my forehead and have my eyes be desu in every game. I've been trying to force myself to love ESO for almost two years now, but one of my issues with the game is that every character looks the same. Aside from the beast races, if you put clothes/armor and a helmet on a character I cannot tell what race a character is at a glance. The postures and body proportions are nearly identical for all characters. This usually means I do not recognize recurring characters.

Awkward world scaling. It stood out to me most in SWTOR but is a common issue in MMO world design. Pathways/corridors/hallways are often built large enough to be highways. This leads to a lot of space that is usually just filled with enemies. Comically large elevators that will most often be used by one person at a time.

@breetoplay Oh hey, there's a "add person" thing on the side near the image thing. This is me testing that. @BalsBigBrother @balsbigbrother
Cool, that works if I click to add from the list on the side or if I manually type @ and the username. Good job MOP team. @agemyth

Reader
TheDonDude

"ol" = ordered list (i.e. a list with 1, 2, 3, etc)
"ul" = unordered list (i.e. a list with just bullet points instead of numbers for each entry)
"li" = list item (defines a specific entry in either an ordered or unordered list. i.e the actual content of the entry)

Reader
donvweel

Mob leashing has always bugged me. Respawns that are too quick are immersion breaking as well. Giant question mark over the head npc. Quests that have no story or reason to them.

Reader
imayb1

Fast respawns make me feel very unheroic.
"Hey, Mr. Farmer, I've killed your 10 bandi-- Oh. They're back. Sorry."
"Oh, I'm insanely grateful! Have a reward!"

Reader
Hirku

Christmas ruins my immersion...in every single game, even TSW. When I first started playing, the revelation of Agartha was an amazing moment with the otherworldly scenery and music. If I had been a new player this past holiday, that moment would have been ruined with the lame looking winter decorations.

I'm playing nothing but single-player games during the holidays from now on. Bah humbug.

Reader
Sray

Given the way I've hammered at SWTOR for it the last few months, I doubt anyone would be shocked to read my answer is "a gross amount of narrative to game play dissonance": when the story that the game tells you is worlds apart from the game that you're playing.

Every video game in existence asks you to overlook certain bits where the story and the game play don't quite meet up. A prime example from SWTOR is Lord Graffin's compound: we're told that it's an impenetrable fortress, but in reality it's an area with a slightly higher concentration of enemies with the front door wide open. We accept that because they've gone through enough effort to at least make the place look like a fortress, and you do have to cut through a lot of enemies to get to your objectives; ok, maybe it wasn't breaking into Navarone base to knock out the guns, but at least I got rack up a body count like I'm John Wick. Pretty much every MMORPG asks you to overlook the fact that you killed "the dragon of ultra evilness" last week, and yet there he is again this week; it's often overlooked because it can just be seen as replaying a level in a video game (ie. a situation where immersion is no longer a factor). Anyone expecting a completely realistic experience needs to unplug from the video game and go out into the real world, because video game inherently aren't supposed to be giving us the most realistic experiences.

But then we get to areas where this difference just becomes too much to ask of the player. Perhaps it's the story telling us that we're so powerful or weak, yet our enemies are practically made of adamantium or tinfoil. It could be the story telling us how smart and inventive we are, but the game play itself is a mindless "if it moves kill it" shooter. The story of a game and how the game actually plays should align to some degree, otherwise the difference just kills immersion.

Ultimately though, I think that this all comes down how much fun you're having. A common example of narrative dissonance that critics use of late is Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider games: in the story she is sensitive, inquisitive, and empathetic; yet in the hands of the player during actual game play, she's wrecking ball, a master of disaster, an arsenal of doom (she can kill a conversation as she walks into a room...); in fact level design itself does not allow for Lara to be anything other than an absolute death machine. I don't care about that; and most players -even most of the critics who point it out- don't give a crap because the game is so dammed fun to play that the dissonance is easily overlooked. In contrast, many SWTOR players, including myself, can't get past the fact that I'm "king of the galaxy" in SWTOR, yet I can't just nuke all my enemies from orbit; and ultimately that really comes down to the fact that I'm not enjoying the game enough to look past that glaring logic hole.

In the end, virtually any sin committed by a video game can be forgiven if you're having a blast (provided said sin does not spoil the fun, of course).

Reader
Sray

Yuck. Long comments lose their formatting when they get cropped by the "read more". Just hit the "read more" part and paragraph breaks will return.

Reader
Greaterdivinity

Comments are still in technical alpha : P

Reader
Sray

WTF MOP?!!?!?! WHAT AM I PAYING LIKE 3 BUCKS A MONTH TO PATREON FOR IF I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS BUSH LEAGUE SHIT!!! FOR THAT KIND OF MONEY EVERYTHIGN SHOULD WORK PERFECTLY FOR ME ALL THE TIME!!!!

(this has been a test of both the new comment system, and Poe's Law)

Reader
Greaterdivinity

For me...it matters on what the intent of the game is.

If they want to create a really believable, immersive world, I'll hold them to it. If they don't, and would rather stick with a world of fun nonsense I'm totally fine with that too. I'm happy enough to roll around in Tera with all its cheerleader outfits, police cars, and general nonsense as I am to roll around with the more serious setting of ESO that makes an effort to maintain immersion. But the second that a game like Dragon Age: Inquisition leaves giant holes in some NPC's motivations in the initial setup for the damn story is when I lose my shit and hit the roof (currently playing the game now and am really enjoying half of it, being driven insane by the other half).

@Larry - YESYESYESYES. The inconsistency between cutscenes and gameplay in KotFE drove me completely insane. Going from straight punking Arcann like he was a level 1 NPC (with a ton of health) during gameplay to watching him toss me around like a ragdoll in cutscenes largely ruined what may have otherwise been a pretty good experience. SWTOR is especially bad at this IMO, it's wildly inconsistent with regards to gameplay vs. storytelling, especially with the more recent expansions. LUDONARRATIVE DISSONANCE and all that jazz. WHY DOES MY JEDI, WHO IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL IN THE UNIVERSE, NEED TO USE A BASIC ASS ROCKET LAUNCH TO OPEN A DOOR, HUH?! /walks away angrily mumbling under his breath

The one thing I do notice/focus on/appreciate/get infuriated by are small details. Seriously, it's silly and probably more than a bit irrational, but when a developer can nail tiny little inconsequential details that shows how much they cared about the game (and that they had/could find the time to make sure they were there) it goes a long way in helping me overlook issues elsewhere. The converse is the same, there are plenty of games where they'll present a totally believable world...but then get a few small details WAY wrong, and it drives me batshit insane and ruins the whole experience. It's equally silly/irrational given how inconsequential those are compared to the rest of the world (which may be fantastic), but oh well.

Wish I had some examples of these tiny details off the top of my head, but sadly "end of the workday" brain melt is in full effect.

Reader
Schlag Sweetleaf

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

As I was scrolling the messages, the screen rolled just enough for the upper half of the picture to appear, and I was like, "what the heck is immersion breaking in that image?"

Then I hit page down and saw the bottom half. And almost hit the floor laughing.

Reader
Manastu Utakata

/Want <3

Reader
Sray

It would have been complete for me if the caption on it read "THIS IS SPARTA!!!!"

Reader
BalsBigBrother

I don't really worry about immersion all that much and generally accept what is put in front of me in an mmo at face value when it comes to powers, world physics or science. How it relates to the actual rl equivalent doesn't have much weight with me.

I do like all that stuff to be consistently applied though. So if I fall off a cliff and take damage the NPC chasing me should also take damage if they follow me off said cliff, which often isn't the case.

The things that drag me out of games are usually related to wonky user interfaces or game performance more than wonky science or anything of that nature.

Reader
TheDonDude

Real world holidays in games that shouldn't have them.

wpDiscuz