The Daily Grind: Do MMO graphics influence your immersion?

    
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This past week, in the hubub surrounding Smed’s new OARPG, Hero’s Song, we interviewed bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss, who’s building the lore of the game’s world. I asked Rothfuss about storytelling immersion in 2-D vs. 3-D worlds, and he argued, quite vehemently, that graphics have nothing to do with immersion. “The truth is, storytelling becomes more immersive and more inclusive the more abstract the art is,” he said.

Take the most recent Fallout game, for example. It was an amazingly graphically intensive game, but half the time I was thinking things like, “God, her teeth look really weird when she talks.” or “Why the hell is that guy hovering five inches off the ground.” How is that immersive? People might play Fallout 4, but they don’t get lost in it. There’s no graphics at all in novels. But people get lost in a book. That’s immersion.

I do agree that novels are deeply immersive, possibly moreso than games, but I say that’s because novels simply ask you to imagine. Games show you a world and then ask you to imagine, which is a different sort of challenge when those graphics are stylized.

Consider unlearning. If you spend 30 years typing the wrong way, you can’t just take a typing course to learn to type properly. It’s significantly easier to learn how to type if you’ve never done it before. You, on the other hand, will have to spend time unlearning 30 years’ worth of habits before you do it right. I suspect graphical games have the same challenge. They aren’t just projecting a story at you so that you can create the visuals in your head; they are presenting a set of visuals and then projecting a story at you. And sometimes, perhaps particularly in 2-D games, the visuals are very much at odds with the story being told, which means they make immersion harder – not impossible, just harder – as you struggle to un-see with your eyes to believe with your brain.

Then again, I can get as lost in an isometric RPG as I can in games like Fallout 4 too, and I’m a stylized graphics fiend, so maybe this is dependent much more on the player than the graphics. What do you think? Do MMO graphics influence your immersion?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Sterliing
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Sterliing

I got into MMO back in the days of the VT100 terminal when the MUD or MUSH was it.  Everyone had a hunger to SEE the worlds that they imagined…or at least something they could use as an framework for their fantasy.  Cubical games, not much higher in resolution than minecraft crame…originally in 2D dungeon running varieties, then true 3D.  We didn’t complain, because it was immersive by the very nature of being something that pulled our imagination into the future.  By today’s standards, however, I believe that people have come to expect the ability to MAKE what is in their imagination.  Compile that perfect suit of armor…color it….adorn it…make it look like you think it should in your mind.  That’s “personal” immersion…relating to your own character.  It’s not much different to what you’d get in a single player RPG…but it’s PART of the formula that makes the best modern MMO.
Next, is immersion/attachment to the WORLD.  How realistic it needs to be is largely dictated by the minimum combination of mechanics, engaging stories, interesting voice acting/dialogue, and graphics.  So long as the sum of the parts doesn’t fall below a ‘break away” threshold…people will stay immersed.  If their character maintains their identify….and they feel like they are developing through the world….the actual world visuals matter less.
Last, is the immersion that’s fed by other players.  It’s a combination of freedoms to interact with enough controls/oversight to prevent the few (or even many) people with NO interest in emerging themselves from destroying the illusion for those that do. In an attempt to let people be expressive in game, most MMO’s have lost everything that allows a person to stay immersed.  In otherwords, players that become more than a very good NPC in your game tend to suck others out of their immersion….just as being with others who “are” their character will suck you into the game deeper.
Of the three key MMO factors for immersion, interactions with other players is by FAR the strongest for me, and the one that’s the most damaged in modern MMO’s.  Content and character customizations have been good enough for more than a decade, but the player to player interactions have remained all but broken.  Griefers, exploiters, cheaters, botters, or even just people who do not wish to immerse themselves into the game world are what makes most MMO these days feel like single player games with other people in them…trespassing on my experience (rather than enriching it).  That’s why I gravitate back to the old standby MMO’s I play rather than sticking with new ones I try…the ‘new’ style players don’t like the old games…so it’s better for immersion in the older games.

C4de
Guest
C4de

It’s a factor, certainly, but unless a game just looks absolutely hideous (either from poor aesthetic choices (usually) or poor technical implementation), it’s the gameplay that’s a determining factor in how well it draws me in.

I typically prefer more stylized aesthetics anyway.

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

Mortam 
I’m in pretty much exactly the same situation. I played a lot of EQ2, and I enjoyed my time there, but there came a point where the age of the graphics started to be something I actually, consciously  noticed while playing, which pulled me out of the experience.
Like you, I’m playing Elder Scrolls Online now, and while I sometimes miss my EQ2 days a lot, I know I wouldn’t play it much if I re-loaded the game now.
Cheers,

DPandaren
Guest
DPandaren

Craywulf Good point, I’d take animation over graphical prowess. I like the way Wildstar looks, but one of the things that really get me going is how everything moves and those super sweet spell effects that are reminiscent of Michel Gagne.

Adri Cortesia
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Adri Cortesia

In singleplayer games it’s very important and one of the major reasons to buy a game or not. MMO games may differ a little bit but I would never play a 2D or 8bit MMO. It’s important to me to identify with the world and my character and that’s not possible in 2D for me. 
But I also knwo that it’s not possible to create a MMO with actual singleplayer graphics because of client and server handling and the long deveolpment time.

Mortam
Guest
Mortam

I played EQ2 for a long time. Now playing TESO, can’t really go back now.

Mortam
Guest
Mortam

I play TESO on max and it looks awesome :) My machine is like 6 years old (8 GB Ram),with a 2 year old graphic card.

Mortam
Guest
Mortam

I like graphics to look as real as possible. Stylized, or cartoon can really kill my immersion. I long for an Everquest with graphics like TESO.

zuldar
Guest
zuldar

Graphics act like a force multiplier.  If you game is inherently immersive then good graphics increase the immersion.  Likewise if you game is already lack luster then bad graphics can doom it to obscurity.  They may not be the deciding factor, but they’re still an important element.

ArtemisiaWS
Guest
ArtemisiaWS

Yes, for me it’s fundamental. And it’s not a matter of style, I learn I can like even Wildstar style as much as how ugly graphics are per se, how old they look, how pixellated etc. For this reason as well I couldn’t like late MMOs (until blade and soul), because the so called top notch graphics games look like the ugliest thing ever with lower settings, so the deal is either beautiful graphics or 1fps. For example, TESO engine is so bad and heavy that to manage to play decently I had to lower graphics all the way to what looked like 90s graphics. And I can’t really play with something like that. Good thing is, often games that look ugly are also games I don’t like for other reasons. On the other side we have games like GW and the beautiful 2d ones like Ragnarok that seem to stay beautiful even though old.