Video game immersion: And why facial animations matter

So with the recent controversy regarding the facial animations in Mass Effect Andromeda, I hear a lot of people saying so what? I can still play the game. And these people’s favorite rebuttal:  ” You are just a shallow gamer who prefers graphics over everything else” to which I say bullshit! The most important aspect for me in any video game is immersion. And you may ask how do I know that I am immersed in a video game? Well, time passes unnoticed for me, I become unaware of people and surroundings. I start empathizing with the characters in the game and I form an emotional bond even though they are just a bunch of pixels on a screen. And a lot of people equate immersion with realism in video games, which is not the case. Some of the most immersive video games I have ever played had a fantasy setting and weren’t realistic at all.

Games like the original Half-Life, Bioshock, Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us and The Witcher got immersion correct. But having an immersive video game on its own does not always mean the game itself would be good. There is a formula I use when I review games which go along these lines: Decent Storyline + Compelling Characters + Solid Gameplay Mechanics + Playability = A great immersive experience for me. All that combined in the correct order creates a game that feels like it was created explicitly for you to explore. Immersiveness pretty much takes into account every aspect of a video games design, if you have for instance bad facial animations like in Mass Effect Andromeda. It has the ability to pull you right out of that immersive experience when the NPC looks like he suffers from a severe case of autism.

Some things that ruin immersion for me in video games are: Physics destroying game glitches, Bad movement/facial animations, No collision detection. Broken missions and side quests that either require you to reload your save game or becomes unfinishable. And lastly branching dialogue that forces my character to say something that is, out of character so that the writers can force the plot along a certain path. The “willing suspension of disbelief” is also tied closely to immersion, as many video games contain elements you need a certain level of willingness to suspend your disbelief while playing. A willing sense of disbelief is a pre-condition for immersion in some games, and a non-factor in others. Especially in modern day shooters.

When I play video games especially single player ones I want to be transported into the world of that video game, a different place, time, culture or even state of mind. And even little small things developers add contribute towards that. For instance the gas mask in Metro, I loved how you had to manually clean the mask when it gets dirty or wet, and how you have to manually switch mask filters, judging by your breathing or the timer on your watch. The hand-operated generator that you used to power your flashlight was also a nice touch and helped with the immersion in the game. Thew first three Mass Effect games had so many minor conversations that were inconsequential to the overall story of the game. But I would find myself stopping to listen to them instead of just running past them like I do in most other games.

In Mass Effect 3 there is an Asari named Aeian T’Goni” who is in the hospital talking to her psychologist. Later in the conversation, you find out she suffers from PTSD after a failed rescue mission. After the conversation, you could use your authority as a Spectre to override security measures and entitle Aeian to carry a firearm. But by doing so she commits suicide a short while after you have given the order. Small little interactions and quests like these helped create an emotional connection to the NPCs. These type of connection creates an emotional attachment. It felt like these were real people. No just a bunch of pixels on the screen. Not to mention the Witcher 3 and the “Bloody Baron” side quest which I discuss at length here.

The Baron sounded like a broken man, so sad, and filled with endless remorse for what he has done. The drinking, the miscarriage, and how he was abusive towards his wife, and how he loved his daughter with everything he had. It was one of the greatest, most powerful quests in a role-playing game or any other game I have ever experienced. Music in video games also plays an integral part in immersion, I could not have imagined Elder Scrolls without the musical score of Jeremy Soule the music he created for the game was an integral part in a game that relied heavily on sight, hearing, touch and interaction. So coming back to my original question does the facial animation really matter in Mass Effect Andromeda?

Yes, they do. It has nothing to do with being an elitist “graphical whore” When I play a game and get conflicting “signals” or contradictions from the game world. The only way my brain can reconcile these inconsistencies is to pull me back out of the game world I am playing in and back into the real world abruptly and uncomfortably. And this happened multiple times during my 10-hour EA Access trial of Mass Effect Andromeda. From bad animations both movement and facial to getting stuck in the environment to NPCs and enemies randomly falling out of the sky. To some of the worst dialog options and bland main protagonists, NPCs and romanceable characters, I have ever seen. Which makes me not give a single fuck about them. For the lack of a better word the game is overly sterile and lacks all the fundamental design elements to promote a sense of immersion and involvement in the game.

About larch

I am a cucumber in a fruit bowl.
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