A blog that needs work

Immersion in Games

I'd say that it's safe to say that I am a gamer. I was raised on the classic NES, and think fondly back to days when we would rent (yes, that's right, rent) a SNES for a weekend just to play greats like Earthbound and Secret of Evermore, or even playing the SNES at a friend's place. And, of course, there was the N64, hours of Zelda and Smash Brothers... and onwards into high school, university, and up until now. I've mostly moved towards PC gaming now, but that's besides the point.

Now that I've (lazily) established my (arguable) credentials, let's talk a bit about games: yes, I might ocassionally talk about games, provided I haven't figured out what this blog is to focus on.

I've been fortunate enough to have received an invite for a rather interesting augmented reality game (ARG), you might have heard of it: Ingress. On the surface, it's a very simple game (with some interesting mythos that's developing around it, but that too is aside from the point). The purpose of the game is to acquire as many mind units as possible as one of two sides: the resistance, or the enlightened. Acquiring mind units is as simple as connecting portals captured by your team (and claiming the population underneath the area). Acquiring portals is a simple as visiting a location... sort of.

re thinking with portals

Things are obviously a bit more complicated than I've described, but at it's core, it's a simple game. Visit places, capture portals, connect portals.

And there are lots of 'games' like that: simple games. Immediately, I think of Foursquare, where you can get points for visiting places, for being mayor, for visiting new places, or setting records. But, even though the gameplay is simple, it's not the same level of immersion. I have yet to play Zombies, Run!, a game where you run around (anywhere, really) while a narrative plays to you, describing what occurs, dropping items and allowing your to improve your base to fight off zombies. It has a similar idea; simple gameplay (heck, it's exercise!), even with it's own story, but still I haven't been compelled to play it.

So what is it about Ingress that makes it so special? It certainly isn't the mythos because I don't know anything about the Shapers, or what is really going on. And yet I just got back from walkking around in circles for three hours. What is wrong with me?!

That's immersion.

Ever since I saw this xkcd comic, I wanted to know what Ingress was. I read some of the questions on Arqade, and I still didn't get it. I finally got an invite, and tried it out, and I still didn't quite get it.

But then, I started changing my route to work to cross more portals.

And then, I started capturing portals on the way to lunch.

And then, other people got invites, and we joined together, and started working to take down the links forged by our enemies.

And then I walked around for three hours with a friend capturing and defending portals.


Ingress works because it is simple, and immersive. At first, you can work on your own, and the game is kind of neat. Then, you realize that to get to higher levels, and really work for your side, you need to team up, and you start coordinating with others. Maybe people you know directly, maybe other people in your faction.

When you look on your device, you only see the portals, and yourself: not even your allies, nor your enemies. But then, you get an email saying that someone is trying to capture your portal. And, as you're wandering about, you notice people on their phones with a very familiar screen. All around you, there could be people working with you, or against you, but you never quite know.

It's that simple little bit, that lack of information, that you could have just run into someone, or just missed them, that makes the game really intruiging. All around you, there are people playing the game, in secret, protecting and attacking portals, and you know almost nothing.

I can't believe how much fun I'm having with this game, and it's all thanks to immersion.

Nicholas Terwoord

A self-titled software developer, "code archaeologist" (whatever that means), and professional geek. Spends too much of his time coming up with new projects, and not enough time working on them. Likes video games, board games, anime, manga, and Pathfinder / Dungeons and Dragons (GOTO: Line #1 - Geek).