Video games are a unique medium. Generally, we like them for entertainment because they offer a special kind of immersion that can’t be emulated otherwise, the exception maybe being “choose your own adventure” books where the graphics are rendered in your mind.
I got to thinking about this when I finally got my hands on a 5.1 surround sound system and hooking it up. True surround has been the under mentioned sidekick to the ultra-graphics that make modern games “next-gen”. Finally experiencing it, I realized how much I was depriving myself for years by using built-in television speakers with the volume moderately low. It’s not just the “hearing things to the left of you when that’s where they are” aspect, but also the simple fact that the low bass and relatively high volume provides stronger aural stimuli.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent starts with a very important set of tips. Don’t play to win, put yourself in the character’s shoes, turn off the lights, and wear headphones. Simply following these steps does wonders for the game, and equally so for games like Silent Hill. It does the lighting and visual team a disservice to wash it out with a brightly-lit room, and the people who carefully master the placement of sounds and music are put to the side lines by simple speakers with a low volume. Even a not-so-great pair of headphones at the minimum will help to block out sounds in RL, outside of the game experience.
Even that initial tip can seem so devious: Put yourself in the character’s shoes. What do you do to make this happen? Does it just naturally occur for you? Does the game have to be excellent for it to happen? That step is for the most part the reason this hobby is so beloved to us; a chance to be someone else, a character taking on things that are impossible in our world. Is it crazy to deprive ourselves of the full experience, the chance to hear everything the world has to offer and at a volume that ensures that it has our full attention?
What do you do to ensure complete immersion in a game? Does it happen naturally without you having to do anything? Is it important to take some preliminary steps to ensure that you’re getting the total experience? Since getting a 5.1 system I almost feel like I need to replay a lot of games, to experience them “fully” with this new audio capability.
So I’ve been experimenting with various sound set ups and speaker placement and I keep getting great results, and as per usual I got to thinking about the future of our chosen pass time. We are all by now very much aware of the Occulus Rift and Microsoft’s D.I.G.I.T.S. Now if we combined those two pieces of technology with a high quality surround sound set up, would we gain the ultimate in video game immersion? After some thought and some debate amongst my peers we came to the conclusion that you can bring yourself as close as possible to being completely immersed in a game, but still feel like a separate entity. It is ultimately down to the developer of a game to make a game that has the capacity to draw us into it and let us get lost in its world. People (including myself) often cite the original Silent Hill and the likes of Amnesia: The Dark Descent as being benchmarks in atmosphere, play them in the dark on your own with headphones etc. But even without those things the game still has an immense draw to it.
Some food for thought, is it possible for a team to ever make a game that allows for full immersion? Or is it just not possible? Will the lack of tangible content always be a subtracting factor? Personally I think that regardless of the amount of high end gear you attach to a product, it will never be fully 1:1 immersion until it is all encompassing. Herein meaning that sound, sight and touch must all be receiving the same type of feedback. For example, you could be hooked up to Hi-def surround sound, DIGITS and the rift and still feel like you’re playing a game. But if you were somehow able to feel the objects that you touch, or actually manipulate them in real time then you could become really wrapped up in that world, this could be accomplished with small pressure inducing spring pads etc, but of course with most of this tech being in its prototype stage it’s unlikely that we will see it happen. But it’s certainly a subject worth talking about amongst your friends!!