Why is immersion so important? What does it offer? Does removing the HUD really enhance the experience of some people? Can true immersion be achieved in this current generation? Shouldn’t it be the least of our worries, the last item on our collective “to do” list? Isn’t it only achieved when all the aspects of the game “click”?, or in other words, isn’t it a consequence of a lot of different details that work together?
I’ve been formulating these kinds of questions in my head for the past few days and I’ll try to answer at least some of them in this post. But before I try to tackle the more specific questions, I’ll start with the fundamental one: What does immersion even mean?
Immersion is (to my understanding) the sense of “being there”, it’s when you forget the controls, when you forget that you are sitting in a couch staring blankly at the TV/computer.
So taking this semi-definition into account, the presence or absence of a HUD doesn’t have a significant impact on immersion. Because we, the players, take all these abstract elements as part of the fictional world and accept them as what they are. It’s a videogame, all those things fixed to the screen are there for a reason. We need this information and if we remove them then we are going to have to go out of our way to represent this same information inside the fictional world. Sometimes this approach pays off and sometimes it just breaks the fictional world.
– Why does the protagonist have a health bar attached to his back? He can’t see it! …. Was it designed for his enemies? Or amybe his friends? Granted he is all alone in the whole game but it’s the thought that counts.
– No, silly, it’s for you, the player to see.
– Eh, me? That doesn’t make any sense. What am I? A disembodied eye floating in mid air that somehow controls the protagonist? Wouldn’t it be less jarring to have it as a HUD? I mean, we are not idiots, a green bar on the screen doesn’t pull me out of my experience, we can abstract things out.
– Shut up and pay attention, there’s a quick time event coming up.
Besides, even with the most intuitive controls possible, immersion is not something that you can achieve immediately when playing a videogame for the first time, because we first need to learn how to navigate the world and understand it. Accept all the abstractions made and maybe then you can start to forget about what you are exactly doing (sitting and staring) and start to immerse yourself in what your character is doing (shooting fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse).
In other words, immersion is a process and it only manifests itself when the videogame being played presents no meta distractions such as frustration or actions that go against the nature of the character. You want to go on, you want to keep playing, you were immersed but then something odd called out your attention and now you are left sitting there with a puzzled look on your face. You may be frustrated or annoyed or even confused but one thing is certain, you were pulled out.
(That was more like a collection of thoughts on immersion than an attemp to answer the questions… oh well)