Raph Koster Says Immersion is Dead

More or less (emphasis not added):

Things that we once considered essential to games drift in and out of fashion. And I think immersion is one of those.

Immersion does not make a lot of sense in a mobile, interruptible world. It comes from spending hours at something. An the fact is that as games go mainstream, they are played in small bites far more often than they are played in long solo sessions. The market adapts — this reaches more people, so the budgets divert, the publishers’ attention diverts, the developers’ creative attention diverts.

As I watch my son and daughter play games or participate in role play sessions, I find myself reluctantly admitting to myself that it is a personality type that ends up immersed in this way, and were it not in games it would be in something else. Immersion isn’t a mass market activity in that sense, because most people are comfortable being who they are and where they are. It’s us crazy dreamers who are unmoored, and who always seek out secondary worlds.

It’s just that games aren’t just for crazy dreamers anymore.

The part that struck me in particular was later on when he said:

But stuff changes. Immersion is not a core game virtue. It was a style, one that has had an amazing run, and may continue to pop up from time to time the way that we still hear swing music in the occasional pop hit. It’ll be available for us, the dreamers, as a niche product, perhaps higher priced, or in specialty shops. We’ll understand how those crotchety old war gamers felt, finally.

There are immediate, topical parallels to be drawn, of course. Difficult MMOs, for instance. And then, if immersion can go out of style, what does that say about sandboxes in general?

…actually, considering the widespread success of Skyrim, Minecraft, and the stubborn persistence of EVE, I am not entirely sure what he is talking about. Did he honestly believe the opposite, that immersion was something more than a niche genre? That there is a true Form of gaming that always included it? I enjoyed my years of table-top D&D, especially the world-building aspects of a six-year stint of being a Dungeon Master, but I was perfectly fine coming back home and doing some Battlefield 2, building M:tG decks, or playing some Super Smash Bros.

I am not too concerned about it though, because the name Raph Koster means nothing to me, regardless of how often he is quoted as being an “authority” on game design. Similar to Will Wright, the moment you stop making successful videogames or your ideas stop creating them, is the moment you cease to be an authority on the subject. Simcity 2000 ranks up as one of the best games I ever played (and it’s highly, highly underrated Streets of Simcity “expansion”) but come on, Willy. Get back on the horse, we need you.

And it might be juvenile schadenfreude, but I couldn’t help but giggle when Raph Koster talked about how his own children apparently disproved his life’s work. This Demotivational poster came to mind:

Posted on January 16, 2012, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Can we add Richard Garriott to this list of “Still thinks they are important but hasn’t done a damn thing in years” figures from the gaming industry? Every time I read his latest bit of ranting I want to kick a puppy. Yes Ultima was great, but what has he actually done in the past decade? Try accomplishing something before running your mouth about the state of the industry today, please.


    • God, yes.

      Although it appears he was Executive Producer for both Lineage games, which are apparently still Big Deals in Asia. Lineage 2 came out in… 2003. And I suppose City of Heroes was pretty good in 2004.


  2. Can we add John Carmack to the list too?

    The man has been responsible for some excellent 3d engines but I’m tired of hearing how the formally great ID software are ‘innovating’ in iPhone versions of Doom.

    And regarding immersion, we’ve heard this all before.
    “[Immersion will] be available for us, the dreamers, as a niche product, perhaps higher priced, or in specialty shops.”

    Skyrim (nearly 10 million sales to date) wants to say hello.


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