All media formats endeavour to make the person experiencing a story forget that they are sat at home; to allow them to lose themselves in the story world.
One of the best series of games I have played that mostly achieves this is the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The thought process behind it is simple and effective: take the realities of the gaming experience, and write them into the game.
You see, effective game design is all about immersion. When we play our games, we don’t want to be reminded that we’re sitting in a chair, staring at the screen, with controller in hand. Instead, we want to convince our central nervous systems that we are actually part of the world that we are playing.
Traditionally, in games, there are many things that can break this immersive sensation. To give a few examples, when you die in most games, the illusion is broken when you come back at the last save point; if you look ahead, as you walk, buildings can sometimes suddenly pop into existence on the horizon; cut scenes that show your character as looking different from how you’ve customised them; the presence of cut scenes at all… The list, unfortunately, goes on.
Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed gets around a lot of these errors through their concept of The Animus; a story device that has you playing through a game like simulation, in a game. A game within a game, if you will.
If you die in the game, it’s because you’ve lost synchronisation with the memories of your ancestor, and the in-story Animus brings you back to the last memory it has on file; a well disguised save point re-spawn. If you can’t access a particular area on the map, the invisible wall isn’t because of memory issues, or obvious player guidance, it’s because the animus hasn’t mined those memories, as yet.
Assassin’s Creed is brilliant at allowing the reality and logistics of game play to happen, all whilst preserving immersion. Yes, there are cut scenes, but nearly every game has those, even though games are capable of conveying story cinematically, without relying on this borrowed method from another medium.
Understanding the limitations of gaming plus disguising these limitations with well crafted story equals effective immersion, and a memorable gaming experience.