Immersion is a signature characteristic of video games. Even casual observers may appreciate the ability of games to provide compelling experiences that draw in both players and bystanders. Consider passengers on a train who play on their phones during their morning commute; college students holding Mario Kart tournaments in their dorm rooms; professionals unwinding after-hours in front of their laptop, TV, or gaming PC; or children playing learning games on their parents’ tablet computers. To be immersed means inhabiting fully a space where the rules of behavior and modes of being are completely apparent and where actions become immediately meaningful. Compared to navigating the social world, being immersed in mediated environments—digital or otherwise—affords an intensified, optimal experience. Yet immersion also constitutes an ambivalent state of being, simultaneously connoting the intensification and narrowing of cognitive abilities. Immersive experiences promise authenticity but may also cause addiction.
Those working and living in information societies exist all the time in overtly designed spaces like video games, theme parks, malls, and cruise ships, and national parks. They float daily through several interlinked mediated spaces, while the ideologies transported by such seemingly oblivious states of being can have outsized consequences for those who live far away from their direct sphere of influence or availability. In this sense, immersion also connotes questions of liberation and justice. However, immersion in games also implies an awareness of mediation on the part of players, a sense of the difference between reality and dreamworld, and an inkling of the constant crisscrossing of the various thresholds between the two. The concept of immersion in the context of video games points to larger questions underpinning contemporary discussions about social cohesion, community, leisure, creativity, work, and education. Yet the moral valence of immersion remains ambivalent: Concerns about the detrimental effects violent games or games with addictive gambling mechanics, for instance, become juxtaposed with utopian visions in which games function as panacea to societal problems. The speakers in this series ponder questions such as, What is the conceptual structure of immersion? Does the term “immersion” hold explanatory value? Can new thinking be inspired by compelling, immersive games? Can the aesthetic experiences of one’s own agency in games be meaningful? Can immersive gaming help us achieve optimal (job) performance, and is that goal desireable?
This speaker series explores these dynamics by bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and thinkers who develop fresh approaches to immersion and video games.
Please find the series schedule here. All interested listeners are welcome!