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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Potatoes In A Toilet

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Testing a game's immersiveness

I have a curse when it comes to games that allow you any sort of freedom of movement (so ... just about all of them). Anytime I'm supposed to go somewhere, I will seek out the exact opposite side of the map and go there, just to spite that bossy little objective marker. I need to know what lies on the other side of the ocean before I take one step toward picking up that can/meeting my partner at the marketplace/having an audience with the king. When I was growing up, I used to drive my buddy Jeff nuts, because every single time we'd start a game, I'd see if I could go exactly where I wasn't supposed to, and the poor guy just wanted to know what happened in the story next.

You can categorize gamers by two different schools of thought when it comes to the story in a game: the riders and the meddlers. The riders experience a game much like people experience Splash Mountain. Riders hop on, strap in, float along the river, watch all the animatronics dance and sing and get a big thrill from going down the waterfall, and that cycle pretty much repeats throughout the game. They're there for one reason, and that's to see the end of the game the way the developers intended it, and it's perfectly OK to subscribe to this line of thinking.

You know, other than the fact it's boring as all get out.

Meddlers like myself view a game like painting, so before we can get down to seeing what the big picture is, we have to find every single corner of that canvas and see what makes up this entire world. We poke around the outskirts of plot devices, trying to see if the developer is going to let us paint this picture the way we want to. We know that by the end of it, we'll see the same picture as the riders, but the way we'll get there is usually very different. 

To continue the Splash Mountain simile as a meddler: get on the ride, hop off somewhere near the beginning, go visit the animatronics, look at them, closely talk to them, realize that the log is floating away from us, reload last checkpoint, stay on the log until just before the waterfall, hop off the log, watch the log go down the waterfall without us, attempt to jump down the waterfall, die, reload checkpoint, attempt to jump off log halfway down waterfall, get stuck, reload checkpoint, finally ride log to the bottom of the waterfall, jump off again, attempt to pick up log, and the cycle continues from there.

I think the main draw for meddlers is seeing exactly how little or how much a game will react to our stimuli and see what consequences will be had for 'breaking' the game. I mean, obviously, you have games like the 'Deus Ex' or 'Mass Effect' series that are famous for actually allowing your choice in conversations or in how you approach a situation to affect the narrative, but think smaller. Obviously, we could also try the standard 'let's go over here when we're supposed to be over there' bit, but let's think even smaller, on an even more diminutive scale. For instance, if I pick up a picture off of this desk and put it in the middle of a sliding door, does the door still close on it, or does it get stuck on the picture? If I jump on top of a person, do they react to me staring down at them, standing on their shoulders? If I put a bucket over someone's head, do they try to take it off (never change, 'Skyrim,' never change)? If I throw a potato in this toilet, will it get clogged and overflow if I flush it?

The riders will always enjoy their game, but it's the meddlers that will inspire developers to make their games more and more immersive for generations to come. I can't wait for the day when we don't need invisible walls to keep a player in check, or for the day when you can advance a story in an RPG simply by neglecting to do what you're supposed to and the game responds to your lack of narrative input. One day, we will create not just stories, but living, breathing worlds.

Aaron Waite would like to give a shoutout to that one guy at Bull Moose in Bangor that reads his stuff. I'll send you an autographed glossy 5x7 of me wrestling a bear.

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