"I would argue that typical video games, not experimental art projects or political interventions, are non-immersive in important ways--just in terms of their formal structures and conventions of interface--and at least a large number of players seem to want them that way. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, for example, is potentially more effective than other forms of discourse at exploring social constructions of race and media identities (such as 'gangster') because it is a game in which you play these constructions, configure them rather than just talk about them, and because it engages these constructions as constructions, roles and moves under the control of the controller pad buttons of the PS2, the player's moves in response to the game's AI and highly-charged urban maps. Brecht's theatre, created in part in response to the Frankfurt school's debates, was based on the idea that normalized formal innovations, and the collective experience of formal effects for what they are, are the prerequisites for a truly critical and revolutionary theater. The aware audience should not ideally lose themselves in the illusion but should as a matter of course engage the drama."
--Steven E. Jones, The Meaning of Video Games
Jones is arguing here a point I've been championing for years. Immersion is often held up as the holy grail of videogames, by developers, players, and scholars alike. But for my money, it's not being immersed in a role that makes a game so interesting, it's being aware that you're playing a role, and pushing that role to its extreme. That's why it's interesting, to take one example among dozens, to try to win a fight it seems you're being forced to lose in Disgaea, or replay Mass Effect without getting Wrex or Garrus on your team (you can pull off the latter, but not the former, BTW.) The awareness that you're playing a game allows you to game the system, and get a better sense of how it's designed and fits together. That's not to say that there is no immersion, but that the balance is more complicated, and should be more complicated, than a lot of people give it credit for.
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