Playing digital games has the potential to evoke a wide variety of engaging experiences. One of these experiences is immersion or the player’s sensation of inhabiting the virtual environment represented on-screen. Definitions of this phenomenon, however, are often surrounded by terminological confusion and vagueness (Calleja 2011). For instance, there is a lack of consensus in current game research on the use of immersion to refer to either absorption (i.e. one’s general involvement in the game) (Ermi & Mäyrä 2005; Jennett et al. 2008) or transportation (i.e. the sense of being transported to another reality) (Carr 2006; Murray 1998). It gets even more problematic when game researchers do not clarify which definition they are using or when they use the term immersion to interchangeably mean absorption and transportation (Brown & Cairns 2004; Cairns et al. 2006).
A new and more precise conceptualization of immersion in digital games is offered by Calleja (2011), who states that immersion, defined as “being in the game” (i.e. transportation), is not a stand-alone experience but the result from a blending of a variety of experiential phenomena afforded by involving game play (i.e. absorption). Subsequently, he presents his player involvement model, developed through qualitative research. This player involvement model identifies six dimensions of involvement in digital games: 1) kinesthetic or performative involvement, 2) spatial involvement, 3) shared involvement, 4) narrative involvement, 5) affective involvement and 6) ludic or tactical involvement. According to Calleja (2011), these dimensions of player involvement interact with each other and, in their more intensified and internalized blends, have the potential to culminate in a person’s sense of immersion.
This theoretical framework has not been tested in an experimental context, however. Therefore, the aim of our research was to test Calleja’s (2011) player involvement model and concept of immersion in several experimental studies in order to validate, disprove or complement the model in a quantitative set up. The current paper describes the execution of a first experiment in which we manipulated one dimension of player involvement and analyzed how this affects the other dimensions of player involvement on the one hand, and immersion on the other. In this first experiment (N = 62), we focused specifically on narrative involvement (i.e. involvement derived from story elements that have been written into a game). We manipulated narrative involvement by varying the story of a game level set in the action role-playing game Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment 2010) between two experimental conditions. After playing the experimental game, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire asking them how immersed and involved they felt during game play.
The results of our experiment provide initial support for Calleja’s (2011) model. First of all, our findings show that the different dimensions of player involvement do not operate in a vacuum but are indeed interrelated: changes in one dimension reflect on the other dimensions as well. Moreover, results confirm that immersion, defined as a player’s sense of “being in the game”, is a result of the blending of several dimensions of player involvement, with higher levels of player involvement resulting in a greater sense of immersion.
Player involvement, immersion, experimental research
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Cairns, P., Cox, A., Berthouze, N., Dhoparee, S. and Jennett, C. (2006) “Quantifying the experience of immersion in games,” Cognitive Science of Games and Gameplay workshop at Cognitive Science 2006 (Vancouver, Canada, July 2006).
Calleja, G. In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.
Carr, D. “Play and Pleasure,” in Carr, D., Buckingham, D. Burn, A. and Schott G. (eds.) Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play (pp. 45-58). Cambridge: Polity, 2006.
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Jennett, C., Cox, A.L., Cairns, P., Dhoparee, S., Epps, A., Tijs, T. and Walton, A. “Measuring and defining the experience of immersion in games,” in International Journal of Human Computer Studies vol. 66, no. 9 (2008), pp. 641-661.
Murray, H.J. “Immersion,” in Murray, H.J. (ed.) Hamlet on the Holodeck (pp. 97-125). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.
Obsidian Entertainment (2010) Fallout: New Vegas [PC], Bethesda Softworks.