Game Development Reference
there are games with all of these things that aren't immersive, and there
are immersive games that lack these things.
Immersion occurs when the player's experience mirrors the character's
The best way to describe immersion itself is as the player's experience
mirroring the character's experience. Obviously this means the player
sees and hears the same things as the character. But more importantly,
it also means the player thinks and feels what the character thinks and
feels. When the character is afraid, so is the player. When the character is
angry, curious, or dumbfounded, so is the player. When the player thinks
and feels the same as the character, he feels he is the player, and the game
This internal psychological mirroring is the missing piece in most
failed attempts at immersion. But how do we create it? One possible answer
lies in a concept from psychology called the two-factor theory of emotion .
The TWO-FACTOR THEORY OF EMOTION says that emotions are
composed of two parts: physiological arousal and a cognitive label.
Arousal is the state of being amped up and ready to act. Your heart
beats faster, your palms sweat, and your eyes widen. Your body is getting
ready to do something drastic, right now. This arousal state can happen
for many different reasons. Fear induces a state of high arousal, but so do
anger, intense music, and sexual tension.
The two-factor theory of emotion says that all of our different intense
emotions are physiologically the same—that they're all the same basic
arousal state. According to the theory, the only difference between these
feelings is the cognitive label we put on them.
A cognitive label is a conscious mental explanation for what is causing
the arousal state. Depending on what seems to be happening, your brain
will relabel an arousal state as any of a wide variety of intense emotions.
For example, if you feel aroused while a bear is chasing you, you'll label
your emotional state as fear. The same arousal appearing a moment after
being insulted will be labeled as anger. The key of the two-factor theory is
that the arousal state is actually the same thing in every case—that there
is no physiological difference between, say, anger and fear. We just label
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