Progress in computing power has enabled game designers to create highly realistic and immersive games. Unlike movies, games give the player direct control over the storyline, combining immersion with both control and interactivity. The degree to which the player feels immersed into the game is called presence.
Immersion and “presence” in online and video gaming
In gaming research, the term presence is often used to describe the immersive experience created by the game. Presence is the degree to which the player feels she’s fully transported into the game experience. Full presence means the player has become unaware of her actual physical surroundings and is focused almost exclusively on sensory inputs coming from the game.
Presence in gaming has been studied extensively. One source of greater experienced presence is the technical quality of the game, including its screen resolution and responsiveness to the player’s actions. As games have gotten more sophisticated, a strong positive effect of story or narrative on presence has also been observed. In a study comparing story-driven and non-story-driven games, it was found that story increased not only sense of presence, but also emotional arousal, identification with characters, and overall satisfaction with the gameplay experience. Adding narratives to games definitely appears to make them more interactive, more immersive, and more involving, as a brain science perspective would predict.
After-effects of game immersion
Researchers have reported several significant aftereffects of immersive gaming, some of which seem to be beneficial, and others of which seem to be worrisome.
On the beneficial side, playing video games appears to increase perceptual skills and hand-eye coordination. Studies have found that habitual game players have faster reflexes, better peripheral vision, increased visual attention, and greater spatial discrimination than nonplayers. Such findings help explain otherwise puzzling results like the observation that some surgeons who excel at video games make 47 percent fewer errors and work 39 percent faster than their peers.
Results with regard to social behavior are more mixed. Most of this research has focused on the aftereffects of playing violent games, and these, like the violence-and-movies studies, have found evidence of increased antisocial behavior after playing violent games, among both children and adults. Scientists also have expressed concerns that games may contribute to declining empathy levels. In contrast, studies of collaboration in multiplayer games have found that players can act more cooperatively in real life after engaging in cooperative behavior in a video game.
Looking at these results from the perspective of neuromarketing and brain science, this mix of positive and negative effects of gaming is not surprising. One thing modern brain science tells us is that we’re much more influenced by whatever situation we’re in and whatever task we’re performing than we’re able to recognize consciously. These impacts are usually relatively short-lived. Longer-term impacts deserve ongoing study as well, but they usually involve not just a situational cue, but an individual personality issue as well, so they can’t be simplistically attributed to gaming by itself.