The interplay between decision making and immersion is an aspect of video games I have recently been contemplating. In games such as Crash Bandicoot, the choices a player makes are limited due to linear storylines and simple game mechanics. Other games such as Assassin’s Creed: Origins create vast open worlds that provide players with a wealth of options during gameplay. Players can choose to play main missions, take side quests, customize their character in a variety of ways, among other things.
Despite the seemingly never-ending panoply of features I observe in the latest video games, I am struck by how few of them are as immersive as relatively simple games. Take, for instance, the two games already mentioned: Crash Bandicoot and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Although I am entertained whenever I play both games, I only find myself losing track of time when I play Crash Bandicoot. As I wondered why a game with few customization features and a simple storyline immersed me to a deeper extent than an excruciatingly detailed open-world game with a cornucopia of gameplay options, I realized that the answer to my question might lie in a paradox. I found Crash more immersive because I had fewer options in the game than in Origins. With Crash, I had a simple objective: complete a level while avoiding obstacles and amassing as many points as possible. This simplicity freed me from an analytical frame of mind, which was in full gear while playing Origins. It was this freedom from over-analyzing game decisions that might have helped facilitate my immersive experience while playing Crash.
This realization also got me thinking about decision fatigue, which builds up when a person is repeatedly faced with decisions to make. Mental fatigue builds up as you make one deliberate decision after another; however, routine tasks and unconscious processes such as your body’s regulation of its internal temperature do not result in decision fatigue. Video games are, in a sense, decision-driven narratives that are composed of a blend of unconscious and deliberate decisions. Crash Bandicoot required me to make decisions during gameplay, just as Assassin’s Creed: Origins did. However, I noticed that most of the decisions I made while playing Crash did not require much conscious thought (eg: I instinctively hit a button that makes my character jump over a gap as it approaches). However, Origins required a lot of deliberate decision making (should I play a main quest or a side quest? Which weapons should I equip/upgrade? Should I approach my assassination target with stealth or firepower?). I wonder whether my immersion while playing Crash was a result of the fact that I experienced very little decision fatigue during gameplay. If there is indeed a causal link between decision fatigue and immersion in video games, I also wonder what that means for AAA games that attempt to immerse players in their game worlds by providing an ever-increasing array of options.