So, I started playing “X-Men: Madness in Murderworld” last night through an emulator, and was getting into it, and working my way through it, and then I went to change to Nightcrawler to teleport up to the previous floor … and the game crashed. Despite the fact that I was getting into the game — one of the reasons that I hadn’t saved, well, ever — I then pretty much immediately turned it all off, because I didn’t feel like redoing those parts and so didn’t feel like playing the game anymore.
The reason, it seems to me, is that the crash broke immersion. While I was playing the game, I was carried along from one room and one floor to the next, with the occasional fight, but was mostly exploring and having fun doing that. When the game crashed, I was yanked out of that immersion. And at that point, I could only remember the mechanics and that they weren’t that interesting, and might be hard to manage. And because I hadn’t saved, well, ever, I had a bit of a slog to get back to where I was, I just didn’t have the motivation to keep playing the game … even though I would have kept playing if it hadn’t happened.
This, I think, drives Shamus Young’s analysis of dying in survival horror games, or probably in most games. An atmospheric or action-oriented game will drag you along just by having you have to do something or having something else happen. You get immersed in the game and allow it to lead you to the next section … and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth. When you die, that breaks, and so you aren’t following the path anymore, and without some sort of compelling mystery or goal that you want to see resolved you may not have any reason to go back, at least not immediately. This is only made worse in games where you have strong penalties to overcome after death, like replaying a significant portion of the game or some kind of handicap or even just an onerous method for restoring a save: the more work it is, the more likely you are to simply stop when your immersion is no longer pushing you along.
I think this also works for Story Collapse. In those games, it is the story that moves you along and immerses you in the world, as opposed to the atmosphere or the action. When you hit the point where the story itself breaks your immersion, you are again pulled out of the immersion and returned to, well, playing a game. If the story collapse is minor, the rest of the underlying story elements give you the incentive to carry on; even with that minor problem, you still want to see what happens next. But if it’s strong enough, you find the story either confusing, uninteresting or just plain screwed, and so you lose interest in finding out what happens next. If there is nothing else driving your fun, you’ll quit.
Ultimately for any form of entertainment, people will only watch it if it is entertaining, which means that it immerses them enough for them to focus their attention on it and not on anything else. If you break immersion, then you stop being entertaining, and you have to leave enough reasons for people to think that they will still be entertained if they continue on. Sometimes, that doesn’t work, and the things I’ve talked about in this post are examples of that happening.