Would a haunted house be more chilling if you were alone or if you were with a group?
First-person-perspective immersive simulation games often put you in a creepy, hostile environment and allow you to meticulously explore that environment at your own pace. (See System Shock, Realms of the Haunting or Thief for good examples.) Part of the fun involved is the scary stimulation that results from being alone and in peril.
Immersive sims are more engaging in this way than, say, an old Myst clone: The fact that the space is simulated in 3D allows you to wander about in the game as you would in the real world, interacting with objects and observing things in real time. Because the experience is so similar to movement and awareness in the real world, you can forget you’re playing a game for a while and get really engrossed.
If the game has been tuned and balanced to cater to a more cautious, exploratory speed, moving at your own pace can also contribute to suspense. Creeping through the halls in Thief is not as sheerly enjoyable as it is due to some game-development-process accident. The team at Looking Glass worked out a lot of design issues that contributed, very deliberately, to slowing down the pace of the game, allowing for greater suspense and more tension-based drama.
Ideally, when playing games like these, the player is sitting in a room alone, lights out and sound cranked up, completely focused on the game, to the exclusion of the world outside. When you’re immersed like this, the game is more engaging and is capable of scaring the hell out of you. (If you’re a fan of immersive sims and you played through the ‘Hydroponics’ level in System Shock 2, you know what I’m talking about.)
Essentially games like the ones described above provide a really interactive haunted house experience.
So what happens when one of your friends joins you? Will the atmosphere that makes these games what they are be utterly destroyed? What happens when you aren’t alone any more and you don’t dictate the pace of the game? The Haunted House question I posed at the start definitely has ramifications for adding immersive sims.
(To Be Continued)