Understanding

Immersion

in MMl1RPlls

Alignment

Incorporation

MMDRPGs
Immersion
lived Space

llnderstandlnq

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I was venturing on my mount, esteem which for a particular denied me my

through the plains of Dragonwake, a green province of the Old World. As I passed canyons and rivers which I named Spike in honor of fellow of Dark Elf Malus Darkblade, I glared at castles of great lay, only momentarily of course, in control of the High Elves: our nemeses. That night I was hunting High Elf, since after alii had a personal score to settle with that self-proclaimed highbrow as he own and my guild's assured victory on the battlefield at the border to Caledor.

The scene illustrated above is derived from a personal experience within the virtual world of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (200S}, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG for short. The virtual reality mediated by the game fueled my imagination and without giving it another thought I was becoming immersed. I was not experiencing this space in solitude however. I was experiencing it with my brother, friends and many others. It was an alluring world created to draw in thousands and thousands of players. It was a world inhabited with monsters to kill, dungeons to explore, villages to burn (or save, if you wish) and fellow players to share these challenges and experiences with. We were, in varying degrees, immersed in a shared virtual space. The goal of this paper is to gain an understanding of this immersion in relation to space in MMORPGs. This is done by exploring the current applicable body of knowledge on immersion, by finding a workable theory and relating this to theories and perspectives of space in MMORPGs. On the basis of a variety of authors, of which most importantly Gordon Calleja, I will argue that there is a main prerequisite consisting of alignment between the spaces of the three parties (the player, game and the other players) that are present in MMORPGs in orderto achieve incorporation and that this has a profound effect on the experience of the lived space. To construct this argument the first question to answer then is: what is immersion in MMORPGs?

"We were, in varying degrees, immersed in a shared virtual space"

Movement
When you think about 'immersion' a first thought that could come to mind is being submerged in a body of water. This is evident in the definition of immersion by Janet Murray, theorist of digital media, as a metaphorical term to signify the experience of being submerged in water (1997). It is the experience of being transported to an enchanted different space, a different reality, which takes over our whole perceptual apparatus. This movement from one space to another is also seen in the analysis of Joseph Pine and James Gilmore (1999). According to Pine and Gilmore gameplay experience in computer games can be seen as escapist experience, which can be considered to be a subcategory of immersion (Yee 2006). In this case the term escapist indicates that there is active movement from the physical world to a different world (Calleja 2010). However, the definition Murray has given us is very broad. It lacks subcategorization which consequently makes it difficult to discern between different degrees of immersion and as such it is required to narrow this definition down so it is applicable to particular, detailed cases. The first aid to administer to this problem can be found in the works of philosopher Johan Huizinga (1995) who approaches it from a perspective of 'play'.

Theoretical

Framework

In the following paragraphs I will illustrate three fundamental aspects to understand immersion generally, which will be used later on to analysis immersion in relation to MMORPGs specifically. Firstly I will show that immersion implies a transition or movement from one space to another; secondly that it involves crossing a barrier and thirdly that immersion is considered to be processual. This shall be illustrated with the aid of certain key authors who respectively define immersion metaphorically, in relation to play, computer games and finally MMORPGs.

Crossing

a Barrier

The perspective of gaining immersion in play can be derived from Huizinga's theory of the magic circle. The magic circle is the otherworldly space where the game takes place. It is a space with its own rules, conventions and possibly even its own narrative. Something genuinely magical happens when a game begins (Salen and Zimmerman 2003). It can be argued that to attain

1. How this concept of 'incorporation' exactly relates to immersion will be detailed later on in this essay.

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"Immersion
immersion it is required to gain entry into this magic circle (ibid.). This barrier that leads to a different space needs to be crossed if one wishes to become immersed. Thus besides that Murray's definition insinuates a movement from one space to another, Huizinga tells us that the entry to this space is through a barrier. However, it is argued that the concept of the magic circle has a number of shortcomings when it is applied to digital games. For example it is argued that the magic circle demarcates gamespace from non-gamespace and that this is problematic concerning digital games, especially multiplayer games. This is because there is no clear cut border between these two spaces, which the magic circle implies. For example, social and personal relation will be involved with the game space (Calleja 2010, 342). But even though the implied dichotomy of the magic

has become "an excessively concept"

vague, all-inclusive

Marya and Ermi (2005) formulated a gameplay experience model, which they dubbed the SCI-Model. This model approaches immersion from a cognitive perspective and is based on a process of three kinds of immersion: sensory immersion, challenge based immersion and imaginative immersion. Besides this multitude of categories of immersion there is also a wide variety of definitions regarding requirements for achieving immersion. Alison McMahan (2003}, for example, argues that there are three requirements to be immersed: the convention of the game matching the user expectations, meaningful things to do for the player, and a consistent game word. Then again, Aki Jarvinen, Sati Helib and Frans Marya (2002) argue that the audiovisual, functional, social and structural playability are prerequisites for gameplay immersion and rewarding gameplay experiences. But, without going any further into this "chaos", it should be clear that it is getting rather difficult to see the forest for the trees. However there is a certain trend discernable here, since there are different kinds of immersion. It is not an absolute concept and one can be immersed to some varying degree or form, as such it can be approached as a process. Also, we have come across a number of prerequisites for achieving immersion, which will prove to be useful later on. But since it has become rather difficult to see the forest for the trees it is time to close the distance between the forest and ourselves and don't attempt to see more than we would like to see. It is time to focus our attention even more and pick out the aspects we require to approach immersion in relation to MMORPGs. In this aspect Gordon Calleja, researcher of game ontology and engagement in games, can lend us a helping hand.

circle falls short when applied to computer games, it did show that there is a barrier which needs to be crossed for immersion to be achieved. However, this barrier is not absolute: it is permeable and achieving immersion to varying degrees is not out of the question. This shall be shown in the next few paragraphs where we focus our attention to computer games specifically.

Process
When we narrow down the definition of immersion and look at computer games we run into a problem: a veritable explosion of definitions can be identified within the literature. There actually is a "state of productive chaos" (Juul 2006 - as cited in Thon 2008) where immersion has become "an excessively vague, all-inclusive concept" (McMahan 2003 - ibid.). Emily Brown and Paul Cairns (2004}, for example, have identified and formulated through grounded research a classification that categorizes immersion in three levels: from engagement via engrossment to total immersion. This model is useful in determining how immersion can fluctuate and also how it can be seen as a process. However Frans Marya and Laura Ermi, both researchers on gameplay experiences, argue that "this approach fails to adequately respond to the qualitative differences between different modes of involvement, which is apparent also in the clear individual preferences different players have in different game types or genres." (2005,S). A few years later then,

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On the basis of arguing that terms such as 'immersion' and 'presence' are being too widely used among different fields and the terms have become vague and confusing, thus reducing their analytical value, Calleja introduces the term 'incorporation' to clear our vision. He developed a model to describe gameplay experience which he dubbed The Digital Game Experience Model (2007), which is based upon research on Massively Multiplayer Online Garnesj Z], While he

2. Take note that the genre Massively computer games and is not restricted

Multiplayer

Online Games (or MMOGs)

differs from the genre MMORPGs.

It encompasses

a wider variety

of

to the role playing game genre.

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argues that this model can be applied to a variety of games (as long as they have a discernible narrative}, this model represents the last layer of focus which is of concern in this analysis: MMORPGs. We can then ask ourselves what incorporation actually entails. "Incorporation is the subjective experience of

what he asks of you and come to the conclusion you have to gather ten bear flanks in an area up north. While looking at the in-game map of the zone you plot your course and head on to the desired location (spatial involvement). When you get there you realize that there are way too many bears for you to handle alone, thus you ask someone who is around to team up and collect the bear flanks together (shared involvement). As these frames vary in describing experiences from conscious attention to internalized knowledge achieving incorporation is processual. As an example you could take the performative frame and relate it to the amount of control a player has over the in-game avatar. When the player is skilled in this control it becomes internalized knowledge and the involvement and consequent incorporation intensifies. The distance between player and game is then shortened (Calleja 2007,244). People can thus be incorporated in the world of the game in varying degrees. However, it is important to note that the six frames aren't placed in a hierarchal order: it not necessarily the case that you are more incorporated when you are involved on an affective level instead of on a performative level. Each of the frames of involvement is constructed with their own barriers which need to be penetrated to achieve incorporation. This does not mean that there are barriers between the frames themselves: they are aimed towards the 'outside world'; comparable to the magic circle we have seen previously. These implied borders in the model are not solid but performative and there is very much so an interaction between the different frames. For example an enticing narrative will also have an effect on the affective involvement. One major aspect that needs to be added in regards to Calleja's model is the notion that to be able to achieve incorporation there are the fundamental requirements for the game to be qualitatively good - as was seen as a recurrent theme in the previous analyses of immersion - and the player to be 'good' by having the will to invest time, effort and attention (Brown and Cairns 2004) as well as being receptive to the willing suspension of disbelief. Also, considering the scope of this analysis, I shall restrict myself with using the model of micro-involvement in regards to the model of incorporation and the six different frames of involvement. As it acknowledges the presence of others in share virtual environments, this tool is useful for analyzing the concept of incorporation in relation to space in MMORPGs. This model shall be used to understand what happens during incorporation in relation to space in MMORPGs, which shall be done in the next section.

inhabiting a virtual environment facilitated by the potential to act meaningfully within it while being present to others" (Calleja 2007, 257). Calleja then defines six different frames of involvement which affect the sense of incorporation: tactical, affective, narrative, shared, performative and lastly spatial involvement.

Image 1. The Digital Game Experience

Model

(Calleja 2007).

A short explanation of what each of these frames entail is in order. This will be illustrated with a short story of a possible gameplay experience in any typical MMORPG. At the start of the game you will create and name your own avatar to fit your personal wishes concerning visual appearance (affective involvement). Possibly you will also consider any bonus a certain race or class has so you can perform at the utmost of your abilities (tactical involvement). You click on the button to enter the digital world and a cinematic will start through which a narrator familiarizes you with the story of the game (narrative involvement). After the cinematic ends you see your avatar placed into the world of the game and, most likely, a short tutorial appears on the interface where you are told how to move your avatar around. After having learned the controls (performative involvement) you start moving around in the game and make your way to your first quest. You accept the quest from the NPC who needs your help. You then analyze

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requirement for the game as well as the player to be good before incorporation through involvement can be achieved. Without going further into what these 'goods' entail they signify a key aspect, namely: incorporation is an effort from two parties who each have their own space: the game and the player. When a player starts up a computer game he gets ready to play, both mentally and physically. At the same time the game is getting ready by rendering its environments, monsters and so on. The game is in fact trying to meet up to the expectations of the player to achieve something as meaningful play [3], which is recognized in Calleja's definition of incorporation. It is important to note that when the game as a nonhuman entity is mentioned as an active agent, as envisioned by Bruno Latour in his Actor Network Theory (200S}, it is actually a representation of the effort that the developers have invested into the game to meet up to the expectations of the player that is causing the game to have this form of agency. The game is a simulation with the ability to represent behaviors and actions from the physical world into programmatic representations, as Ian Bogost, game philosopher, critic, researcher and designer, argues (2006). Because there can be interaction between the game and player incorporation can happen as well. Since the two spaces are, in a way, moving towards each other and eventually meeting each other incorporation can be achieved. However, this meeting is far from always being smooth. In effect the two spaces could collide with each other creating friction or even being repellant towards each other. This is detrimental for incorporation. Therefore there has to be what I would like to call 'alignment'. While we are looking at aspects of RPGs I actually do not refer to the morals and ethics of being 'chaotic evil' or 'neutral good' as in Dungeons and Dragons with the term 'alignment'. I in fact mean that alignment implies the adjusting of a subject or object in relation to another subject or object to the point that they 'fit'. As we saw previously this can be illustrated with the player getting ready to play the game, for example by making the controls of the game his own, and the game creating the digital world which is expected from its target demographic. The player and the game need to meet each other on an equal basis lest they conflict with each other. This alignment is essential and can be identified as the

In this final chapter the focus will be placed on both the "M MO-" and the" RPG-"parts of the acronym which makes up the genre. This split of the term indicates that it is important to pay attention to both the personal aspect as well as the social aspect of playing an MMORPG. As the social aspect builds upon the personal aspect, I shall start with taking a look at the RPG-part.

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As we see in the definition by Calleja of incorporation the subjective experience of inhabiting a virtual space is key. This inhabiting can be understood with the concept of proprioception. Katherine Hayles, postmodern literary critic, describes the proprioceptive sense as that which gives us the feeling that we occupy our bodies and that our bodies exist within space. She also gives the example that video game players "testify to feeling that they are projecting their proprioceptive sense into the simulated space of the game world" (2002). Proprioception is thus the projecting of our perceptual apparatus into the virtual space. It is comparable to the consciousness which "relocates itself to another world" (Ryan 2001, 103) as having the experience of "being there" (ibid., 309). But where is the focal point where we aim our proprioceptive sense towards? In MMORPGs this is the avatar: the personally specified and customized digital representation we wish to make of ourselves in the digital space. This is for example seen in the performative involvement by controlling the avatar's movements and actions, as well as the narrative involvement by surrounding the avatar with a story. It could be argued that the more you are projecting your proprioceptive sense the more you are involved and thus incorporated in the virtual space, since after all you are role-playing through your avatar. So far it has seemed as if incorporation is an effort from the player towards the game. But I would like to argue that there is also an effort involved that comes from the game towards the player. As was shown previously there is the fundamental

3. For a further elaboration on the concept of 'meaningful play', see Salen and Zimmerman (2005).

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overarching requirement encompassing both the game and a good player now we have identified achieving incorporation:

for incorporation to happen, necessities of having a good and what this constitutes. Thus a main prerequisite for alignment.

When this alignment is successful and some form(s) of involvement are reached as a consequence of shifting proprioception, something interesting happens: the creation of a third mode of space. This third mode is a virtual space in the sense of Kalaga (2003) in so far that it is created by relations between the player and the game. It is a space which is dependent on the subjective interpretation of the player and can be considered to be a 'lived space' (Gunzel 2007,447). The lived space constitutes a space that is inhabited by the player within the game. This inhabitation is consequently visualized in the form of an avatar and assumes some form(s) of involvement. Thus it can be said that without alignment between the spaces of the player and the game there is a poor environment for involvement and consequently a weak amount of incorporation. When there is successful alignment the following involvement and incorporation will result in a third mode of space: the lived space. But so far we have only focused on two spaces: the game and the player. In MMORPGs there is a third party in play which has an effect on the lived space: all the other players.

is as strong as the weakest link. When this chain is very long (read: when there are many players) and is outstretched without being fashioned for a particular purpose (read: every player is doing their own thing) there is a relatively large chance of there being weak links (read: a lack of alignment between the three parties) and the chain snapping (read: loss of incorporation). Thus the chaos makes aligning an act that is far from easy. There is a need for order in the chaos: the chain needs to be strengthened. An example of how this order can be achieved in MMORPGs is the formation of guilds. Guilds are groups of players who have a shared basis of interests and goals in the game as well as outside of the game. For example there are certain guilds which specialize in defeating the most difficult bosses, or guilds which are into player versus player combat, or even guilds where the players just want to have a chat and do a quest or two together. These guilds signify different areas of involvement. While the player versus player oriented guilds will be largely focused on the performative and tactical involvement, guilds which have the tendency to be more social and casual in nature will lean more towards shared, affective and narrative involvement. By having these groups of players who share interests and goals, order can be brought into the chaos. This makes it easier for the players to align themselves to each other without being disturbed by others who do not match their profile for alignment. And thus, finally, aids in achieving a sense of involvement and incorporation in the online space within MMORPGs. The metaphorical chain is now fashioned for a certain purpose and is made of similar links, thus reducing the chance of a weak link breaking the involvement. As a strengthened unit my guild and I then proceeded to bring the war back into the lands of the High Elves and retake what should have been ours all along.

"The player

and the game need to meet

each other on an equal basis lest they conflict with each other"

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Conclusion
To gain an understanding of immersion and space in relation to MMORPGs we have identified three fundamental aspects of immersion. As we continuously moved from a metaphorical approach of immersion, to immersion in relation to play and in relation to computer games we have seen how immersion can be understood to be processual, that it involves crossing a permeable barrier and that this implies a movement from one space to another. As we then wrestled a way through the chaos that was induced by a veritable explosion of research on immersion in relation to games, we found a guide in Gordon Calleja and his concept of incorporation who showed us a way to understand immersion in relation to MMORGs. This

t

ha

MM[]-par-t

This third party of the masses makes achieving alignment, and consequently involvement and incorporation, more difficult. Not just two parties have to align, but actually three, and this third then even consists of hundreds of individuals. This implies that, in a way, there is a huge disordered mass of people prancing around in the digital space doing their own things and having their own goals: they in fact all have their own lived spaces. This directly affects the lived space of the individual player, since they share the virtual world of the game, which makes it that much harder for this player to align to the game. You could relate this situation to the saying that a chain

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tool that Calleja introduced was then used to analyze the concept of incorporation in relation to space through which the previous fundamental understandings of immersion were reflected. Then it was argued that there is the fundamental requirement for alignment between the player and the game before involvement and consequently incorporation can be achieved. This signifies a key aspect, namely incorporation is an effort from two parties who each have their own space: the game and the player. However, MMORPGs are based on a synthesis of the spaces of three parties: the individual player, the game and the other players. For incorporation to be achieved it is essential for all these parties to be aligned. As a consequence of this alignment we have then seen how this results in the creation of a third mode of space: the lived space. With the aid of guilds it was then finally shown how these create order in MMORPGs by strengthening the chain of incorporation.

Bibliography
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Jarvinen, Aki, Satu Hello and Frans Marya. Communication and Community in Digital Entertainment Services: Prestudy Research Report. Tampere: University of Tampere, 2002. Juul, Jesper. "Where the Action Is." The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 5.1 (2005). Kalaga, Wojciech. "The Trouble with the Virtual." Symploke 11.1-2 (2003): 96-103. Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. McMahan, Alison. "Immersion, Engagement, and Presence: A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games". The Video Game Theory Reader. Eds. M.J.P. Wolf and B. Perronr. New York: Routledge, 2003. 67-86. Murray, Janet. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: The MIT Press, 1997. Mythic Entertainment. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. US: Electronic Arts, 2008. Pine, Joseph and James Gilmore. The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999. Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality. Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003. Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. "Game Design and Meaningful Play." Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Eds. J. Raessens and J. Goldsteain. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005. Thon, Jan-Noel. "Immersion Revisited. On the Value of a Contested Concept." Extending Experiences. Structure, Analysis and Desiqn of Computer Game Player Experience. Eds. A. Fernandez, O. Leino and H. Wirman. Rovaniemi: Lapland University Press, 2008. 29-43. Yee, Nick. "Motivations for Play in Online Games". CyberPsychology and Behavior 9.6 (2006):772-775.

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