Title: Exploring Immersion in Competitive Gaming Student: Ruud Koorevaar Student ID: 3290352 Course: Game Studies Coordinator: David

Nieborg Date: 8 July 2011 Words: 3253

Abstract
In this paper an explorative case is mounted on the relation between immersion and competitive gaming. It is argued that the concept of immersion and neighboring concepts are incapable to fully grasp the experience one has while playing a computer game generally and a competitive computer game specifically. This is due to a lack of consensus about the implications of the concepts as well as a deficit on conceptual frameworks with the necessary depth and differentiation to appropriate the experience of being immersed. As a solution the Digital Game Experience Model, developed by Gordon Calleja, researcher on game ontology, narratives and engagement in games and virtual worlds, is applied to the case of competitive gaming and the Real-Time Strategy game STARCRAFT 2 in order to gain an understanding of how involvement and consequently incorporation can explain this experience. Through the six different frames of involvement and the two different levels of micro- and macro-involvement it is illustrated how a player can be involved with a competitive game and how this involvement equates to competence and skill with playing the game. However, it is argued that there is the requirement for a third level of involvement: meta-involvement. This explains the involvement with the subculture and scene of a particular game which, consequently, also influences the competence and mastery of the game and as such constitutes another source of involvement. Keywords: immersion, competitive gaming, involvement, digital game experience model, Starcraft

Exploring Immersion in Competitive Gaming

Ruud Koorevaar

Introduction
While heading towards the next town for a couple of new quests you wander through a lush, beautiful forest. Generous amounts of lighting and bloom effects are tossed around as rays of light break through the clouds. You unconsciously nudge the joystick on the controller you are holding a little bit forwards, so you can continue your journey, slowly though, as you are enjoying the graphical feast displayed before your eyes. Oh, but wait! What is that? A group of villains approach you from the other side of the road. You quickly press the B-button to draw your sword and push the joystick fervently in the direction of the brigands. ‘Charge!’, you say to yourself. After twenty seconds of mashing the A-button guts are spilled on the forest floor and blood is mingling with the grass and dirt (- you imagine). After you collected the loot of the slain marauders you continue your journey, slowly, once again immersed in the rich world. But no, this is not how this story goes. This is neither a story placed in idyllic scenery, nor a story where your imagination is fueled by a bounty of visual prowess. This is a story of the competitive gamer. The gamer that sets the graphics to the lowest setting to more accurately differentiate between objects on the screen. The gamer who wishes to have a screen-filling user interface just so that he can have perfect control. It is about the gamer who masters a single strategy over the course of an entire week. And actually, it is not a story at all. It is real blood, sweat and tears to overcome the greatest digital obstacles and attempt to be the best at what you do: playing games competitively (alright, perhaps not so much real blood). When you consider yourself to be immersed in a virtual world you could relate this sense of immersion to, for example, being absorbed in a rich narrative and compelling graphics, as was depicted with the above experience. It seems only natural to relate immersion to storytelling as would be with a good book as well as high-end graphics and vast environments in a game to convince you of a life-like world. This is reflected in marketing campaigns by game companies using immersion as a buzzword. For example concerning AGE OF CONAN: HYBORIAN ADVENTURES (2008): ‘CONAN takes graphics in MMOs to a new level! With the latest and greatest in technology and an amazing art direction the graphics in CONAN immerses you into a world as never before seen in any online fantasy universe.’ (Microsoft.com, 2010) Or NEED FOR SPEED UNDERGROUND 2 (2005): ‘Taking place in a massive, free-roaming city featuring distinct interconnected neighborhoods, NEED FOR SPEED UNDERGROUND 2 delivers an immersive game world where the streets are your menus.’ (Rytechoice, 2011) However, as I will argue, it is not all about stories, graphics or grand worlds when discussing immersion in relation to virtual worlds, especially regarding competitive gaming. During the course of this analysis I will argue how immersion in competitive gaming differs from most current conceptualizations of immersion and illustrate this by applying the model of involvement, crafted by Gordon Calleja, researcher on game ontology, narratives and engagement in games and virtual worlds, to this particular branch of gaming in order to gain a further understanding of the immersive experience. The main question to answer is then: How can we understand immersion in relation to competitive gaming in terms of player experience and involvement?

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But before tackling this question it is useful to firstly describe what competitive gaming entails.

Competitive Gaming
Competitive gaming generally involves different genres of computer games which have the content to facilitate player versus player or team versus team gameplay or have some form of point tracking and comparison system. Competitive gaming is also regularly referred to as eSports, cybersports or professional gaming and has been rising since the early-mid 1990s. Games such as DOOM (1993) and QUAKE (1996) can be considered as the forefathers of competitive gaming as organized teams started to compete in online tournaments (Wagner, 2006). However, what is competitive gaming exactly? Roger Caillois, writer and philosopher, argues that there are four main types on which games are based1: competition (agon), chance (alea), simulation (mimicry) and vertigo (ilinx). Quite obviously, the current study focuses on the first type which Caillois relates to football or chess (2006, 130). Michael Wagner, scholar on Game Studies and Image Science, offers an answer to the question of what competitive gaming is by relating it such activities as football and aligning it to the current information and communication society. He defines competitive gaming as ‘an area of sport activities in which people develop and train mental or physical abilities in the use of information and communication technologies’ (2006, 3). This definition is appropriate for the current analysis and shall be used throughout this paper. It does need to be noted that this definition does not limit competitive gaming to professional gaming. The above definition of competitive gaming covers the general mentality of the competitive gamer who desires to become a better gamer (in the sense of being able to beat your opponents). The competitive gamer is akin to what T.L. Taylor, scholar on game studies and network cultures, calls the ‘power gamer’ (2003). Taylor relates this term to instrumental play, which refers to play that goes beyond simply fun and leisure. This is indicative of competitive gaming as it involves training. Finally, as will be explained later on, this approach does not leave out the option of 'meta-activities' which do not necessarily directly involve playing the game, but do affect the mental or physical capabilities of the player.

Immersion
Because the term immersion has been applied throughout history to a wide variety of experiences related to media, such as film or paintings, I will argue that the actual meaning and purpose of it has become distorted. Immersion is inherently a complex concept to grasp and, ironically, academia is partly to blame for adding to this complexity by surrounding and almost drowning this concept in a veritable plethora of theories. For example, Alison McMahan, author and theorist, argues: immersion has become 'an excessively vague, allinclusive concept' (2003, 67). For example a general, much referred to, definition of immersion comes from the hands of Janet Murray, theorist in the field of digital media, who compares immersion in a non-medium specific context to a dive in the swimming pool: ‘Immersion is a metaphorical term derived from the physical experience of being submerged in water. We seek the same feeling from a psychologically immersive experience that we do from a plunge in
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This taxonomy is not restricted to computer games. 3

Exploring Immersion in Competitive Gaming

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the ocean or swimming pool: the sensation of being surrounded by a completely other reality, as different as water is from air that takes over all our attention, our whole perceptual apparatus.’ (1998, 98) As such, immersion is described as being dependent on the movement from one space to another which implies a dualism between ‘real’ and ‘virtuality’. This movement is consequently facilitated by 'the willing suspension of disbelief', a concept coined by poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1817), which relates to the ‘pleasurable surrender of the mind to an imaginative world’ (Murray, 1997, 110). However, when theories of the medium specific kind attempt to apply this general theory it is met with resistance. For example, regarding the field of Game Studies, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman demoted the above description of an immersive experience as an 'immersive fallacy' (2003, 451-452). They argue that it is not necessarily the case that a player is transported to a virtual reality which 'is so complete that ideally the frame falls away so that the player truly believes that he or she is part of an imaginary world' (ibid.). They argue that a game of TETRIS (1984) could be as immersive as MASS EFFECT (2007).

Image 1. MASS EFFECT versus TETRIS. However, Salen and Zimmerman do not provide a solution to this problem. As such, by limiting their analysis to the deconstruction of the concept immersion they only add to the confusion regarding the usefulness of the concept. The previously mentioned dualism between real and virtual is also apparent in the so called 'magic circle', a concept developed by Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga (1938), which, when applied to virtual realities, demarcates the virtual of the real. However, this concept is also heavily criticized (by for example: Malaby, 2007; Taylor, 2006) as it does not accurately represent the experiences during the act of playing a game as ‘the complexity of game experience draws upon the wider social and cultural reservoir of the player in the journey to resolution, and this fluid interaction switches frequently from in-game to out of game contexts, obviating the need for a strict line of demarcation to be drawn.’ (Calleja, 2007, 135) As theorists, philosophers and empiricists from disciplines as sociology, philosophy or anthropology all try to dispel the confusion surrounding the concept immersion they introduce alternative concepts such as ‘flow' (Csikszentmihali, 1975; Chen, 2006), 'engagement' (Douglas and Hargadon, 2001), 'absorption' or 'presence' (Lombard and Dittion, 1997; McMahan, 2003; Carr, 2006), which are often derived from other media as film, television, literature or illustrative art. Nonetheless, when applying these concepts to Game Studies these terms often lack a certain amount of depth and differentiation. Consequently, they lack a conceptual framework that can be used to gain an understanding of the complexity of player involvement in digital games (Calleja, 2007, 100). Gordon Calleja offers a solution: the Digital Game Experience Model.

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Image 2. The Digital Game Experience Model (Calleja, 2007).

The Digital Game Experience Model
As a response to the inability of the previously mentioned concepts to accurately appropriate immersion in relation to computer games, Calleja developed an alternative structural framework as a solution to this problem. This framework is visualized as the Digital Game Experience Model. This model centralizes incorporation as 'the subjective experience of inhabiting a virtual environment facilitated by the potential to act meaningfully within it while being present to others' (Calleja, 2007, 257). The means to achieve this incorporation is through six frames of involvement (see image 2). These six frames signify the different aspects of how a player can be involved with a game. The borders between the frames are not there to visualize a separation between the frames, but are there for the sake of analysis as these borders are performative and do not exclude interaction between the frames. Also, the model applies these frames to two different levels of involvement: macro- and micro-involvement. The former, macro-involvement, refers to the general motivation of why players play a game which consists of aspects such as fun and escapism (affective involvement), a desire for exploration (spatial), satisfaction from

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achieving a goal (tactical), enrichment of the game experience through a compelling story (narrative) and the ability to exercise agency within the virtual environment (performative). Micro-involvement then concerns the moment by moment involvement of gameplay. This applies to forms of involvement of decision making (tactical), control (performative), emotional engagement (affective), communicating and interacting with other agents in the game (shared), the story (narrative) and involving oneself within the environment that makes up the digital world of the game (spatial). In the following paragraphs I will explore how these frames hold up when applied to competitive games. However, it does need to be noted that this model was formulated on the basis of empirical research on Massively Multiplayer Online games. Although this genre shows some similarities to competitive games (for example the multiplayer as well as oftentimes the online aspect) it does not specifically align to competitive gaming (the ‘massive’ aspect is often not present). Nonetheless, as I will show throughout the following paragraphs this is not an insurmountable obstacle. Also, I will limit the following analysis to the level of microinvolvement, due to the scope of this paper. Let us consider each of the frames in a confrontation in the Real-Time Strategy game STARCRAFT 2 (2010)2 between two players and how these players perform on a professional level. Please note that I do not limit the description of competitive gaming to professional play, but in regards of using an explicit example I will use an instance of, partly hypothetical, professional play with this competitive game.

Image 3. Screenshot of the game STARCRAFT 2.

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STARCRAFT is currently the most popular Real-Time Strategy game franchise in the world. With the release of the original STARCRAFT in 1998 competitive gaming took leaps and bounds forwards. The follow-up to this hugely successful first release, STARCRAFT 2, was released in 2010 and since then has been overtaking the competitive gaming scene by storm. This is a game where two individuals or two teams play against each other on a single map. The players collect resources, build a base, an army and try to destroy the opponents’ base and army. This game is often compared to high speed chess, as strategical insight is necessary as well as perfect and fast control over mouse and keyboard to be able to react quickly to what the opponent does. 6

Exploring Immersion in Competitive Gaming

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As I am writing this on a Saturday evening two of the best Starcraft players in the world are battling it out for the trophy of the Dreamhack Summer 2011 tournament. The Canadian player Liquid'HuK 3 is pitted against the Korean player WeMadeFox_Moon4. As the players start their match, the first decisions are being made by on which strategy will be used to defeat each other (tactical involvement), as well as saying ‘GL HF’5 towards the other player as a sign of good manners and respect (shared involvement6). Will Moon go for an early attack or will he try to defend any attacks from HuK and go for a longer match, as this is a more common tactical choice (tactical involvement)? As the players are contemplating these choices they are keeping their fingers warm by rapidly moving them across the keyboard, hitting certain keys that have in-game uses, as well keeping the mouse hand fast and moving, since speed7 will be of importance during tense situations where control will be vital (performative involvement) 8. As the early phases of the game are drifting away and the mid-game approaches, it is unavoidable that the players will start laying siege on each other’s bases and armies. During this it is essential to know where the other player has his army moving around on the map, since only then you can attack at an opportune moment and gain the advantage (tactical and spatial involvement). This is exactly what HuK manages to do. He defeats Moon's army by using a positional advantage and Moon types ‘GG’9 to HuK (shared involvement) and surrenders. In joy of his victory HuK jumps from his seat and rises from behind the screen with a grin from ear to ear (affective involvement).

Image 4. Liquid’HuK at Dreamhack. Photo taken by Hampus Andersson. The attentive reader will have made an important observation through reading the above scenario: narrative involvement did indeed not occur. I would argue that this form of involvement does not appear to be as important compared to the other types. This could be explained by the simple fact that the story of the game

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For a profile of this player see: http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft2/HuK. For a profile of this player see: http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft/Moon. 5 ‘GL HF’ stands for ‘good luck have fun’. 6 Shared involvement is most prominent in team-based games such as First Person Shooter games (for example CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games (for example LEAGUE OF LEGENDS). 7 Which is often referred to as ‘APM’, or ‘actions per minute’. For more information see: http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft/APM 8 The APM chart here shows that a higher APM relates to a higher chance of winning: http://www.majorleaguegaming.com/news/mlg-columbus-sc2-stats-breakdown 9 ‘GG’ stands for ‘good game’. 7

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does not matter that much in competitive play, which is also confirmed by the, nearly always, separation between the single player aspect of the game in which the storyline manifests itself and the multiplayer or competitive aspect of the game. Nonetheless, the frame of narrative involvement does not need to be excluded from the model, but it does exemplify how certain spheres of involvement are sometimes more of importance compared to others. Finally, there is one very important sentence in the example which makes it so that Calleja's model requires an addition: ‘Will Moon go for an early attack or will he try to defend any attacks and go for a longer match, as this has been a more common tactical choice’. This relates to another level of involvement, above macro and micro, and what I would like to call 'meta-involvement'.

Meta-Involvement
Meta-involvement is the level of involvement that is not directly related to actually playing the game. This level relates more to the subculture 10 of a particular game and its competitive scene. For example, a certain tactic may be more popular during a certain period of time within this scene. This means that this tactic is used more often compared to other tactics. When, in this case HuK, knows this (as he is involved with the strategies that are prominent in the scene) he can already plan his moves to counteract the relatively large possibility that Moon does indeed choose for this particular tactical choice. Then again, Moon can anticipate this line of thought from HuK and actually do the opposite. In the subculture of Starcraft this is called 'playing the metagame'11, and as is clear this particular example relates to the tactical involvement sphere within the level of meta-involvement. As with the macro- and micro-level this level also consists of the different spheres of involvement. Another example of meta-involvement concerning performative involvement consists of for example tutorial videos on how to hotkey your units and use these hotkeys most effectively 12. Watching these videos and being involved with sharing knowledge13 does not involve playing the game directly, but does involve the improvement of the skill of the player and as such also influences the amount of involvement with the game. It is interesting to note how a higher degree of involvement within the different frames could possibly correlate to a higher degree of skill and mastery of the game. When one is more tactically aware of his or her possibilities within the game, he or she has a greater chance of beating the opponent. This higher degree of involvement is achieved through rigorous training and consuming and producing knowledge within the scene.

Conclusion
In this paper I have given an overview of competitive gaming, immersion and the relation between these two phenomena. We have seen how competitive gamers stride to become better at their game and to do so invest a lot of time and effort in not only just playing the game, but also involving oneself with ‘extracurricular’
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The term ‘subculture’ is used rather loosely here. It is not necessarily to depict a counterculture, as Ken Gelder does in his work ‘Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice’ (2007), nor a deviant subversion from the majority as Dick Hebdige argues for in his book ‘Subculture the Meaning of Style’ (1979). It is merely used to identify a group of likeminded individuals who proliferate themselves in shared meaningful activities. 11 For more information regarding the meta-game in STARCRAFT see: http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft/Meta_game. 12 As can, for example, be seen in the following two videos by PsyStarcraft, a Starcraft 2 commentator on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc-GwhjSn-k and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HyBd8RR_PE. 13 For example through TeamLiquid.net. 8

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activities such as reading about tactics on fora. We have also seen how the discourse surrounding the concept immersion and neighboring concepts is in disarray and how this concept does not work in regards to computer games in general and competitive games specifically. As a solution to this confusion the conceptual framework of incorporation through involvement has been used and applied to competitive gaming. Throughout applying this model I have argued that incorporation entails more than just involvement in the game, but actually equates to the level of competence or skill of the player with the game: when one is more involved with the game, there is a good likelihood of achieving a greater competence and mastery of the game. However, the model that Calleja formulated does not encompass all forms of involvement in regards to competitive gaming. As a solution to this problem I have introduced a third level of involvement, meta-involvement, which explains the involvement with the subculture and scene of a particular game which, consequently, also influences the competence and mastery of the game.

Discussion
In these last few lines I wish to highlight one important focal point of this analysis: the relation between involvement and skill. By focusing on a genre of games that explicitly requires a potent amount of skill I have illustrated how involvement and skill correlate. However, it would be interesting to further investigate how this correlation holds up in regards to non-competitive games. For example, as involving yourself more in the competitive context (for example reading about tactics on fora) of a competitive game you get stronger competitively, would then the same go for involving yourself more in the context of a game with no competitive aspect (take for example a story driven single player campaign and reading about secrets that are hidden throughout the game) in a way that facilitates no competitive drive but does increase the experience of the story? If so, this could reinforce the need for further research on the viability of the concept metainvolvement.

Bibliography
References Caillois, R. “The Definition of Play and The Classification of Games.” The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Eds. K Salen and E. Zimmerman. Londong: The MIT Press, 2006 [1958], 301-310. Carr, Diane. (2006) “Play and Pleasure.” Computer Games; Text, Narrative and Play. Eds. D. Carr, A. Burn, D. Buckingham and G. Schott. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2006. 45-59. Chen, J. Flow in Games. Los Angeles: University of Southern California, 2006. Douglas, Yellowlees and Andrew Hargadon. “The Pleasures of Immersion and Engagement: Schemas, Scripts and the Fifth Business” Digital Creativity 12.3 (2001): 153-166. Calleja, Gordon. Digital Games as Designed Experience: Reframing the Concept of Immersion. PHD Thesis. New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington, 2007. 22 June 2011, from <www.gordoncalleja.com/GordonCalleja_Digital_Games_as_Designed_Experience.pdf> Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: a Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995 [1938]. Lombard, Matthew and Theresa Ditton. “At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3.2 (1997). Malaby, Thomas. “Beyond Play: A New Approach to Games.” Games and Culture 2.2 (2007): 95-113. 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. Microsoft.com. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. Games for Windows, 2010. 30 June 2011, from <http://www.microsoft.com/games/en-us/Games/Pages/AgeofConanHyborianAdventures.aspx>
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Murray, Janet. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: The MIT Press, 1997. Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003. Samuel Coleridge. “Biographia Literaria, 1827.” Selected Marginalia: Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed H.J. Jackson. New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1985. Rytechoice. Need for Speed Underground 2. Product features, 2011. 30 June 2011, from <http://www.rytechoice.com/India/Products/Games/PS2/PS2%20%20Need%20for%20Speed%20Underground%202> Taylor, T. L. “Power gamers just want to have fun?: Instrumental play in a MMOG.” Level Up Games Conference Proceedings. Eds M. Copier and J. Raessens. Utrecht: University of Utrecht, 2003. Taylor, T. L. Play between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. Cambridge; London: MIT Press, 2006. Wagner, Michael. On the Scientific Relevance of Esports. Symposium conducted at 2006 International Conference on Internet Computing & Conference on Computer Games Development, 2006. 22 June 2011 <ww1.ucmss.com/books/LFS/CSREA2006/ICM4205.pdf> Computer Games Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. Funcom, London: Eidos Interactive, 2008. Mass Effect. Bioware, Washington: Microsoft Game Studios, 2007. Need for Speed Underground 2. EA Black Box, California: Electronic Arts, 2005. Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. Blizzard Entertainment, California: Blizzard Entertainment, 2010. Tetris. Pajitnov, Alexey and Vadim Gerasimov, various publishers, 1986 (USSR); 1986 (NA).

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