Let’s talk immersion

“Immersive” can sometimes seem like a meaningless buzzword, especially in the world of games. Our Artistic Director Robert Reid explains what it means in the context of Small Time Criminals and real world simulations.

When I’ve been talking to everybody about Small Time Criminals, I’ve been describing it as “immersive”.

Theatre, film and television often describe themselves as immersive. Watching a film can take all your focus and let you lose yourself, and you can become so focused on a story that the sense of your surroundings fades and even disappears. In these contexts, immersive often acts as a stand-in or short hand, when what is meant is “engrossing”.

When we say immersive though, we use it in the sense of becoming completely, bodily immersed in an experience. Our games are immersive in the same way you can be immersed in a pool of water or the culture of a city.

In Small Time Criminals, we’re taking advantage of the pre-existing conditions of the building to fabricate a world in which you can become a master thief. We’re using theatrical set and costume dressing, script writing and live performance to create a simulated space and marrying them with game design and digital technology to create a world you can walk into, interact with and affect.

This idea isn’t brand new of course, and has its roots in live performance practice as far back as Allan Kaprow and the Happenings, as well as their more contemporary cousins, like the work of Punchdrunk and modern escape rooms.

Michael F Cahill as Caesar at the climax of #TrueRomansAll.
Michael F Cahill as Caesar at the climax of #TrueRomansAll.

It should also be said that Small Time Criminals itself is also only one kind of immersion.  Our street games, for instance, are more situationally immersive, demanding immediate attention on a task at hand in a public space; they foreground the “liveness” of your everyday environment.

Both street games (like Spirits Walk, #trueromansall or Citydash) and real world simulations give you a goal to accomplish, the tools to accomplish it and the environment to accomplish it in.

This article was originally published at popupplayground.com.au on February 26, 2016, during the Small Time Criminals crowdfunding campaign. Some elements of the game may have changed during development.