What Is an Immersive Sim Game?

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What Is an Immersive Sim Game?

If you’ve ever come across the phrase “immersive sim” on a game and wondered what it meant, you’re not alone. This sort of game, like many others, is difficult to summarize in a single statement.

Let’s go through what an immersive sim is. We’ll describe this game philosophy, talk about what aspects should be included in these titles, and look at examples of related games.

What Is an Immersive Sim?

An immersive sim is a video game that emphasizes player agency by providing an open-ended environment with emergent systems and consistent laws. While not every immersive sim achieves this in the same manner, the fundamental ideas are shared by all of these games.

Immersive sims, like roguelikes (which we previously described), are less of a genre and more of a game design philosophy. This means they aren’t as easily identified as certain genres, such as first-person shooters or platformers.

While immersive simulations are open-ended in ways that we will see, they are not the same as open-world games. Open-world games, such as GTA V, let you play in a sandbox, while immersive simulators take place in smaller areas and focus greater emphasis on your activities.

Characteristics of Immersive Sims

To determine precisely what makes a game an immersive sim, we must go further into the important features.

Player Agency at the Core

An immersive sim assigns a goal to the user but does not specify how to achieve it. This applies to both big goals and little choices.

For example, a mission may assign you the responsibility of assassinating a target at his house. You may enter via the basement and knock everybody out, stroll up to the front door and kill everyone, or discover a window that leads directly into his room.

Immersive sims often include important information spread throughout the levels to minimize all of these possibilities from getting overwhelming. If you take the time to look for them, they might lead you to either answers or hazards.

There is no “right” answer; the creators construct these open-ended regions and let you to play anyway you wish. Because there may be areas of a level or solutions you didn’t explore on your first try, immersive simulations are extremely replayable.

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Immersive Sims Are Built on Systems

Many current games are programmed linear experiences. For example, when you reach a given point, a cutscene may play to move you to the next region, or you may be required to utilize a certain item to complete a problem.

Instead of these one-time events, immersive simulations are based on core systems with well-defined principles. If you come across a fire and are able to extinguish it by dropping a bucket of water on it, you’ll know that you can do the same with any future fire source.

Similarly, if you see a guard’s course, you can anticipate them to continue following it until they are distracted. And the logic of a regular guard’s system may dictate that they always rush to activate an alert if they notice you.

Systemic design implies that you are in a genuine environment with its own set of laws, rather than a video game locale. Instead than building specialized moments for a select portions of the game, these systems influence the whole game environment.

Emergent Gameplay

This word refers to your ability to exploit the game’s mechanisms. Thinking critically may even lead you to solutions that the creators did not intend for you to uncover.

For example, if you see that a guard consistently runs to the closest alarm when they see you, you can consider planting a mine on the alarm. When the guard goes to activate it, they will be killed by the explosion. You could also discover a technique to employ an item that enables you to walk around more freely and bypass specific places.

The interplay of systems may result in each player having a unique experience with a title, as opposed to other games that are designed to be the same every time. Any concept you have will work as long as it follows the game’s rules.

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Consistent and Reactive Design

In continuation of the preceding principles, immersive simulations follow consistent rules. There will be no phantom barriers impeding your progress since you “aren’t meant to get there yet.”

In several situations, you may even murder off major people from the tale. However, unlike other games, this does not result in instant failure; instead, the game continues and alters to reflect your decision. In most cases, the only way to lose is for your character to perish.

Finally, immersive simulations respond to your decisions, even if they are modest. A character may make a remark about something you did in the past, or you may have a more difficult time completing a later task if you murdered someone significant in a previous one. The aggregate amount of individuals you murder in Dishonored adds to your “chaos;” if you kill all the time, the environment gets more hazardous.

These emotions are more organic than the binary “good or evil” morality options provided by most other games by assessing how you choose to play moment-to-moment.

Examples of Immersive Sim Games

While it is beyond the scope of this introduction to provide a list of the top immersive sims, we may explore a few prominent immersive sims to flesh out our discussion.

Looking Glass Studios created the ground-breaking immersive sim titles. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, released in 1992, was the earliest example of what would come to be known as an immersive sim. Thief (1998) and its sequel, System Shock (1994) and System Shock 2, and the original Deus Ex in 2000) all based on its principles. When looking back on Deus Ex, Warren Spector, who was involved in several of these early games, created the phrase “immersive sim.”

Modern immersive sims are unusual because they have a unique appeal and are not as commercial as other types of games. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) and Dishonored (2012) (together with its successors) are two of the most important recent entries in the genre. Prey 2017 and Deathloop are two more recent immersive simulators (to an extent).

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Immersive Sim Elements in Other Games

Even if a game does not qualify as an immersive simulation because it lacks all of the criteria listed above, it may nonetheless use the same concepts that make immersive simulations so engaging.

Rain, for example, has affects ranging from extinguishing opponent torches to making it more difficult to climb in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s systemic open world. There’s also opportunity for spontaneous solutions, such as tossing a sword at adversaries and having them pick it up, resulting in their being hit by lightning since they’re carrying a metal item during a storm.

The modern Hitman trilogy is close to an immersive sim, as these games provide you with wide-open levels where you choose how to kill your targets. Sneaking up while the target is in the bathroom and drowning them is as viable as disguising yourself as a chef and poisoning their food.

And in RPGS like Fallout 3 and New Vegas, you have many ways to approach missions based on your character’s strengths. While these games are still RPGs, they illustrate how all kinds of games can feature immersive sim elements without being a “true” immersive sim.

Dive in and Explore Immersive Sims

By taking a look at the core tenants of an immersive sim and discussing how these elements result in a more engaging experience, you should now understand the basics of an immersive sim. If you’re frustrated by the hand-holding and scripted nature of many modern games, immersive sims offer an excellent antidote by rewarding creative thinking.

There are lots of other game genres to explore in-depth, if you’re interested.

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