(Caveat: Not all video games are immersive, and not all video games try to be. Here, I'm just interested in immersion as one possible technique available to video games in a way unique to the medium, not as something found universally there.)
Immersion is, in large part, something we get from the avatar-player connection, something I discussed earlier but which I want to discuss in this context as well. Everything I mentioned in my post about this topic is relevant: the fact that we feel a powerful emotional link with an avatar is immersive, since investment takes us out of the metagame and deposits us in the narrative. This especially comes up in terms of choice and skill. Both of these things allow the player to lay claim to the narrative, since the eventual outcome can be seen to be the direct result of his or her actions. We become focused on success; we want to find the missing red pages, or to beat Ganondorf, or to drive our kart across the finish line before that blue shell hits us.
But with the exceptions of Myst and Minecraft, I'm not really excited about putting any of the above games up as examples of "art" (or at least, not art I plan to talk about at the moment). Even so, they're worth mentioning; whether or not you'd want to describe Starcraft in terms of its artistry, it elicits a particular emotional response - pleasant stress, lots of tension, euphoria at victory - in a way that is certainly artfully constructed.
But, I would say that immersion is frequently an element of those games that I do consider art, and that that immersion comes from different places than you'd find in other media. Certainly, you can be immersed in the story of a video game, as you could in a book; you can be enthralled with the sights and sounds like you might be while watching a movie; you can be captivated by the development of plot or character over a series, as you might be with a TV show. But the ability to interact with a world, to move about it at your leisure, is what so enthralled me when I went back to Myst. Tolkein talked about "distant mountains," the places and things that are referenced in a story but never explored or discussed in depth - these are the details that make the world feel whole. In games, those details can be expanded dramatically.
Take Wind Waker. Of all the Zelda games I have played, Wind Waker is the one whose terrain I'm most unsure of, whose expanses I think I've explored the least. And the thing is, that might not be true. It's a huge game, to be sure, but the distance between points of interest is not what makes it feel so big. It's the fact that it is an open world, full of little wonders. The points of light on the waves that indicate treasure, the high towers manned by goblin pirates, the reef fortresses patrolled by gunships - I could list a million cool things that you stumble on, sometimes in pre-defined locations and sometimes at random, in any given journey between destinations in that game.
|Nostalgia in .jpeg form, for a certain population.|