Notes from BFIG Talks 2017: How Game Mechanics Can Increase Immersion Without Affecting Game States

BFIG Talks is a game dev conference run by the Boston Festival of Indie Games. It features both digital and nondigital game devs, and there’s a lot to learn in the crossover. The rest of my BFIG Talks notes are over here.

BFIG Talks speakers: Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
  • I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
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How Game Mechanics Can Increase Immersion Without Affecting Game States

Speaker: Sharang Biswas

(This talk focused on nondigital games, but there are digital examples of mechanics that don’t affect game state, such as the rules that tell players to draw on their arms in Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive or bake a cake in Christine Love’s Hate Plus.)

Art and text are not the best way to create immersion. Arguably, they’re the worst way!

Mechanics (rules) are most immersive. Dynamics (emergent behavior within gameplay; what happens when people use mechanics) are second-most immersive. Aesthetics (art, text) are least immersive.

“In all games, there is an element of retroactive attribution” – Skin Deep, Emily Care Boss

Thinking about mechanics: what about game mechanics that don’t affect the game state, but are still official game rules?

Pretty Pretty Princess, a game about collecting jewelry, involves physical plastic jewelry. The rules say you need to wear the jewelry when you collect it. This is a very different experience from  collecting cards with pictures of jewelry.

What about actions that don’t affect game state? (This is the topic of this talk.)

Embodiment: “the assumption that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are grounded in sensory experiences and bodily states” – Embodiment in Social Psychology

Theater director V.E. Meyerhold experimented with the outside-in/biomechanical model of acting, where actors take action and are then informed by the experience of that action. (This is the opposite of Stanislavski’s system, which encourages actors to search for inner motives to justify action.)

Mad Science Foundation has a card with a picture of a big red button. In playtesting, they observed that people like pressing the button, so the game rules require you to press the button and make an appropriate noise if you want to activate the card.

The Quiet Year relies on limited communication. Rather than saying “I disagree with that action”, players give each other contempt tokens to express disagreement.

Principles of Incantation and Applied Esoterics for Persons of Breeding or Talent (by Biswas & Seidman) is a LARP about learning magical words and pronouncing them correctly. To signal when a spell is for real (as opposed to for practice), players wave a wand as they say the words.

Contagion has sequences where players need to “make contact” with one another. This could be done by holding hands, but instead it’s done by having both players go to a glowing ball and touching it.

Use mechanics that don’t affect game state to enhance the mood of your game.

Thinking about mechanics: What are you trying to model? What actions/verbs belong in your game, and how can they best be modeled?

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