Gaming researcher Jonas Linderoth of the University of Gothenburg followed a group of players in the world's largest online role-play game World of Warcraft for a period of ten months. He observed the players almost daily in their fictional online lives and also filmed and interviewed them.
Why? He contends immersion also implies a potential for improved learning, since it enables them to 'experience' new places and historical eras, which is really the best possible spin you can put on getting paid to watch people play video games for a year. One point everyone will agree on: immersion in online role-play games requires a lot of hard work.
"They are not your ordinary gamers – they are role-players who really want to feel like they are in a different world," says Linderoth. It turns out belief in being somebody else in a fictional world is tenuous and can only be achieved for short periods. "It's really the complete opposite of all the speculations we keep hearing. The players' problem is not that they lose contact with reality, but rather that reality keeps interfering with their immersion.".
One reason for the difficulty of 'suspension of disbelief' is the mechanics of the game, which make it difficult to maintain a believable narrative. Enemies reappear and you can communicate acros long distances without a cell phone? It requires some creative rationalization. "This requires good imagination and well-developed communication skills. And that they can use their creativity and linguistic skills to maintain their virtual world," says Linderoth.
He says his study contradicts the common view that the fictional element in online role-play can be too strong to resist. The sense of immersion is based on the players possessing certain skills, and the concept is therefore not easily transferred to the field of education.