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Quick Time Events: The Enemy of Immersion

The controller is the most under-discussed object in gaming and represents a the major deviation from all other entertainment media. Not since the stereoscope–which required the cranking of a lever to view simulated motion– has such physical repetition been required in order to interact with a medium. Furthermore, It is used differently by each developer, meaning the player’s interaction with it dynamically changes with each game s/he plays while the physical object stays static. The controller is the key to experiencing games, and game design that allows the player to forget his/her physical effort permits the most immersive moments. Quick-time-events stand in direct contrast to this logic; severing the connection by calling attention to the player’s activity.

The controller occupies an awkward role in the experience of playing video games. It is what allows players to maneuver the entirety of a game, but must also be forgotten in order to achieve full immersion. When describing gameplay, the physical activity performed by our hands is rarely mentioned. Instead what we do in a game is illuminated typically from a perspective that places the gamer inside the game itself as if a controller was absent from the moment entirely. Yet, if finger movement could be tracked long term through the course of playing a game, it would be an equally precise depiction of how the game is played. Pattern relations between our fingers and the game image is what creates the experience of gameplay. As an input device, the controller is not meant to simulate motion. Holding down “L” to swing a golf club, or pressing “Y” to heave a sword doesn’t give the player the feeling of actual activity. More often than not, a gap between controller usage and game action exists, like when a player realizes the best way to activate “star power” in Guitar Hero is to press “select” rather than tilt the controller vertically. The game image helps players bridge this gap by giving sense to the player’s physical activity and hiding the work done by our hands. In conclusion, the controller’s role is to keep the player physically attached to the game, while remaining out of view.

Quick-time-events stand in direct contrast to the aforementioned role of controllers. The giant symbol of a button, or the controller itself, onscreen immediately draws attention to the medium and away from the game. What’s worse is these cues typically arise during cutscenes when a player is most likely to relax and not expect input. The QTE is a jarring spectacle of the player’s activity. A feeling of senselessness follows when a player is reminded of the toy-like object in his/her hands in contrast to mature content shown onscreen, especially if the moments before were filled with intense physical action by the hands. QTEs immediately dispel any immersion and remind the player they are simply pressing buttons. Technological innovation is at its highest praise when the finished product hides the processes operating in the background and can be used with intuition alone. QTEs deliberately defy this logic.

Playing games require physical repetition with a controller–barring the full-body controls enabled with devices like Kinect. Physical movement in the hands is rarely talked about when describing gameplay, yet it is central to the gaming experience. The best games are those that keep the controller out of the mind of the player, and use the game image to synthesize his/her physical activity and dispel any tension generated between action and result. QTEs starkly contrast this fact by placing the player’s physical activity in direct view. They are a constant reminder that we are holding a controller, or that we are simply playing a game. They create a juxtaposition between our physical efforts and the game image. Ultimately, QTEs are in direct opposition to immersion.

This essay draws on the work laid out by Graeme Kirkpatrick in his book Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game. More specifically Chapter 3.

By Chase Williams

A Product Management professional in the field of videogames, formerly of PlayStation, currently at InnoGames. Devoted student to Aesthetic Philosophy and the definition of artworks. Seeks to bring an honest and robust critical analysis to videogames.

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