, 2022-09-02 23:30:00,
Having recently talked with Ken Levine about Bioshock and various peripheral things around it, a lot of interesting stuff came up: there was the fact that, in true Randian fashion, enemy AI in Bioshock doesn’t work as a team; I also found out that fact that Levine didn’t really rate Atlas Shrugged as a book, and that he didn’t get any royalties from System Shock 2. But maybe most surprising was the fact that Ken Levine, by all accounts a father of the ‘Immersive Sim’ genre, didn’t seem familiar with the term so widely used for these games.
When I brought up immersive sims to Ken, the term barely registered, and he responded by tentatively referring to them as ‘environmental sims’ before I – equally tentatively – corrected him. It says a lot when one of the forefathers of a genre (if you can call it that) doesn’t remember its name, before calling the name “clinical.” In a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, another immersive sim pioneer, Warren Spector (Deus Ex, System Shock), said of the term: “I’ve been trying to find a better way to describe the game style, because ‘immersive sim’ sounds kind of highfalutin and pretentious.”
Clearly, something needs to change, but why does something as trivial as a genre label matter? It’s all just made-up stuff really, and games should be enjoyed irrespective of genre, right? Well, part of the problem is that not enough people seem to enjoy this weird, wonderful, poorly defined gamut of games, in the sense that they’ve historically struggled to find commercial success.
From the early Thief games, through Deus Ex, Hitman and the Arkane catalogue of Dishonored, Prey and, to a lesser extent, Deathloop, I’ve been enraptured by the playfulness and freedom of the immersive sim (the only one that I couldn’t handle as I was growing up was System Shock 2, which I switched off and didn’t return to for 10 years as soon as the first mutant started battering my head in with a crowbar while apologising to me – it was too disturbing and confusing for my teenage mind to handle).
But to talk about what an immersive sim should be called, it’s important to first define what it is, and that’s always been a bit of an ethereal thing. Rather than be defined by a point-of-view or core gameplay loop like, say first-person shooters or survival games, immersive sims are instead identified by things like player agency, environmental interactivity, non-linear…
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