Tag Archives: immersion

Immersion in the Nebulae of New Eden

Back to the immersion track again and this time I am going to change things up completely, leaving behind the fantasy realms of Middle-Earth and Norrath for outer space.  It is time to take a crack at EVE Online.  That is, after all, where this tear about immersion started a while back.

This should be easy, right?   CCP even ran an ad campaign around the “I was there” idea, which seemed to me to be a clear suggestion that immersion was a thing.

Of course, that was made for the Incarna expansion a decade back and ends with the player in the ship hangar of the captain’s quarters, a feature gone from the game for about four years at this point.  It was not a high point for the game and the relations between CCP and the players.  But it was trying to get at something about the game.  Was it accurate though?

EVE Online has a lot of things going for it when it comes to immersion.  It is a futuristic dystopian space empire game, which means not only can the game get away with a lot, but things that might seem immersion breaking in a fantasy MMORPG like Lord of the Rings Online are perfectly acceptable in EVE.  There are no naming conventions to break, no cultural references that you can make that aren’t ancient history in New Eden, things like in game chat channels and voice comms are totally appropriate to the setting.

And the game even enforces a bit more reality that your average MMO.  In the future currency is all electronic… it is mostly that way today… so a cash balance at your finger tips that is measured in the millions or billions of ISK is totally within the scope of what one should expect.  But the magic storage back doesn’t exist.  You can’t store something in your hangar in Jita then run over and pick it up again in Amarr.  You can’t even use the magic mail service that exists in WoW and EQ and so many other titles to insta-ship things to yourself or others.

Which isn’t to say there are not delivery services in New Eden.  They’re just run by other players.  Contracts, scams, industrial enterprises, spies, piracy, it is all there.  I even think the space flight aspect is probably more realistic to what we ought to expect that your typical dogfight in space simulator.  Do we think people will fly ships by the seat of their pants or do we thing computers will do the calculations and take the ship where you want to go?  I think entering a command to warp to a particular destination is probably more likely.

So here is the odd twist, at least for those of who read my posts about the game.  If I am writing about some big battle where thousands clashed and ships were exploding left and right… that even probably involved very little, if any, immersion for me.  Or maybe it is a different sort of “in the zone,” I am not sure.

But generally with those fights when were on voice comms with hundreds of people in a fleet and you’re getting instructions over your headset and trying to follow broadcasts and keeping an eye on your position and you overview, it can be a lot of work, a lot of switching around and not focusing on one thing, and getting focused on something is an easy gateway to immersion.

Add in time dilation and the UI not responding and having the outstanding commands window up and having the FC change their mind based on intel coming in on a channel that he can hear but you cannot…. it is probably very warfare realistic… but it not something that where I get that “I was there” feeling.  It feels very much like a video game.  An amazing, complex, video game with thousands of people involved, but still a video game.

One of the problems with EVE Online is that I spend a lot of time playing the game while tabbed out in some other window.  I am looking at Jabber channels or something in Discord or one of the many web sites with game information like DOTLAN or zKillboard… or maybe just looking up something that was mentioned on voice comms or linked in fleet chat.

Which is, like so much, is perfectly in sync with the technology age of the game.  Of course we would have access to all sorts of data… and data overload can be a thing.  If you have the wrong overview setting or mis-heard a command because something else was going on of the FC is too excited and only keyed up his mic half way into what he was telling us… but that is all very realistic too.

What isn’t, however, is the UI itself.  The game has gotten better over the years, doing things has become smoother, but having to fumble around with that user interface that is suppose to represent the state of the art technology thousands of years in the future doesn’t quite sell it.

Okay, so where do I find immersion in the game?

I can get there in big fleet fights, but usually only if I am flying logi, the repair ships that accompany a fleet into battle.  I can get into the zone in that role, and it is one of the reasons I spend as much time as I have over the years doing so, because your part of the battle is fairly small.  You need to stay on your anchor and keep an eye on broadcasts, locking up and repairing ships as they call for help.  This is often facilitated in a fight by a spy in the opposing fleet who will communicate the enemy’s next target.  Somebody in command will call out the name of the next target and tell them to broadcast for reps and we’ll all lock them up so they will have repairs already on them as hostile damage begins to land.  When things are going well it can be an assembly line of reps, one ship after another until suddenly the broadcasts stop if the fight has gone your way… or until the logi ships start dying off too quickly and you can no longer hold and then your side is probably on the losing end.

That is certainly a thing.  And even in smaller fleets, especially Reavers fleets, I can get in the zone flying a combat ship rather than logi.  Having an FC you know and trust and knowing what you need to be doing can get you there.

But for the most part immersion is kind of a solo thing for me in New Eden.

While most of my posts about big fights don’t involve immersion, almost every post I have made about doing some minor task… usually flying a ship through hostile space on my own… has involved some immersion moment.  Especially when I jump through a gate in low sec or null sec space and find hostiles on the other side.  I was reminded of that last week when I lost a Purifier to a gate camp.  I came through and saw them on the overview, that they had the gate bubbled, and my heart rate went up noticeably as my body responded to that sensory input with an little jolt of adrenaline.

A physiological  reaction to something that happens in game is pretty much proof of immersion in my book.

Anyway, looking back at what I have written so far I have been meandering.  That is often my style.  But I don’t need this to be 10K words, so I am going to try to pull immersion in New Eden into better focus by comparing it with my past two posts, which were about LOTRO and EQ in order to tease out what elements of the game help me find immersion and what works against it.  What do they titles have in common for me?

For LOTRO I listed out:

  • Familiar lore
  • Good adaptation of the lore to the game
  • Feeling of place within the game
  • Mechanics are familiar but not identical to other fantasy MMORPGs
  • Familiarity with the game
  • Well done landscape that feels like Middle-earth

And for EQ I said:

  • Feeling of place within the game
  • A connected world that required travel
  • A feeling of different places in that world
  • A simply huge world at this point
  • A freshness that has somehow remained with me
  • Night/light really changing the feel of the game
  • A sense of danger in the world
  • Mercenaries if you can’t find a group now

Lore comes up right away for LOTRO.  Without Tolkien’s works behind it LOTRO is just a poorly implemented fantasy MMORPG.  Lore is key to the experience for me.

Not so with EQ and not so with EVE Online as well.  The lore of New Eden just doesn’t do much in the game for me.  It isn’t compelling for me and is, in some cases, a bit annoying.

For example, the idea that ships in New Eden have crews is dumb, an artifact of somebody slipping a mention of crews into the old game wiki.  Nothing in the game supports the idea of crews and much argues against the idea.  Even those who love the idea of crews gladly toss aside the complexities involved with their pet theory.  Where do they come from?  Are they impressed into service?  Are they slaves?  Who willingly gets on a ship with an immortal capsuleer who will be reborn if the ship blows up?  Are planetary conditions so bad that people are willing to die?  This is a plot hole worse than where they go to hire henchmen in James Bond movies.

I am a proponent of the lone capsuleer theory.  The game takes places thousands of years in the future where technology has made capsuleers immortal gods of the space lanes.  Am I supposed to believe we have the technology for that and faster than light travel, but somehow my missile bays need somebody standing around loading them by hand?  I think not.  Besides which, how do my skills and implants and boosters affect ship systems unless it is me running everything.  I am alone on the ship, I am a part of it and it is an extension of my body.  This is the lore hill I will die on.

Sorry, got a little carried away there.  Let’s just say that the lore is a split decision for me on a good day.

I am going to skip down on the LOTRO list to familiarity with the game, which is kind of a draw for me in EVEEVE is a game of continual learning, so familiarity means that you have a foundation from which to work.  But there is so much to know.  The wise quickly learn their limitations and fools like me rush in and get schooled.  There are 65 regions in known space in the game and after 15 years of playing I still run across region names I cannot place on the map in the MER… and if I’m listing them out from the MER that means a bunch of people live there.  So kind of a wash on familiarity, but that was why I wanted to get it out of the way and move on to the big one.

Then there is a sense of place.  I said in the last post that this felt like an item that could be a through line on all of these posts, and this one will support that idea.

EVE Online very much has a sense of place.  Not in the way that Middle-Earth in LOTRO or Norrath in EQ do.  Not really.  I mean, space in New Eden is as beautiful and varied as the landscapes in LOTRO, and the size of EQ is only matched by the size of EVE Online, something enhanced by the lack of instant travel and automated post box deliveries I mentioned above.  It feels like a place because it takes time to move through it.

But New Eden doesn’t have a lot of personal touches, places that are special because the devs designed them that way.  There are a few monuments scattered about space.  But a lot of the places that are special are because the players made them so.

My personal map of New Eden and the places I’ve been

Jita, the main trade hub of New Eden is an accident of design.  The Caldari Navy Assembly Plant at Jita planet 4 moon 4 was once the first mission hub for new Caldari players back when rolling up Caldari gave you an initial skill advantage for PvP.  So lots of new players are coming back from missions and selling their stuff and suddenly it because the place to sell.  Jita 4-4 is your space mall.

The graveyard in Molea was a player driven effort.  CCP has since made it a thing they shepherd, but it went for more than a decade of being a place made special by the players.  Other monuments in the game are there to remember things that players did.  There are plenty of systems made famous for events, like B-R5RB or M2-XFE, where titanic battles were fought.

And then there are the places that mean something to us individually.  Two years back I wrote a post about my homes in New Eden.  Anybody who has played the game for any length of time likely has a system or two or a station that they feel like they lived out of, that has memories for them.

The funny thing is that while space if pretty, it is also kind of generic.  It doesn’t change much as you travel through a region.  One system can look very much like another.  They only become special because of the things we experience.  It is our stories over layered on top of New Eden which makes one system memorable and another just another pair of gates on the way to some place.  New Eden has a sense of place because we make place there special.

And that leads me into another item which isn’t on either of my other two lists, and that is the player stories.

Every MMORPG has player stories.  I write here about the tale of the instance group and my time in other games, essentially retelling the stories of my time spent.  But those tales are often in the context of the lore and the larger tales of the game itself.  I wrote about Hellfire Ramparts yesterday not because we did something unique, but because we ran a piece of content.  Our experience was our own, but it was parallel to what many thousands of others have experienced.

EVE Online, being a good sandbox, lets players have stories that are not on the same rails that everybody else has experienced.  It can be small, personal events.  If you have decided to move to a new region in high sec, just finding a new home, hauling your stuff, and getting to know the new neighborhood is a story.  A lot of stories depend on interaction with other people.  There is a lot of PvP in New Eden.  Ships blow up.  Players pop up where you don’t expect them… or sometimes they land exactly where you do expect them.  It is a difficult game to find the fun in at times because the fun isn’t always dispensed in bite sized increments.  And the scripted stuff, missions and events and the like, are often a bit tedious after the first run or two.  PvE is content that can be mastered and, thus, made routine.  But player stories about them doing their own thing, that is what makes the game.

People often complain about sovereign null sec.  It is boring.  It is too safe.  Wormholes are more lucrative and low sec has better small gang fights.  I’ve heard it all over and over and have been called names because of where I live.  F1 monkey is always a favorite.  Gevlon said I was a slave, like I somehow couldn’t log off.

But here is the thing.  Out there in null sec I am a part of a much larger story.  We just saw a 13 month war that had 120K in game characters attack a group of less than 40K in a campaign that swept through a dozen regions and laid waste to at least half of them.  It was a struggle the size of which just doesn’t happen in other games, driven by politics, deals, grudges, and a desire for fame and a place in the history of New Eden.  Andrew Groen has written two large books on the history of the null sec empires in EVE Online, and there is certainly material enough for a third.

Even if we assume the character to player ratio is something around 5 to 1 (I make this call knowing that the current ratio in Goonswarm Federation is 4.2 to 1) that is still a lot of people involved.  That is maybe 30K real life individuals involved in a virtual space war that carried on around the clock for over a year and spawned host of narratives, intrigue, and propaganda that spilled out into the real world.

I had to come up with a new term just to try and find some way to capture the feeling of being involved in such an event.  I will call it “Meta Immersion,” the feeling of belonging to something that isn’t real yet becomes a real part of your life.  This is a special aspect of New Eden that just doesn’t happen at scale in other games that I have played.  Empires rise and fall, alliances are made and broken, leaders become famous for a season and maybe infamous come the next, it is all quite a big deal when you dig into it.

Okay, I am getting all breathless about story here, I know, and I am already three thousand words into this post.  Maybe it is time to try and sum up to some bullet points.  So let’s see…

Pro Immersion

  • Sense of place
  • No fast travel options makes the size of the game more tangible
  • Scales up to “meta immersion”
  • A vast canvas for story, from the smallest to those with a cast of thousands
  • Lore that is compatible with player stories
  • A company that sometimes cares a lot about player stories
  • A lot of good complexity
  • Most meaningful trade skills in any game ever
  • Unique mechanics
  • Skill and knowledge focused versus gear focused game play
  • A sense of danger in the world

Against Immersion

  • A UI that really struggles to tell you what you need to know (remembers everything, tells you nothing)
  • Most info you need is outside of the game (tabbing out breaks immersion)
  • A lot of bad complexity (try managing a corporation)
  • No other game prepares you to play this one
  • CCP can’t quite grasp its own game or the implications of some of its actions
  • CCP goes through bouts of “you’re playing wrong” and breaks things
  • Other players on voice coms (and in the forums and on /r/eve)
  • Loss is very much part of the game, which is a tough hurdle for many people

That last one is a hurdle for so many people.  I still hate losing a ship.  If there is one thing that MUDs then MMORPGs have taught us as players is that gear is sacred.  I remember back in TorilMUD where a first offense for doing something considered cheating (which included a bunch of things that would be normal in WoW today) got you the choice of losing half your levels or all of your gear.  That was no choice at all.  With gear getting back your levels is no problem, but without gear a level cap character was useless.

In EVE Online ships are not like that.  Aside from a few very special items, ships are expendable, more like ammo than gear.  I’ve lost 334 ships in 15 years, which is a small number really.  That is almost twice a month.  If you lost your gear in WoW that often you’d quit.  But in New Eden you just go to Jita and buy a new ship.  There is enough competition that the market is usually good at finding the lowest acceptable price for producers and most anything can be had for ISK.

Anyway, I have rambled enough about EVE Online for now.  There are probably half a dozen things I meant to write that I forgot and no doubt a couple I went on at length about that could have been cut back.  But this is an exploration via writing on a blog where everything is a first draft.

So that is three games down.  Where should I go next?

The series so far:

Immersion on the Bad Linoleum of Norrath

Having done what I consider the easy immersion study with Lord of the Rings Online… easy both because I can identify the hooks that get me and because I have played it seriously as recently as 2018… it is time to move on to the next time.

It is time for EverQuest.

Classic EverQuest

EverQuest is going to be a tougher row to hoe for a few reasons, the first of which is that I haven’t played it seriously in ages.  I think the last time I played for anything like real was in the run up to the 20th anniversary, and that was a bit of a lark because they had bonus XP going to I made it up to 50 in a couple weeks of short daily sessions.

Before that I played through to about level 20 with a couple of characters when the Vox server launched, which has to be six or seven years ago at this point.  And before that it was when the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server launched, when Potshot and I played seriously as a duo for a few months, until the PlayStation/SOE hack turned off all their servers for a few weeks, which kind of broke our stride.

There were a few runs before that.  I went and played when they launched The Serpent’s Spine expansion, which promised a new and soloable quest path.

But all of those runs, they were based on the memory of the game when it launched, the sense of immersion I felt way back in 1999 and 2000, when I was logging on every night and had some friends to play with there regularly and it was the place to be.

So the immersion factor is something from way in the past, before most of the key points in my adult life, like marriage and parenthood.  Going back to play keeps the ember of the immersion I felt in the game alive after all these years.

Second, if I was bitching about the UI being a problem for immersion in LOTRO, how the hell do I explain it with a UI that looked like this?

Out in the dark night

I lifted that screenshot from the web ages ago because I have no screenshots left from that era, but look at that UI.  And that was all crammed onto a 17″ monitor running at 1024 x 768 resolution, a size so small that I could easily lose a window of that dimension on my current monitor.

Third, the whole thing looked pretty primitive, even back in 1999.  Being an early 3D rendered title in an age when cards that could render 3D could only handle relatively few polygons and textures of limited size, the landscape could look like it was fractured from some opaque crystal material that broke into a myriad of sharply defined triangular surfaces.  I’d played Delta Force before EQ, which used voxels, a rendering tech that at the time gave a much more realistic surface texture.

A swimming pool in Qeynos

And each giant facet colored by a texture that looked more like bad linoleum than grass or dirt or rock or whatever.  The trees looked like cardboard cutouts.  The character animations were minimal and the running animation was always just a bit off from the movement.

Never an immersion breaking name in EQ!

That was kind of rough looking, even in 1999.

Finally, EQ didn’t even have the things going for it that LOTRO did.  If you look back at my LOTRO immersion post, I list out the elements that I felt helped me on the immersion front, which included the following:

  • Familiar lore
  • Good adaptation of the lore to the game
  • Mechanics are familiar but not identical to other fantasy MMORPGs
  • Familiarity with the game
  • Well done landscape that feels like Middle-earth

None of those five apply to EQ.  I’ve already dispensed with the quality of the landscape, and familiarity wasn’t really a thing, being the first 3D MMORPG I played.

And the lore of Norrath?  Here is a dirty little secret; for all my years of pining for the game and singing its praises, I know diddly squat about the lore.  I was never a raider, so if you listed out all the raid boss names I might recognize five or six.  I was also a bit of a “roll player,” one who was into the mechanics and optimization as opposed to being immersed in the lore.  I still am that way to a certain extent.  I prefer my own story to the one the game tries to overlay on my adventures.

There is, however, one item from the LOTRO list that EQ did have, and does have still.

  • Feeling of place within the game

When I go there I feel like I am somewhere in a way that a lot of games struggle to capture.

I suspect that the primary through line of this series about immersion is going to end up being a sense of place, a feeling of being somewhere alive.  So I can’t just drop that “place” bullet point and keep going.  I am going to have to justify it every time I bring it up.

So what made Norrath in 1999 feel like a place despite the limitations of the tech at the time?

To start with it was an interconnected world.  Even chopped up into zones it all still felt connected.  You could travel overland and by ship from one end of the game to the other and it took time and could be quite dangerous depending on your level.

And then there is what they did do well with the tech they had, like light and the day/night cycle and fog.  I know Bhagpuss is going to complain about the fog, but I felt it gave the game atmosphere, texture, and a sense of foreboding.

Barbarians in the fog and snow

I remember looking up into the trees in Surefall Glade where my first character, a half elf ranger, literally the worst combo I could have chosen, and seeing them rise up into the mist, disappearing into it so you could only imaging how tall they much be.  And, after exiting the tunnel that led into they Qeynos hills, having the medium distance fade into a fog.  I felt considerably apprehension the first time I went all the way down the road to North Qeynos because the zone line had nothing but fog beyond it.

The fog filled a role beyond atmosphere of course.  It was there to limit how much your video card had to render.  It was a common trick in the early day of 3D.  I remember it from Starsiege: Tribes as well, the middle distance fog and firing my disc launcher into where I thought somebody might be and seeing my rounds disappear into that mist.

The fog went away later.  Video cards improved and the poly count of the early game was ridiculously low just a few years down the line.  I missed the fog when we were playing on Fippy Darkpaw.  It took some of the mystery out of the world.

But night remained, and it was an entity all of its own.  I remember waiting at a guard tower in West Karana in the night because visibility was greatly reduced… at least until we all discovered the gamma setting… and you couldn’t see dangers that might be waiting for you if you went traveling alone.  You could see distant lights and light sources on players and the occasional NPC.  The jack-o-lantern heads on those scarecrows were lit up at night.  But a wolf or a bandit might be invisible in the dark until you stumbled onto them.  And worse things might loom out of the night suddenly.

Froon!

The first time I saw Froon march out of the darkness towards me I about wet myself.  It was amazing.  Mobs wandered the zone.  It wasn’t a static world, but one with a rhythm.  It wasn’t a complicated cycle and you could figure it all out with a bit of patience, but you had to put some effort in.

And, speaking of effort, there were no maps.  We had to draw our own.

West Karana all on One Map

I grabbed any decent map I could and printed them out at work and annotated them as I played, something that added to the experience.  It was a hassle, another impediment to play, and something I am not sure I would put up with today, but I was younger and more adaptable back then.

Finally, while I didn’t know anything really about the game when I went down to Fry’s to buy it on launch day, I did quickly discover that Aradune and company had cribbed much of the mechanics of Norrath from TorilMUD, so there was a bit of… diagonal familiarity I could leverage.  That didn’t help with the world, but I knew up front at which levels you got new spells, which came from TorilMUD, which had borrowed the pattern from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition.  That wasn’t much to hang your hat on, but in a big new world even a tidbit like that can sustain you until you get on your feet.

A lot of what worked for me in EQ was very much rooted in the time.  I was both younger and more invested in some games.  The raw and primitive nature of the game wasn’t so stark compared to its competitors, such that they were.  It was also something of a bridge between MUDs I had played for most of the 90s and the MMORPGs that would come to dominate the first decade of the 21st century.

Still, there was some bit of magic involved.  Even now, more than 22 years later, if I log into EQ and wander around Qeynos Hills and West Karana, I can still find traces of the emotions that first gripped me back when the game was new.  Maybe I am more attuned to nostalgia or visualization than some, but I can still get there today.

And even when I am doing something not from 1999… I have to admit I do like the tutorial they put in… and struggling with the complexity of all the features and skills and spells and AA abilities, there is still a bit of the original that shines through.

Anyway, that is a lot of rambling memories and what not, and I could probably keep on going, but I want to try and wrap this up at some point, so lets get to some bullet points.

So what have we got?  Let me throw a few out there.  Like the game itself, the list of possible bullet points is longer and deeper than you might expect.

Pro immersion:

  • Feeling of place within the game
  • A connected world that required travel
  • A feeling of different places in that world
  • A simply huge world at this point
  • A freshness that has somehow remained with me
  • Night/light really changing the feel of the game
  • A sense of danger in the world
  • Mercenaries if you can’t find a group now

Immersion breaking:

  • Looks primitive today compared to even slightly newer titles
  • Can feel simplistic, unguided, and grindy
  • Layers of systems in the UI can be difficult to decipher
  • Level cap has gone all the way to 115
  • Level boost only gets you to 85 and lands you deep in confusion
  • Figuring out your spells for any casting class past level 30 or so
  • Really not that enjoyable solo, the tutorial being a promise unfulfilled

This is one where I encourage you to suggest further items as my short term memory isn’t capable of juggling all the possibilities at once.

Aside from my emotional attachment, my ability to find the seeds of immersion in some nostalgia haze, Probably  the biggest single plus is the game world itself, which is much more expansive than you probably dare imagine. (Except you Bhagpuss, you’re way ahead of me on that front.)  Travel, even with the Plane of Knowledge and portals and what not is still an adventure because there is simply so much world.

27 expansions over 22 years have expanded the game world beyond imagination.

That is a lot of walking

The last time I was trying to do something seriously in EQ I spent most of my time just trying to get places like the Scarlet Desert, which is on the moon.  That in and of itself was a fun adventure and very much got me into the zone.  There is probably a challenge in just visiting every single zone.

It is just a pity that even the best and newest stuff looks old.  The company has gotten more out of the EQ engine that they probably ever imagined, but one of the many reasons WoW took off was Blizz had the tech and the knowledge to make a much better looking world just five years later.

Meanwhile, the biggest weight around the game’s neck has to be the fact that SOE, Daybreak, and now EG7 have added so many new systems to the game that figuring out how to do something, how to get somewhere, how to find some tidbit of information you need, can be quite taxing in and of itself.

Read that Scarlet Desert post I linked above for a sample.  I am talking about an EVE Online level of hidden features and “I didn’t even know about that” potential.

And then there is the downside of the sprawling world, which is less getting places and much more knowing where you should even go.  The game throws hints at you, suggests zones when you level up, gives you advice, but a lot of it was accurate when written but out of date five or ten years down the road.

It is a game where I want to join a regular group to explore the world and yet wouldn’t even begin to know where to go or what to do.  There are two sides to that whole dynamic.  Exploring and being able to get lost or having to find your way carefully can be very immersive, but being aimless and unguided is not.  Even if the journey is the reward, you still need a destination to plan your route.  And fog.  I miss the fog.

It is a Bartle explorer’s paradise in that it has much to explore beyond just the massive world, but the weight of 22 years of expansion and additions makes it the Winchester Mystery House of MMORPGs; cool and interesting, but it seems like living there would also be a lot of work.

I am not entirely happy with this post, here at the end, largely because I kept straying off the immersion aspect and delving into what feels like rating the game itself.  There is certainly a connection between the two at some level, but they are not one and the same.  But that is also the danger of trying to explore through words a game that is this old and sprawling and to which I still hold considerably emotional attachment.

Still, the post went well enough that I already have the next title to discuss in mind.

The Immersion Series So Far:

Immersion in Middle-Earth

I set myself an ambitious goal.  I was all up in arms about immersion once again and, having had that blinding flash of the obvious association between immersion and enjoyment of certain titles, figures I could explore some past titles to see if that could pinpoint what makes for an immersive experience for me.

The danger here is that what is immersive can easily be confused with things I just like… and thus things that prevent or break immersion must be things I simply don’t like… and so the whole thing might just devolve into things I have praised or groused about in the past.

And “confused” probably draws too dark of a line between likes and immersion.  They are at a minimum fellow travelers.  But I know I can find cases where things I do not always enjoy and up in the mix of immersion as well.  The rather nebulous concept of “grind” fits in there.  Grinding mobs for a quest or just for xp can be bad… except when it is not.  Sometimes it is just what you need, and easy repetitive task that lets you fall into the rhythm of the game and your character.

Anyway, with all that and more in mind I thought I might take a stab at what I consider up front to be an easier title with which to pin down my immersion factors.

And the winner is Lord of the Rings Online.

Straight out of the gate the lore of the game is something I had been immersed in for nearly 30 years before it launched.  I was Book of Lost Tales and other bits and pieces published by Christopher Tolkien deep into it.  I used to knock out The Hobbit on a Sunday afternoon if I had nothing else going on and would re-read the main trilogy every two or three years.

So I was already sold on the idea… though that can be a hazard if the company doesn’t deliver.  But Turbine did deliver.  LOTRO might not be the most unique or well built MMORPG, but it looked and felt like Third Age Middle-earth to me.  The landscape, the buildings, even the stars at night are all amazing.

As well, the integration of the player into the story was done very well.  That was something I was worried about before playing the game.  One of my early posts on the blog, less than two weeks after I started, was a bit of fretting about how Turbine would handle LOTRO and lore.

But parallel path of the player through the tale, where you are handling important side tasks and occasionally crossing paths with the fellowship, is done with such care that it has never caused me much concern.

Knowing the lore and being predisposed to go along with it helped me get in the zone with the game.  There were certainly problems, especially early on.  The usual problems of running back and forth too much or perhaps spending too much time on the bear/boar/wolf circuit were pain points.  And the UI itself, with odd and sometimes indecipherable icons for skills and attacks… again, I have a post about some of that… were among my gripes.  But at least you got a lot of bag space up front, so inventory management wasn’t an immediate struggle.

Even the kind of goofy take on crafting, where you pick a vocation that gets you a basket of three trade skills plus the related harvesting was at least a slightly different take on things, though it could become something of an unpleasant grind on its own after not too long into the game.

So I found fun and interest and immersion to some degree on our first pass through, and immersion seemed to grown as I returned to LOTRO various times over the years.  I have mentioned before that having knowledge of the game when you come back to start from scratch helps things along and makes me feel more the champion of the free peoples.

To this end there are a string of zones that I enjoy running through again and again.  The starter zones not so much… I’m not really a fan of the Shire, quaint though it be… but once I am headed towards Bree I am very much engaged in the game and the story and the tale of my character.  Bree and the Old Forest and Midgewater Marshes and the Lone Lands and Evendim are my happy path, where I fall under the spell of the game, where I can feel myself get lost in the experience.

Things taper off a bit for me in the Trollshaws and in the Misty Mountains, and I have never been much on either Forochel or Angmar, the former being weighed down by so much running back and forth while the latter is just a bit too grim for my tastes.  But I still can carry on and find the zone through those and on into Moria.

And then somewhere, between Moria and Mirkwood my immersion fades and the game feels like a labor, the story doesn’t capture me and all the quests become like a weight dragging me down.

Mirkwood might explain it.  It is a dark and uninspired area into which you get thrown.  I’ve been through Moria well enough a few times now, but Mirkwood is truly an impenetrable forest in my way.

So I roll up any number of characters and get to level 40 and can be quite pleased.  I can push on and still enjoy myself.  But there is a limit beyond which there is no joy, no immersion, just grind.

It is tempting to blame Siege of Mirkwood, it being a blameworthy expansion, but even Mines of Moria, the epic underground adventure, begins to wear on me.  There is a temptation in me to revert to my “no good expansions” stance.  It is handy to reach for the idea that the initial crafted experience, the base world of any MMORPG, is a solid experience and only besmirched by trying to tack on a sequel.

I’ve played that tune any number of times, and it does have a ring of truth to it at times, especially with titles like Rift.  Changes in philosophy, new features piled on the game, attempts to be both true to the game and yet provide a new experience… to both player and developer, the latter who may chafe even more that the former at having to do the same old thing over and over again… must necessarily dilute from the original focus.

Expect, of course, I can find exceptions to the rule.  For every Storm Legion departure from the core tenets of a title there is a Ruins of Kunark that is a much needed seasoning that enhances an already delicious meal.

But as much as I might like to blame the torpor of Mirkwood and the darkness of Moria, I’ve boosted some characters past those locations.  I have tried my shot at Rohan a couple of times as well and failed, and I am told that Riders of Rohan was not a bad experience.

And here is where I risk sounding as though I am simply going to blame the failure of immersion on a feature I have complained about in the past.  Yes, I am going to lay this on legendary items.

I know, I know, the elevator speech for legendary items is pretty awesome.  I know I went in as a true believer when it came time.  You pick up a weapon that will grow with you, the potential of which you will unlock as you adventure with it.

That is truly the stuff of legends.  Arthur and Excalibur.  Aragorn and Anduril.  Even Bilbo and Sting are pairings many of us wished to emulate in our D&D campaigns or online adventures.  Strider doesn’t hand off his family sword to the nearest shop keeper the moment he finds something a bit shinier or with a slightly better stat.  No, he and the weapon are one and they fight together.

Unfortunately, Turbine screwed that idea up pretty badly and then proceeded to double down on it repeatedly… since late 2008.  Seriously, that is when Mines of Moria launched and as a feature it has just gotten worse and worse.

Let’s start with the basic problem, the immersion killed for me, which is that your legendary item is a needy baby constantly crying for attention.  At times it feels like you can’t get through half a dozen mobs before an alert pops up that it has leveled up and you have new points to apply.   And then there is the need to go back to camp to reforge it, which doesn’t happen as often, but still comes about way more frequently than it ought to.

And then, add on top of the constant nag that is your legendary, you then end up abandoning it down the road for the inevitable upgrade from a new expansion or update.  We are Aragorn abandoning Anduril every ten levels rather than every other level.

I used to think that maybe the whole thing was just a bad idea, that we shouldn’t level up weapons, that it is a flawed mechanic that should be avoided.  Then Blizzard did the legendary weapon thing with the Legion expansion and it was freaking brilliant.  And they even had a bunch of the same things I hated with LOTRO legendaries, like having to go back to town to upgrade it, but somehow made it work.  It was great.  Legion might be the last great WoW expansion.

And Blizzard had the good sense to not try to drag that on into the next expansion.  I mean, I was sad to leave Ashbringer behind and I missed the skills it enabled and the looks you could unlock with it, but it was probably for the best. (I’d seriously consider a WoW Legion Classic server I guess, just to do that again.)

So there it is.  Legendary items.

I mean sure, there are other things.  The monetization can pull me out of the game.  Having a “buy your way through this with some mithril coins!” mechanic does not jibe well with immersion.  But the mithril coin thing doesn’t show up constantly when I am out in the field questing.

I can get through escorting Sara Oakheart and running up and down the lengths of Forochel and people with crappy non-RP names and avoid a good chunk of the monetization by playing on the Legedary servers.  But even when I boosted past Mirkwood into Rohan the first thing in my face was the freaking legendary weapon and the need to do whatever.

There are literally a lot of things that people complain about when it comes to LOTRO that I can overlook like the stiff character models, the indecipherable iconography, the skirmishes, the dull housing, and how grindy crafting becomes as you move forward in levels.  But legendary items… that just kills it for me.

And I am not the only one complaining about them.  I remained amazed that first Turbine and then SSG not only kept rolling on with a system like that for more than a dozen years, but have only now conceded that maybe they ought to look into giving it a rework.

Anyway, after that reconnaissance by text of LOTRO, what are the take aways?  What makes for good immersion and what fails me on that front?

Immersion pluses

  • Familiar lore
  • Good adaptation of the lore to the game
  • Feeling of place within the game
  • Mechanics are familiar but not identical to other fantasy MMORPGs
  • Familiarity with the game
  • Well done landscape that feels like Middle-earth

Immersion minuses

  • Legendary items (primary)
  • Monetization (somewhat avoidable)
  • Poor content mid-game (Mirkwood)
  • Poor iconography
  • Lack of large monitor support (my 34″ monitor specifically)

In the end, LOTRO remains a game I have been happy enough to go back and play multiple times… at least the original content.  It is a game where I have often found immersion, traveling through the game, both as confidently as a ranger and as lost as a neophyte, depending on where I am.  (I don’t get lot in the Old Forest anymore.)

So this post was a bit of a gimme.  I already had strong feelings about what draws me to the game and what has pushed me away.  With this post I have set something of a baseline.  The question is, where do I go next?  Do I pick another fantasy title and compare immersion points, or do I try another direction and see if a very different game shares points of intersection?

Down the Rabbit Hole of Immersion

This could be the first of a multiple post thread on the topic… or it might all end right here.  I am not sure yet.

Last week I wrote about immersion from my usual point of view, which was trying to pin down what it is while trying not to become the pedant that cannot see that it can be different things to different people, that getting there and getting pulled out of that state are very much things that vary from person to person.

In reflecting for a while on things I found immersive, games and moments in time from those games, I came to the not all that startling in hindsight conclusion that there is very much a pattern of immersion when it comes to games I have enjoyed, played for long stretches, or for which I feel a great deal of nostalgia.

More of a “that makes sense” discovery than a “eureka!” moment, and yet I feel that there is, perhaps, a “eureka!” to be found if only I could approach this from the right angle.  It feels like if only I could somehow parse through the games that I liked because I achieved some tipping point level of immersion in them that I might find a pattern, some common thread… or maybe several parallel threads… that links those games together.  If immersion is truly a key aspect that dictates how much I like a particular video game, then discovering what factors lead to immersion might not only explain my video game preferences, but help me find games more likely to get to that immersion point.  To figure that out I need more data.

But how do you even go about compiling data for what is, at its heart, a very subjective and often transitory experience?

My initial thought is to simply list out all of the games that I have really enjoyed, that series of special titles that rise up above the rest, and explore, one by one, what worked for me within each.  Call that “The Immersion Files” and we are probably talking about a minimum of 50 posts exploring various titles through the years.

That can’t be enough though.  I have to at least spend some time with titles that, for whatever reason, did not hit the nebulous and indefinable immersion threshold, but perhaps should of due to their similarity with titles that did.

Why, for example, did EverQuest II and Lord of the Rings Online cross into immersion territory, but Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 never did?  That comes close to trying to say why World of Warcraft succeeded and Warhammer Online failed when somebody like Richard Bartle says that they are, with enough distance, pretty much the same game; an exploration guaranteed to make somebody angry!

Not that such would stop me.  I’ve already had people shout “willing suspension of disbelief” at me like it was an answer on that front, I can handle that.  Plus, I would be exploring my own likes, which need not feel obligatory to anybody else.

Also, any such exploration depends on my own recollection, and memory is notoriously faulty in most people.  If I go through all the possible titles I am going to have to dig way back.  Literally the first really immersive video game title that comes to my mind was from the mid 1970s, somewhere between Pong and the Atari 2600, when a friends dad brought us into the office while he was watching us one weekend and let us play Star Trek on the mini computer in accounting.

Star Trek in vt52 emulation

The source code for a variation of that in BASIC is all of 425 lines long.  We were so into that game we had to be dragged away and we went on to create a board game version of it so we could play it independent of the accounting department.

But this very early title brings up some important… to me at least… questions about the relative nature of immersion.

First, how much has what triggers immersion changed for me in almost 50 years?  I found this very deep at the time, but I was also 10 years old.  I suspect I wouldn’t find the same level of immersion in it today.

Second, how much does the state of technology at the moment affect immersion?  A 425 line BASIC program was pretty spiffy back then, but today it hardly makes the cut.  I was playing much better Star Trek games in the 80s and 90s, and even those games seem somewhat primitive by today’s standards.  I don’t need AAA photo realistic titles to find immersion… I can find it in un-modded Minecraft for Pete’s sake… but it seems likely that my experience since that game would make it less likely to hold my attention.

And third, how much does the associated theme and/or IP affect immersion?  While I practically need rose-tinted binoculars to see that far back in time, I do know that part of the appeal was that my friend and I were very big fans of Star Trek and this gave us an opportunity, simplistic though it was even at the time, to sit in the captain’s chair and fight Klingons.

This is not a throw away idea, either.  I suspect, could I fully explore my subconscious, that I would find that part of the reason I found, and continue to find, LOTRO compelling and immersive is its association with the books I read not too many years after my friend and I were playing our board game version of Star Trek.

Does my love of EverQuest at launch stem from it being a great game at the time or from the fact that it was very much a translation of TorilMUD, so I came in with some familiarity of what was going on?  I would argue that it was more of the former, but the latter was not absent.

How much impact does familiarity have?

Then there is playing with others.  That is always a big draw for me.  I am pretty sure I put up with WoW at first, which I didn’t like all that much at launch, because friends jumped over to play.  What impact does that have?  Does it improve the chances of immersion?

And given all that, how do I explain Star Trek Online?  I was into and familiar with the IP, wanted to play, and was there on day one with friends… and yet it never grabbed me.  Was it lack of immersion?  Was it just not a game made of of elements that appealed to me?  Or were expectations that the stars would align on such a combination of factors so high that disappointment was inevitable?  Does hype, anticipation, and high expectation impact the possibility of immersion?

Then, let me pile on top of all of that the “me” factor of how I felt, thought, and reacted to the world at various times over the last half of a century.  Leaving aside the tech aspect, there was a time when I would play NetHack all night long… I had the source code and would throw in my own tidbits at times just to see if would run into them… and then there was a time when I would no longer find that interesting.

Did I change?  Did something better come along?  Did I just wear out the possibilities of the game?  I suspect it was all of those combined and probably a couple other items as well, but there was a point when immersion was possible, and then that passed.

So is it even worthwhile exploring why Tank was immersive and Pong was not?  Why the Atari 2600 games Air Sea Battle and Pac Man were dull but Adventure and River Raid would keep me up past my bed time?  Why I played so much Wizardry and Ultima III?  Why WoW Classic is immersive now, and much more so than retail WoW, while early WoW wasn’t terribly immersive for me back in the day until around Wrath of the Lich King? How far back does the exploration of immersion remain valid?  What applies to me today?  Does TorilMUDEverQuestWoWLOTROValheim?  Where do the answers to this lie?

Perhaps the study of a single title that has both immersive and non-immersive aspects for me?  We shall see if I get to that.

On Immersion

Yesterday somebody triggered me on one of my most/least favorite hobby horse discussions, that of immersion.  Sometimes I think I have grown enough over the years to not get wrapped up in online arguments about such things, but apparently immersion is not on that list yet.

This time the immersion argument brewed up as one of the objections to CCP’s pop-up advertisement in EVE Online that comes when you lose a ship, encouraging the player to buy some PLEX so they can purchase a replacement ship.  This has led some anger… erm, some additional anger, because there is always anger… in the community.

Use your credit card to finance your revenge!

This led to any number of reactions, including the dead idea of returning to a subscription model, as well as any number or arguments about why this pop-up pushes the line in way that past monetization of the game has not.  Immersion features in some of those arguments as the pop-up comes during combat when you lose a ship, which puts it in a new category for some.

Sending players to the out of game website cash shop to spend real world money crosses an immersion line for some.

Enter Pollyanna, done explaining that the PCU drop is normal and nothing to worry about, who followed up to argue that immersion is a strictly definable thing, the same for everybody, and that this pop-up does not break immersion because PLEX exists, pop-ups exist, and links that take you out of game exist.

And there you have me triggered and engaging in a fruitless online argument.  I mean, they’re almost all fruitless, but I live in hope as 1 in 100 or so actually end up with some mutual understanding.  Not this time.

It probably took me a bit too long to figure out that Pollyanna didn’t give two fetid dingoes kidneys about immersion, that they were just there to defend CCP with religious fervor.  So I packed that up, muted the whole thread… thank you for that feature Twitter… and decided to write again about immersion.

The main problem is defining what immersion is, or if it is even a thing at all.  I add that last bit because I have had people argue that immersion is literally impossible, though those arguments often seem to assign an unrealistic definition to it.

So let me dispense with the “there is no immersion” side of the argument by saying that it isn’t an absolute belief that the game is real and you’re a part of it.  If that is the definition to which you are wedded, then there is no immersion.  But I am going to say that I both believe immersion is a thing and that I have never once literally believed I was in New Eden or Azeroth or Norrath or any other video game location.

Immersion is more like a release of the real world, the entering of something like a hypnotic focus on the game and its mechanics, becoming briefly one with the game, reacting at some level like the game is real even if you simultaneously know at a more logical part of your brain that you are simply playing a game.

Examples of this from my own personal experience include the rush of elation on defeating a difficult boss, the sudden boost in heart rate when you jump through a gate and find a camp on the other side, or the real knot in your stomach as you reach a cliff and see how high up you are.  These are all physiological reactions that indicate that some part of your brain believes what your doing in a video game is real.  That is immersion.

And, seriously, if you say you have never experienced anything like that I am going to have to ask why you even play video games.  That is the runner’s high, the payoff, the rare moment that makes the effort worth it.

Sometimes immersion is more subtle.  There can be what I have heard called a “competence high,” where you’re just doing very well at something like a simple match 3 game, where the moves are all coming to you and the game is totally going your way that qualifies to my mind.  Inventory management can even be like that.

The thing is that immersion isn’t a constant or reliable.  Sometimes you go through a gate and there is a camp on the other side and it is just another thing in the game.  Not every high place makes you feel a bit of acrophobia.  Not every boss fight, even difficult ones, give you a rush.

I have, in the past, likened being immersed to falling asleep.  I cannot explain how either happens.  There is just generally a point in time where sleep or immersion is not a thing, and then it is.

And things that break immersion can be as capricious as things that wake you up from sleep.  Some things are always going to do it.  The alarm clock is always going to wake you up, the game client crashing is going to break immersion.  Generally speaking, things that take you out of the moment are going to break immersion, and that pop-up could very well be such a thing for some people.

Now, you can certainly ask whether the people who are making the immersion argument really mean it or are just throwing that out there.  It is fair to question them.  Have they even seen the pop up?  (I haven’t) Were they in a state of immersion when the it came up?  Has immersion even been something they have mentioned as important in the past?

But if your counter to the immersion argument is that we all know what PLEX is in our logical brain, that the game has a pop up when log in, or that something like EVE Academy has a link that takes you outside of the game, so this pop up could not possible break your immersion, then I am going to suggest that you don’t know what immersion is or that you are arguing in bad faith because defending CCP is more important that whatever may or may not be immersion breaking to other people.  You certainly don’t get to arbitrarily define what immersion is and dictate what does and does not break it.

Anyway, thank you for listening to my TED Talk and/or my thousand word sub-tweet!

Related:

Do You Wear the Mask or does the Mask Wear You?

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be

-Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You’re not being the ball Danny.

-Ty Webb, Caddyshack

One of the problematic aspects of talking about video games is how differently two people can perceive and interact with them.  This goes double in writing, where the reader can inject tone and choose to define words in a way the author did not intend.  I’m sure we’ve all run into somebody online who defines a word in a very specific way and then pedantically defends that definition against all evidence or logic.

Take “immersion” for example.  There is a ticklish concept that I have concluded means something different to everybody.  I have had people in the comments here argue that immersion is literally not possible in a video game, or that certain things, from pop-culture references to graphic detail, prevent or break immersion universally, or that you’re not really immersed unless you’re role playing and literally believe that is your reality.

But it isn’t so easy, so black and white.

I find immersion in a video game totally possible and quite independent of a lot of things that might break it for other people.  It certainly has nothing to do with role playing in my case.  But I couldn’t tell you how I get there any more than I could say how I go to sleep.  One moment I am not there and then I slip across some invisible barrier and arrive.  And, as with sleep, I don’t even know I am there until the spell has been broken.

Or so it goes for me.  It is a fairly rare experience for me and, as with sleep, has become less likely and more fleeting as I have grown older.  But I know when I have been there.

Anyway, this all comes to mind because of an article The Mittani posted over at INN, The Masks of Cyber-Purgatory.  I saw several people praising it on Twitter and went to read it myself.

My reactions were… mixed.  There are truths in the post, but also things I found at odds with my own personal voyage through New Eden over the last decade.  For example I can’t recall hearing anybody saying that the only way to win EVE Online is to quit often enough to make that a point of universal agreement.  I’m pretty sure if it were as universal as all that people would be responding to posts on /r/eve with, “Look forward to you winning the game!”  And the whole “slave name” thing was just bizarre.  Never heard that before, would scoff at it if I had.

Perhaps that is a sign that New Eden is less purgatory and more full-on Dante’s Inferno, where each of us ends up stratified in our of circle of the alleged hell that is internet spaceships.  Because clearly The Mittani and I are in different spheres.

But I could have told you that before this article.

And then there is the whole concept of masks, the adopted identities that we use in the game.  I get that, and then again I don’t.  Or, rather, I see it, have seen it, will no doubt see it again in other people, but it isn’t me.

Among my many personal issues is a sense of detachment from things, including video games.  I almost always see the game itself and its workings, they are almost always in my thoughts and calculations.  And, as I have said in the past, when I make and play a character in a video game, I am almost always playing myself.  There is no mask, there is just me.  Me playing a video game.

Or at least me in the constructs of the video game in question.  I’m pretty sure real me would get shiv’d by the first kobold he met in Norrath or Azeroth and would never climb into that pod in New Eden.  And, up to this point at least, I have never take part in a murder for hire scheme to kill ten or a dozen strangers for a few pieces of gold.

So I never don a mask because I am never “in” the game, any game, enough for my character or avatar to be anything apart from myself in any deep sense.

Is it cosplay or just me wearing a jacket?

Going back to immersion, for me it is passing into a brief state where I don’t see the mechanics, where I am not looking at the map or planning how best to fulfill this latest task, but am in the moment in the game, doing what I am doing without it being a part of a plan or a goal.

But there are masks and there are masks.

What I think of me on my side of the screen is only universally applicable if I am playing a single player game.

Out in the world of multiplayer games… or out in the world dealing with other people in general… what goes on inside your head is invisible.  It is how others see you and their own filters and biases that turn you into what they think you are.  You can wear any mask you want, or no mask at all, and somebody else will put a mask of their choosing over that all the same and claim that this is the real you.

I am brimming with examples of this, in video games, in reactions to things I write here, and of course, in real life.

I used to sit across the way from a guy who used to get really angry at email that came from HR about company policies.

Something like that would pop up in both of our email inboxes simultaneously.  I would look at it, try to figure if it had any impact on me, and generally get back to what I was doing without spending too much time on it.

On the other hand, I could hear him getting angry, spouting expletives, and generally fuming about the email.  And, of course, he would have to call over to me for the inevitable, “Can you believe this?” routine.

He would ask if I saw the email that just came in and I would acknowledge that I had, adding the “what are you going to do?” shrug to show my indifference.  But he would have to make sure I could see his point, reading from the email in question using tone and inflection to give it the worst possible spin he could.  As he framed it, this was the most unreasonable, insulting thing they had done yet… today at least.  And I could not talk him down off of that cliff.

Of course, I saw myself as in possession of the facts and had the email in question read in a neutral tone in my head.  But that was just my own spin on it, the parameters put upon the whole thing by my own perception.  While I’d like to say I was more likely to be right, or at least closer to reality, than my co-worker, I couldn’t really prove it any more than he could.

We all put masks on other people through our perceptions, biased by the filters and experiences that are genuinely our own alone.  We all like to think we’re in possession of the truth.  I know I imagine myself being reasonable by simply not getting excited or indignant about things that seem like matters of interpretation.  But even that point of view could be wrong.

And I am prone to put my own spin on things, to apply masks to others even when I know I might be yielding to my own personal bias.  Even in humor… or especially in humor… playing to that puts a mask on somebody else.

As an EVE Online illustration… also, I made this and wanted to share it

All of which doesn’t roll up to a nice tidy point and set of suggested behaviors I suppose.  I started out here with a point to make, but as I drove along down the path, I seemed as unlikely to be in a position to give guidance as anybody else.  I apply masks, or labels, or whatever metaphor you care to choose, on others as much as anyone.  That I tend towards what I think is a charitable view of others doesn’t make them any more accurate than my co-worker who would work himself into a lather about email messages from HQ.

Anyway, this many words in this late in the evening and I am committed to this post.  So I suppose the only thing to say is to be mindful of both the masks you wear, as nobody can see the inner you, as well as the masks you apply to other people, because you sure as hell can’t see the inner reality of others.