On First-Person View As a Vehicle To Immersion

… and its shortcomings.

I originally didn’t even want to write about this, because it felt to me like it was lacking the substance for a post, but then I stumbled across a very embarrassing quote by a GameSpy writer on The Ancient Gaming Noob (who, it seems, quoted it in turn from Zonk), and that made me decide to alt least put my thoughts into words. Now that I got the referencing out of the way:

The basic idea is great. When I walk through the real world, I look through my eyes. I don’t look down onto myself from a magical camera hovering anywhere between a meter or 50 above and behind my shoulders (unless I’m going through an out-of-body experience, but I think we can agree that’s rare enough to be ignored here). So, naturally, the most immersive way to walk through a virtual world would be in first-person view, naturally. Right?

Wrong. (I bet you saw that coming.)

Let me quote Wikipedia:

Humans have an almost 180-degree forward-facing horizontal field of view […]. In addition, the vertical range of the field of view in humans is typically around 100 degrees.

Now, unless you’re super-rich, I don’t believe you have any screen at home that would even remotely fill out your full field of view. Chances are, yours will only occupy a relatively small part of your field of view. But even if you had such a humongous screen, you’d still be out of luck, because games generally don’t give you a full field of view anyway. I tried out a couple of them that I have installed at the moment, and they all hovered around a horizontal field of view of around 100 degrees. Maybe 120 if I’m being generous, I didn’t measure it exactly.

That, however, is kind of bad in games where awareness of your surroundings can be very important. Granted, humans don’t see exactly what is happening in their peripheral vision. But they see that something is happening, and that generally is enough to keep tabs on things that happen around them. The real-world equivalent of what games are giving you is running around with blinders. There’s a reason helms generally don’t feature those. Peripheral vision is incredibly important, and first-person view doesn’t give it to you.

I’m not sure why, actually. It doesn’t sound like a hard problem. I can just assume that there are reasons that are not historical (first-generation “3D” graphics often giving you the choice of four directions to face, and that being all you could see, leading to a  field of view of 90 degrees). Would you need a fisheye effect that would feel distracting if it was confined to a small screen? That’s the only reason I can really think of, other than “nobody has tried it yet”. I sure can’t think of any technical reasons.

I would definitely try a game that would try to provide a working immersion experience via first-person view. Of course, they would also need to make sure sounds, which are man’s best cue about what’s happening behind him, would be done the right way. But that’s a topic for another post. Maybe. If I can find some “meat” to write it. Or if GameSpy publishes something stupid on topic again.

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