Immersion and Video Games: A Speaker Series

(organizer Damien Schlarb)

Digital Speaker Series at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany

Immersion is a signature characteristic of video games. Even casual observers may appreciate the ability of games to provide compelling experiences that draw in both players and bystanders. Consider passengers on a train who play on their phones during their morning commute; college students holding Mario Kart tournaments in their dorm rooms; professionals unwinding after-hours in front of their laptop, TV, or gaming PC; or children playing learning games on their parents’ tablet computers. To be immersed means inhabiting fully a space where the rules of behavior and modes of being are completely apparent and where actions become immediately meaningful. Compared to navigating the social world, being immersed in mediated environments—digital or otherwise—affords an intensified, optimal experience. Yet immersion also constitutes an ambivalent state of being, simultaneously connoting the intensification and narrowing of cognitive abilities. Immersive experiences promise authenticity but may also cause addiction.

People in information economies seek out overtly designed spaces like video games, theme parks, malls, and cruise ships but also supposedly natural, recreational (yet still framed and mediated) environs like national parks and metropolitan green belts. Workers in postindustrial societies float daily through several interlinked mediated spaces, while the ideologies transported by such seamless states of being can have outsized consequences for those who reside in economically developing areas of the world. In this sense, immersion also connotes questions of liberation and justice. At the same time, immersion implies an awareness of mediation, a notion of the difference between reality and dreamworld, and an inkling of the constant crisscrossing of the various thresholds between the two. The concept of immersion in the context of video games points to larger questions underpinning contemporary discussions about social cohesion, community, work, and education. There are the well-known mores about the detrimental effects games may have on developing psychologies of children and adolescence. But we also see utopian visions of games as panacea to societal problems. Can new thinking be inspired by compelling, immersive games? Can the experience of one’s own agency in games be meaningful beyond the game, perhaps even psychologically reparative? Can immersive gaming help us achieve optimal (job) performance? And if so, does such self-optimizing, utilitarian thinking lead to desirable outcomes?

This speaker series explores these dynamics by bringing together an array of exciting scholars and thinkers who develop fresh approaches to immersion and video games from various disciplinary angles.

For additional information, please see the schedule and visit

Speaker Series Schedule