Video games typically have a lot of information to convey to the player: stats, health, ammunition, maps, inventory, or even tutorials and actions needed to progress forward. This is done through a user interface (UI), which can take many forms and be of varying complexity.
Having an on-screen UI can however be perceived to detract from the game action, particularly for fast-paced and adrenaline-driven genres such as horror games or first person shooters. These games could indeed benefit from what Bolter and Grusin call transparent immediacy, a state wherein “the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium” (2000, p24). How can this be achieved?
An initial option is forced omission: some games allow the player to remove some on-screen UI, such as health, map, or quest markers. This can be a solution for the player to chose their level of immersion by minimising UI, but remains a black and white choice. Other games however take this principle further.
Instead of an abstract health bar, Resident Evil 7 uses a much more visceral effect: blood stains on the edges of the screen (figure 1). This allows the game to bypass a traditional UI and the player to get an almost realistic feel of how critical their wounds are – the bloodier the screen, the closer to death they are and the more healing becomes an emergency. This effect has also been used in several her first person shooter games over time, and shows an interesting way to present the player’s vital statistics without using traditional UI. It is worth noting, however, that this type of immersive UI has limitations, an in this game is not used to present other data such as ammunition or inventory, for which a more classic UI menu is used.
One franchise, however, decided to take this immersive UI even further. How can a game feed the player numerous statistics and textual information in line with immediacy? For the Fallout franchise, “Pip Boy” was the answer (figure 2). Pip Boy is a computing device found in game that sits around the in-game character’s wrist, and can be accessed by the player at the touch of a button. The player can then flick through this small computer to see the inventory, the map, and quests information. While vitals such as health and experience points still appear on-screen outside of the Pip-Boy menu, this devices enhances the feeling of immediacy with this immersion-friendly device.
While these creative solutions work well for the aforementioned games, Salen and Zimmerman observe that this focus on immediacy may not be the right discussion for all game genres and experiences, citing character-driven games where a more present UI can actually be important for immersion (2004, p453).
Food for thought for game designers and UI designers alike!
Bolter, J.D., Grusin, R (2000). Remediation: Understanding New Media. 1st ed. MIT Press.
‘Pip Boy’ (no date) [image]. Available at: http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Pip-Boy (Accessed: 10 February 2017)
‘Resident Evil 7’ (2017) [image]. Available at: http://www.gamespot.com/gallery/resident-evil-7-boss-guide/2900-1084/ (Accessed: 10 February 2017)
Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. (2004) Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: The MIT Press.