Ok, so I read this fascinating article on how Games are Squandering Their Potential to Truly Immerse Us.
The basic gist of the article being that in spite of fantastic music, beautiful graphics and wonderfully crafted worlds we still have pop-up notifications and in spite of the situation being that the main protagonists need to escape quietly and quickly to avoid certain death the game has the player collecting things to level up.
You can read the article to get a better sense of the argument and it's well written. It really got me thinking.
Because on one hand they're right. The pop-up notifications and hints are constantly hampering the experience. I can't tell you how many times recently I did things simply to get the pop-up to go away whether it's entering the start menu to customize a new combo I had unlocked, crafting new gear to spending my XP on a new upgrade I was entitled to. These things should be much more subtle unless the notifications are sort of incorporated into the art style of the game (Remember Me and X-Men Destiny come to mind as attempting to do this with limited success).
Regarding the collectibles/upgrades/rpg-light elements, I am perfectly happy with the state of gaming currently. I'm playing a video game and am not watching a movie. I remember when I played my first FPS game, Star Wars: Dark Forces, it was an incredibly immersive experience. I remember the garbage monsters would pop up and I would about jump out of my skin attempting to shoot them (I was only 10 at the time). I also remember the secret areas that you could find which garnered you a stash of ammo or shields or that sort of thing but were hardly necessary for survival or for completing the game.
Now a days we have games that do similar things with various levels of success. Uncharted made the collectibles a fun-trinket sort of fun rump that never affected your success in the game where as the Last of Us made collecting things of-so-necessary to your survival. But both those games were at the top of their game in how they handled those things and of course the fine folks at Naughty Dog made games that were EXTREMELY IMMERSIVE and those games remain some of my favorite games of all time.
I recently just finished Remember Me and Bioshock Infinite. I enjoyed Bioshock far more then Remember Me and yet both these games made their collectibles key to understanding the world/story and/or upgrading your character. Both games could have been much harder if I wasn't sniffing around every corner looking for that next focus boost or upgrade potent. Now some games do get a bit bogged down in all this collecting and Assassins Creed series is rightly called out for this. From managing your assassin recruits, doing homestead chores to some-mini-tower-defense game you spend way to much time in menus and away from actual assassin stuff (not to mention the whole pointless-animus-story-line) and just breaks immersion.
Even a well crafted menu can help make this feel more like an experience to be enjoyed rather than to be drudged through. The menus in Far Cry 2, Remember Me, X-Men Destiny were all examples of well designed menus. The menus in Uncharted and the Last of Us were unmemorable but got the job done. Menus in Far Cry 3 and the Assassins Creed series were downright ugly and you spent too much time trying to navigate t their often uninspired (far cry 3) and confusing (assassins creed) layout.
Let's not forget that are tons of games (such as Donkey Kong or Sly Cooper) that never really attempt to immerse you in a world without you remembering you're playing a video game. Not every game needs life-like graphics and not every game needs to feel like a movie (though alternatively not every "real" game needs to be a 2D platformer--I'm look'n at you indies).
I do give the writer of this article props because the new Tomb Raider (2013) was a fantastic game that was hampered by one-to-many-hey-look-you're-in-a-game notifications while you were trying to enjoy the experience. Assassins Creed has over-all too much busy-work and too many collectibles. But I do have to point out I enjoy collecting things. I played the Last of Us several times. I enjoyed platinuming Far Cry 3. I've spent way more time with Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag post story-line collecting things then with some entire games. This is because games are meant to be enjoyed and if that means you want to spend hours leveling up your blacksmithing skill in Skyrim until you're wearing Dragon Bone armor (like I did) then by all means do that or if you want to ignore every treasure that Nathan Drake comes across by all means do that. I do enjoy games that give you rewards for exploring and picking stuff up and yet I don't appreciate games plastering every notification in my face making it difficult to see what I'm trying to do.