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The Virtual and the Real, a reflection on immersion at the DevGamm gaming conference

I recently spent a week in Moscow previewing some exciting indie games coming out of the CIS region (aka, The Commonwealth of Independent States, formed when the former Soviet Union remixed itself in the early 90s). I was struck right away by the concept of immersion, and all its layers.

I was "immersed" in a Russian-language conference, watching all of the progress being made in the region, with games designed and developed there, but targeting a global audience. It's impossible to understand the dynamism and economic power of the CIS-games industry until you've sat there in person.

I was also able to see the wildly different branches that gaming has taken over the last ten years, and thought a bit about the role that "immersion" plays in the game industry's economic expansion. In many ways, the rise of casual and mobile games has seen our industry grow against immersion. I'm often playing a card game on my phone, while my 84" screen sits neglected just a few feet away from me. The fact is, firing up the projector, and taking over the living room is a commitment I'm rarely prepared to make, but playing "just one more round" of Hearthstone feels like no big deal.

Interesting, then, that one of my most enjoyable experiences in Moscow had me strapping on a backpack, VR goggles, and a realistically weighted replica rifle. From what I could see at the conference, arcades are set to make a come-back, powered in part by affordable Virtual Reality hardware, and a goldrush in VR games content. I talked to several companies who see VR as an opportunity for souped-up amusement parks and mall arcades. I think VR will face adoption challenges in the home, but these VR destinations may give folks a taste for the experience, and might actually accelerate the industry. It's hard to imagine what VR will feel like for you until you're doing it yourself.

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Once I got home from Devgamm, I had flashbacks of walking along the Moscow river, talking on stage to a large group of developers and publishers, eating delicious blinis and affordable caviar, and fighting off a swarm of giant spiders in a space station. Some of those memories really happened. But I remember them all equally.

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