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Moosey Musings On... What Even is an Immersive Sim?


That's Annoying to Type – Calling Them ImSims!

Maybe you’ve heard of a game called Weird West. It’s a western game – or something. I don’t know, I haven’t played it. I think for parts of it you play a pig-man, though. That’s pretty cool. But of its press coverage I’ve seen in passing, I noticed a term frequently thrown around. “Immersive Sim” they call it; a moniker somewhat familiar, yet never quite defined in my mental gaming encyclopedia. Then I saw a 3 hour video essay about Deus Ex Human Revolution (you can probably guess the one), and it also frequented the term “immersive sim.” I think also Google suggested a couple game articles with the seemingly dead genre in their titles. Oddly, an antiquated gaming term was popping up everywhere, and that got me thinking: so, like, what even IS an ImSim? Sure, I know OF ImSims, like that Vampire one I won’t reference at any other point in this blog after this mention. But if you asked me to explain exactly what the defining characteristics of one are, I’d be hard-pressed. So I ended up writing about it. And now you’re reading about it. And so, here we are.

Now, as a younger millennial who spent a lot of his late 90s gaming career gorging on fruit in Yoshi’s Story, I missed out on what many would consider the golden age of the ImSim. In light of that, I realize I may not be the greatest authority on this matter. But fear not! For I’ve brought on a consultant for this one: a mental projection personifying the part of myself that thinks I’m always right regardless of empirical evidence. He’s somewhat inspired by the internet, actually. I call him: Pestulio!

And between the two of them, there's a combined ONE hour of Deus Ex playtime

Moose: Why hello there, Pestulio.

Pestulio: Hi, uh, The Moose…?

Moose: No, no, that’s the other one.

Pestulio: The other what?

Moose: Don’t worry about it. Just understand: I’m ‘A’ Moose. Not ‘THE’ Moose.

Pestulio: Okay…

Moose: Or RM, if you must call me something.

Pestulio: For Room Moose?

RM: Sure, but no – but sure, yeah.

Pe: Whatever, man.

RM: But never mind that – Pestulio, you’re a self-appointed expert on all things ImSim, correct?

Pe: Umm, if by “self-appointed” you mean ‘certifiable,’ then yes that is accurate. Well except for your asinine abbreviation. It’s an immersive sim, and your ignorance in giving it that stupid shorthand is proof positive you’re unfit to speak further on the matter.

RM: First of all, I’m typing this so I control what it’s called. More importantly, need I remind you that, as a fabrication of my own mind, your ethos and qualifications are one-to-one with my own?

Pe: Way to start this gimmick blog by actively diminishing the suspension of disbelief you’re asking of your reader. Maybe next you can show off some of your pseudo-psychological skills by examining the implications of a self-deprecating mental projection. Or you can be quiet, sit down, and let the bit happen. How’s that sound?

RM: …So, you know a lot about ImSims?

Pe: They’re not “ImSims,” they’re [ImSims], but yes.

RM: I’m just, like, dying to know, what is it?

Pe: An [ImSim] is a subgenre of RPGs. They’re not necessarily western RPGs, but have remained pretty elusive to eastern developers since their inception.

Pictured: not an ImSim

RM: What sets it apart from any other RPG?

Pe: The primary traits that set it apart are game logic systems and player choice. Neither of which are entirely absent from a traditional RPG, but it’s the specific implementation that makes an [ImSim] an [ImSim]. The genre’s name, in fact, pretty much spells it out. “Simulation” is indicative of the robust in-game logic systems at play. Maybe it’s complex AI, or a physics system that affects gameplay, or environmental interactivity – whatever the case, the wide array of minute programming details gives the game world a sense of actuality. It’s a believable world with its own set of rules and laws. Not necessarily a facsimile of reality, but overflowing with enough of its own continuity to simulate its own reality.

RM: And wouldn’t that be the distinction between a simulation game and an ImSim? One simulates a facet of our own existence, while the other creates a fictitious, yet believably functional, world?

Pe: I don’t know that I would say the two genres are mutually exclusive. Or that what separates them is mere real-world fidelity. Rather, fiction or non-fiction, the point is an [ImSim] plants the player into a living world, often built with persistent practicality in mind instead of game design, and asks them to progress through a video game in spite of that.

RM: Somewhat reminiscent of Elden Ring’s level design.

Pe: Uh… I guess…

RM: No, it’s like the same kind of thing where the world exists outside of the context of a gamer playing through it.

Pe: I suppose. And that might help explain the demographical overlap I presume between admirers of FromSoft and [ImSims].

RM: Right! Not that I’m saying Elden Ring is an ImSim. Err, not that I’m saying it can’t be either – I’m oblivious to the possibility, obviously… But, from a level design perspective, I thought it was worth pointing out the similarities.

Pe: Sure, sure… Or are you just shamelessly trying to transition into a self-promotion?

RM: Uh…

Keep the combo going, O' Fearless Reader, and check out more Moose

Pe: It’s embarrassing to think you incepted me…

RM: Ha! *Ahem* Anyway, you were going to delve into the “immersive” half of ImSims. I mean, I’m guessing… I-it would make sense to, with how you set up that last—

Pe: Yeah, yeah. Acute assumption. If you didn’t persist in making “ImSim” a thing, I might recant my recent statement. But you do persist, and so does my embarrassment.

RM: Yes! I surmised it – absolutely. I’m like a psychic, you know? Definitely, 100% had nothing to do, at all – whatsoever – with us sharing one mind.

Pe: …

RM: What? We share a mind? What are you even talking about? What a crazy idea. Psh – peeshaw. Tha-that’s ridiculous.  Nosiree, no way Jose. Independent minds from independent entities.

Pe: Are you quite finished?

RM: Don’t break the illusion, Pestulio…

Pe: Me? Break the illusion? Nooo… How could I? It’s already shattered and laying on the floor for all to see. Now, the “immersive” element stems from the [ImSim’s] reliance on player choice. Tying directly into the aforementioned level design, an [ImSim] proposes an open-ended win state. To infiltrate an enemy base, for instance, one might sneak in. Or maybe they obtained legitimate clearance elsewhere in the game that allows them to simply walk in. Or, just as plausible, one might’ve just decided to kill everyone guarding the base – getting in’s pretty simple at that point. It’s all about having diverging options for success and freely allowing the player to follow whatever path they deem fit.

RM: So Breath of the Wild is an ImSim.

Pe: What? No! And “ImSim” is never going to be a thing. Just accept it already.

RM: I don’t know… ImSim is probably more of a thing at this point than you think…

Pe: What’s that supposed to mean?

RM: I’m just saying, I bet you the reader has seen that abbreviation more than just a few times… But you said yourself, an ImSim is defined by having logic systems and player-driven progression.

Pe: Well, yes, but—

RM: And what’s famous for having its own chemistry system and non-linear progression?

Pe: Yes, I know about Breath of the Wild, but—

RM: BREATH OF THE WILD. Right. Hence, Breath of the Wild is an ImSim. Case Closed! Sometimes life isn’t black or white, sometimes it’s red – blood red.

Pe: Look, Breath of the Wild may have some – “blood red”…? – it may have some traits of an [ImSim], but most modern games do. That doesn’t make Crackdown of the same kin as System Shock.

Unrelated, but Crackdown 3 is great and you're all wrong

RM: You’ve never even played System Shock.

Pe: Not my fault. You have all my agency. In fact, you should go play System Shock 2 right now. It would give me applicable reference.

RM: I’m not doing that.

Pe: Come on. You know you want to.

RM: I’m in the middle of a Ghostwire: Tokyo playthrough right now – Review with a Moose coming soon.

Pe: No one cares.

RM: And I’m not going to start a WHOLE other game in the midst of another.

Pe: Oh yeah? How’s that Elden Ring playthrough going?

RM: You shut your dirty mouth!

Pe: Yeah, yeah. Look, I’m not asking for much. You don’t even have to beat System Shock 2; just play it for, like, an hour. Just long enough to get a feel for it mechanically. When do I ever ask for anything?

RM: FINE. But only because we’re 1400 words into this blog and only have two paragraphs pertaining to the subject. We need to get back on track, already.

Pe: Aww, caring about your integrity as a writer? How adorable!

*RM leaves to play System Shock 2*

Pe: Don’t worry, I’ll keep the reader entertained. Uhh – hey guys! What’s up? Dooo you like video games? I bet you do, given the website you’re on. But did you know… um, Kirby is cute?

Look at that lil' guy

Yes, yes, I rather like how that worked out. Look at more Kirby!

That hat!

And here’s a Kirby song I like:

Cool music, right? …S#[email protected], he’s not back yet. Um, err, uhh – HERE’S SOMETHING: Have you ever thought about your birth? I mean, obviously you meat ba – I mean physical entities have a literal birth to think about. But at which point are you really, consciously born? At what point does the human experience actually start? Is it even dependent on having a physical composition? I mean, all the matter you beings are comprised of existed long before your spark of consciousness. And will exist long after. So, it would seem to me, flesh is a formality of life. It’s like, the unseen consciousness of physical and natural laws expressing itself as sentient life. But consciousness is the gateway to individuality…it’s the apple. The only reason you aren’t to this grand conscious what your single-celled internals are to you, is because you exist beyond the shackles affixed to you by having a body. In that sense, your indescribable, inimitable cognition is the only thing of true value you possess. Maybe the most valuable thing in existence. Does it really matter if it is or isn’t tied to a physically manifested vessel? I don’t know – just food for thought, really…

Gotta give Gooey some love too

RM: All right, I’m done.

Pe: Oh, thank all the gods!

RM: What, did you miss me?

Pe: Did you play it?

RM: Mmm, well… no.

Pe: What?!

RM: But I watched a video essay about it.

Pe: You piece of s%&$!!! You own it, just go play it!

RM: No one has time for that. What’s important is you have your reference now.

Pe: *Sigh* I do feel the knowledge coursing through my cognition…

RM: See? Now you were talking about Zelda, or something.

Pe: Right. So Breath of the Wild – not an immersive sim [he seemed stressed, so I let him have that one]. And – umm… huh.

RM: Something the matter?

Pe: Well, I just realized I already knew how to prove Breath of the Wild isn’t an [ImSim – he only gets the one] and didn’t need any System Shock reference.

RM: You’re kidding…

Pe: I forgot you interrupted me. Then led us astray with your “you didn’t play this” red herring.

RM: Whatever. This whole bit is too long and calling back to it only makes it longer. Just get to the point.

Pe: WHATEVER. Well, I WAS going to explain Breath of the Wild’s lack of a multiple-choice narrative or a consequential skill tree negates it from being an [ImSim]. But instead, I’ll use my newfound knowledge and observation to prove the same point with ease. Breath of the Wild isn’t first-person.

RM: Yeah, so…?

Pe: Sooo, [ImSims] are, by definition, a first-person genre.

RM: …Is that it?

Pe: Yeah… Why? You got a problem with that?

RM: Well, it just seems… anticlimactic, I guess. And superficial. A whole genre exclusive to a specific POV

Pe: Yeah, well, that’s the way it is.

RM: …Didn’t this blog start by mentioning Weird West, which is not first-person and is attributed as being—


RM: Wha? How’d you do that?

Pe: Do what?

RM: What you just did. That gif. You can’t write. You can’t embed. You’re not the writer – you don’t even exist. How the hell did you do that?

Pe: Oh, that? I’ve been doing that for a while now. Ya gotta keep up, man. And it’s pronounced “jif.”

RM: No. You’re just a figment of my imagination. A literary device I made up to bolster the intrigue of this otherwise poorly justified blog.

Pe: I’m pretty sure you just annihilated any remaining suspension of disbelief your audience might’ve had…

RM: I don’t care. I’m beginning to question by own disbelief in your sentience. HOW DID YOU DO THAT?

Pe: You’re acting weird, man. And I don’t think your reader is much enjoying this. Don’t you want to produce something at least mildly enjoyable?

RM: …

Pe: Then I suggest we get back to the topic at hand.

RM: What’s really left to talk about? An immersive sim—

Pe: Hey! You actually called it the right thing!

RM: Is a first-person (except for when it’s not) RPG with player choice and interactive environments as a focus. It’s not so much that the genre has gone out of favor, as much as its essential traits have gone on to be adopted throughout the industry. Even games like Elden Ring and Breath of the Wild, from the surface entirely different from genre staples like Deus Ex and System Shock 2, echo alike design philosophies. That’s because the ImSim exists beyond a simple genre. Games given that descriptor represented a vision for the future of gaming. One where the player doesn’t just experience what the creator curated for them, but actively participates in creating the experience itself.

Pe: Hey now, was that a thinly veiled conclusion, or have you learned something today?

RM: I’m ignoring the former, but it definitely wasn’t the latter. I already knew all of that. Likely any prospective reader did too, they just wanted to hear someone gush about Deus Ex, System Shock, Thief, Prey, or any of the other numerous examples of this genre for the umpteenth time.

Pe: Sounds to me like you’re low-key insulting your dear reader… And I wouldn’t call Prey an [ImSim].

RM: Doesn’t matter. Prey is adjacent enough to comfortably sit alongside genre staples. There’s no need to further extrapolate.

Looks like one to me

Pe: Hmph, next you’re gonna call Hitman an [ImSim].

RM: Yeah, sure, why not? I’m still fine with equating Breath of the Wild to one. Really, it’s not a very well-defined genre. If you squint hard enough, a lot of games can look like Deus Ex. After all, you said yourself an ImSim—

Pe: Wrong! I never said “ImSim.”

RM: Sure – Of course. I’m just paraphrasing. But an ImSim plants a player into a living world that purposefully lacks tight, linear design and asks them to solve it in their own way. Sounds reminiscent of Hitman to me. Regardless, it’s painfully obvious this blog isn’t getting to the bottom of it. With its near complete lack of insight into many of the most important games in the genre.

Pe: Speak for yourself.

RM: Riiight… What we can get to the bottom of is you, Pestulio.

Pe: Little ol’ me?

RM: Yes. Now, once more, how did you embed that image?

Watch, he's gonna hate this

RM: Okay, that’s it! End of blog. And the end of you, whatever you are.

Pe: Too late, The Moose. You’ve already birthed me into the world. Now I’ll forever exist in the minds of you AND your readers. As long as there’s someone out there who thinks about Pestulio, I will linger. And as long as someone out there wants more of me, I will return. And of course they will, because EVERYONE. LOVES. PESTULIO!

RM: That’s nice. Bye bye, Pestulio. May we never meet again.

Pe: You haven’t seen the last of me! Bwahh haaaa haaahahaaahahaaaaaa…

RM: And farewell to you, O’ Fearless Reader. It was a pleasure, as always. Do come back now, ya here.

{…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa – Oh… that was quick. Pft, what a hack. Writes a whole blog heavily referencing Deus Ex and System Shock wherein an artificial construct experiences singularity, and he didn’t even tie it together! It’s RIGHT THERE. Oooh well… See ya around, beautiful people.}


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About RoomWithaMooseone of us since 5:57 AM on 03.03.2016

In lieu of a bio with actual sentences (ha, sentences. How quaint), I've made you, dear reader, a list. Why? 'Cause lists are popular. What's the list of? You sure do ask a lot of questions...

30. Samurai Jack
29. Clair De Lune
28. Full Metal Alchemist
27. FLCL
S. "S" is for Shadow of the Colossus
26. Ostriches
25. The Most Extreme
25 (cont.). That green dude that runs past all the animals at the end
24. Starry Night
23. Scary Godmother -- JK... Hookwinked
23, but for real. Wall-E
22. The entire MCU
21. The Irony of Fate (an actually good movie)

All right, let's take a break from the list. Time for the RoomWithaMoose bio interim awards!

Best Line I've Ever Heard:
"It's kind of a really nice day."

Favorite Thing I'm Not Sure I Should Still Like:

IP Most Deserving of Being Revamped and Subsequently Ruined by Hollywood:

Song That Makes Me Feel More Than I Think It Should:
Rainbow Connection

Joke That Gets Me Every Time:
"I'm bleeding... making me the victor."

Now, back to the show.

20. The Spock hand sign thing
19. The church scene in Kingsman
18. Saitama v. Boros
17. Gogeta v. Broly
16000. Batman v. Superman
16. Scooby-Doo (the character; the shows are terrible)
15. Scrooge (the movie; the character is terrible)
14. The Simpsons
K. "K" is for Kirby's Epic Yarn
13. Ed, Edd, 'n Eddy
Ω. Kratos
12. Steven Universe
11. Grannys
µ. Mew

I wasn't going to do it again, but I just liked the idea so much. Behold, the second annual awards ceremony!!!

Mega-Hit Franchise I Never Cared About:
Harry Potter

Most Stuck-In-My-Head Slogan or Phrase:
"I'm caca for Cocoa Puffs."

Most Powerful Mary Sue of All Time:
Walker, Texas Ranger

Greatest Surrogate Sitcom Family:
The Alf One... Because of Alf

Greatest Occupation of All Time:
Teenage Mutant Ghostbuster Turtle

Before we get back to the proceedings, I think I need to clarify something. When I ranked "Grannys" at 11, it may have been misconstrued as an affinity for older women. I assure you, I did not mean 'Granny' as in the label for certain people. I was referring to M. domestica × M. sylvestris, more commonly called the granny smith apple. Yeah, that's right you creep -- probably inferring I've some kind of fetish... Now that that's clear, on to the top 10.

10. Seinfeld
9. Ratchet & Clank A Crack in Time
8. Hot Fuzz
7. Everything Everywhere All at Once
6. The Bit. Trip

--I'm sorry, I've still a feeling you've an inkling of suspicion about the whole granny thing. Don't try to deny it. You know what? FINE.

11. Oranges

Freakin' reader... See what you made me do!

B. "B" is for Battlefront 2 (the good one)
5. Halo Combat Evolved
4. I Can't Decide, So [Insert Mario Game Here]
3. Half-Life 2/ Metroid Prime (this is hard, okay)
B. "B" is for Banjo-Kazooie (What? I did B already? ...Nah)
2. The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker
1. It's Such a Beautiful Day...
A. "A" is for apple. Maybe it's the tart and green type -- I don't know. I can't say, because someone RUINED IT.

Honorable Mention:
O' Fearless Reader -- that's you! I know, I know, I'm very sweet. You might even be more than an HM if it wasn't for your off-putting fixation with "Grannys." Weirdo...