Presence in VR Game Design: Statik
Game Futures' design analyses aim to map the emerging space of VR game and experience design by focusing on aspects that VR does best, or in a unique fashion, e.g., presence. Design details of games analysed are reflected against the theories, concepts, and categories found in presence research.
Game under analysis
Statik: Institute of Retention from Tarsier Studios takes a seated experience approach to its esoteric puzzle design. In some ways, it is similar to another PSVR title TumbleVR, in that game play is about manipulating 3D objects.
Whereas TumbleVR leverages simple 3D shapes and physics for game play, Statik frames similar game mechanics - object manipulation - into an obscure, alienating laboratory setting where you as the player, most of the time, are seated with a weird device locked into your hands.
This is a clever workaround in relation to the controller and movement constraints that PSVR currently has. The 360-degree environments that encapsulate you are used to creating and maintaining the portal-esque atmosphere and provide information regarding the puzzles, which range from simple deduction to pattern matching and sequence memorisation, and combinations of each, at times with time constraints.
Statik banks on embodied and mental presence.
Mental presence comes about through the processing of the puzzles. It builds up from having to inspect the details of the devices, figuring out how they work, and scanning the surrounding environment for clues.
Embodied presence is driven through the framing of the player position; imagine a VR simulation of visiting the dentist. The place illusion the game creates is consequently strong, even if fictional in its aims. The hand-lock devices build on that, managing to create a slightly uneasy feel, that has no doubt been a deliberate design goal; getting rid of a device like that chaining your hands is an inherently human reaction and works well to motivate the player into trying to solve the puzzles.
Indeed, it is the hand device design that makes this game unique for VR; one can easily imagine the game as a traditional first-person video game, but where it either fails or succeeds as a VR title is the design towards embodiment through the hand devices. In their consistently convoluted madness, the devices contribute to the plausibility of events the player is put through. The fun is in the intricate yet absurd nature of that illusion, and being able to have agency through dealing with puzzles, albeit amid a doomed atmosphere.
VR design contexts
Essentially Statik is a variation of the escape room genre, with a particular, and commendably consistent execution of the theme and setting. It has similar qualities to Schell Games' I Except you to Die, but the flavour of the experience is quite different from the agent pastiche. Statik does not teach the player anything really, or only very subtly in the first scenario, which sets the tone right from the start.
As a well-executed and artistically ambitious entry into the VR game design corpus, Statik contributes a useful reference to designers pondering seated experiences and the interaction spaces that can be built around that premise, and how a specific theme can influence the specific configuration of interactions and information within those constraints.