What things do stories do that break reader immersion

As the title says I’ve been wondering what mistakes a game can make that break reader immersion.
I already know about
Too many words and not enough choices
Too many grammatical or spelling errors
Bugs
Word walls of text
Having to look at stat screen too often
Character does something unexpected
Plot goes in a way that’s rediculous

What else can a story do that is immersion breaking. Asking so I can expand my list of things to avoid unless that’s the intended effect.

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I’ll hone down on this one.

Specifically, the first and second page of the book is the make-or-break for me. If the first and second pages do not present the theme/conflict that was promised to me in the premise, I’m closing the book then and there. It’s a habit of mine because my eyes can get tired easily.

Sometimes the author can pull the strings despite having such a plot. I’m fond of cookie-cutter romance novels; it’s the characters that keeps me reading. Same goes with interactive fiction: so long as you have a compelling and lovable cast, you can put them anywhere as uninteresting as a repetitive office job or elsewhere.

For me, it’s more like having too many unnecessary stats that you can already tell that most are just for flavor. Here is a nice thread about stats by @Sargent with an in-depth analysis by @Brian_Rushton . I highly recommend those

  • Info dump! This one is self explanatory.

Apart from these, I don’t have much to add. Your list is basically the core of what breaks reader immersion , at least for me :slight_smile:

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  • Too many choices in a row with too little text (happens most frequently in character creation I think)
  • Too many asides from the narrator
  • Game tells me how MC feels especially wrt flirty/attraction stuff. The game can tell me that MC notices something without telling me that MC is hot and bothered about it
  • Weird flirt choices that don’t go with the setting. Like it’s weird if the MC is some toughie (mercenary, etc) with a prickly personality in a gritty game but the only flirty options are “hey handsome how’d you like to bang” or “uwu blush soft bean”
  • Dialogue in general is stilted (doesn’t use contractions, uses weird syntax–an example from WHC that gets me every time is when the game refers to the MC’s clothes as “my outfit of X” – it’s just a weird way to say it imo–uses colloquialisms/expressions incorrectly, diction doesn’t match setting/character)
  • Railroading. Don’t get me wrong, somethings have to be linear, and I really get it as a writer myself, but when there are multiple options to tackle a scenario and all of them end in the same outcome, it take me out of the game, mostly because it has prompted me to go back and try multiple things w/o success
  • Related to walls of text: too much description in particular. Get into the action and dialogue!
  • Too much lore dump. Sprinkle it in, like spice, over time (or put it in an encyclopedia somewhere else for reference)
  • MC develops intimacy with other characters too quickly
  • You have to manage too many competing interests. Like I get it, you can’t be the best at everything. But I would prefer a game where I have to choose between plot points (which path did I take?) rather than skills/resources (which stat did I level?). I would rather get a bad outcome because I was a jerk to some character several chapters ago than because I picked the wrong skill(s). So similar to looking at the stats screen too often. I find that this is more a COG problem than an HG problem
  • Skills/etc are too closely related to personality! It really takes me out if in order to be cunning (say, rather than athletic) I have to be devious too

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head!

ETA: related to skills/personality! I hate games that equate charisma to beauty. I’m not sure if it’s an immersion break or just an annoyance, but like. Are you telling me that being ugly is a requirement of being intelligent rather than charismatic?? And why can’t I play a beautiful MC who’s super bad at social cues??? Charisma is an action/behavior not a physical attribute!

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I think a lot of responses are going to be more personal, since reader immersion and suspension of disbelief can vary between different people.

For me, some other things that break my immersion are:

  • Narrators who break the fourth wall or comment on player decisions, usually cheekily. It’s not a bad thing if you’re expecting it, and it rarely happens without it being an advertised aspect of the game, but sometimes it’s a surprise, and an immersion-breaking one when it is.
  • Inconsistent points-of-view. Sometimes first-person narrators somehow know what other characters are thinking a bit too specifically. Sometimes limited third-person points of view (focusing only on one main character) suddenly switch to another person’s perspective for a sentence or two. (This is like spending the entire series focused only on Harry Potter’s thoughts and perspective, only to suddenly hear Dumbledore’s or Ron’s for a moment before switching back.)
  • This is pedantic, but certain anachronisms or modern slang break me out of being immersed in certain genres. Having a sci-fi character living 2000 years in the future, in space, and calling someone attractive “hot” sends me on this whole offroad track where I start to wonder about the evolution of language and slang. There’s a Brandon Sanderson (high fantasy with magic and knights and kings) novel where a character asks another “how he poops” that really threw me. (I am, of course, being a massive hypocrite because my fantasy game has guns and cigarettes and modern cussing, but I digress.) I guess it just depends on consistency and established rules?
  • This is probably only just a “me” thing, but unclear timelines, ages, and jumping around in time can really break my immersion in that I obsess over it. If a main character’s age is never stated, I spend a lot of time trying to figure it out because I want that context. Or when certain segments of the story speed up and skip over several months to even years, then slow down to cover a few important weeks, I’ve got to make a diagram to figure out where everyone is in time (if the book doesn’t do it for me). When I found out that the entirety of the Lord of the Rings main plot only took place over like nine months, I wanted to die. The Walking Dead drives me nuts, too. How long has it been since the apocalypse hit?? A character was born in an early season and is now like 7-9 years old but the canonical time skip between Season X and Y was only 6 months so that means… etc. etc.
  • For IF, the game asking me to know how I feel about a character (typically a romance option) pretty much as soon as I meet them, or immediately after meeting the entire cast. Like: Character A comes in. He’s tall and blond with a charming smile. When you look at him, you feel… -Attracted. -Yuck! -Indifferent. Now Character B comes in. She’s short with black hair and a scowl. When she meets your eye, you feel…
    Me: Bruh I don’t know, I’ve only been in the room for five minutes
  • Not having a clear picture of the layout of a room/scene when it’s relevant. Not to say that you need to describe each and every room in detail or even at all, but sometimes two characters will be talking in “a bedroom” and then suddenly Character A “stands up and moves to the computer desk, flipping on her laptop. Character B slouches against the window bench and watches her as he puts his feet up on the old beanbag, reaching to pull a magazine off the bookshelf.” IE it’s only a problem when I’m suddenly struggling to picture where things are, not when rooms aren’t described in general.

I think that’s it for me! :slight_smile:

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Wholeheartedly agree about the grating nature of sci-fi stories that use modern slang that clearly would have expired long ago. I’ll add to that the constant need for sci-fi stuff to be obsessed with our modern time. Heinlein was bad about this, it was part of what kept me from getting quite as much into Futurama as a lot of people did, and it in general it just feels like it is so limiting. You’re hundreds or thousands of years in the future! Be nostalgic for times that haven’t actually happened yet!

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So, some thing that always break immersion for me have already been said, so I’ll just quote:

I’ll add to that that stat-based games, as I call them, are the bane of my existence and take out all of the pleasure a game could bring, most of the time. What’s the point of a narrative based game that is all about choices, if your actual choices are limited by min-maxing stats, or you’ll get a bad ending. I can’t understand that.

Now, ones that have not been mentionned:

  • Not being able to have “shy flirt” options. I. HATE. THAT. Some very rare games can pull it off, but it can often be a deal breaker, because no matter how brave, how strong, how confident a MC can be, I still want them to be able to be shy, reserved and lacking confidence in romance. Of course, I don’t mean flirt options should only be shy, so yeah, I guess this point can be summed up to - “Not having variety in flirt types”.
  • Not being able to have a shy / reserved yet charismatic MC. So, my favorite kind of MC is someone who is shy and reserved and will combust if he’s in love, BUT who can get absolutely anything from anyone by sheer charm, as long as it’s not about real feelings. Basically, to have a shy and reserved MC but who is only so when it comes to their true feelings, while being a social butterfly because that’s a role, a play.
    As an example, I had a MC shy flirt with a RO in a WIP, and so, he was basically combusting when the RO was LOOKING at him. And then, since MC had high charisma, when telling his name to the RO and since a flirt option was selected before, he “coyly winked” at the guy… WHY? That kind of things. Obviously I had reported that, but I’ve seen things like that more than once - that was just the most obvious example.
  • Or really, not enough shy/reserved options at all! :rofl:
    I wish it was a base personality type in games, but while it’s better now than it was before, sometimes I still wish for more shy options. But the worse is when the game supposedly lets you play a shy MC, by having a shy/bold (or equivalent) bar, and then not offering shy options during choices, or not taking into account the MC may be shy in narration.
  • A tentative one, but I tend to dislike when the story starts too fast - as in, the action starts on the first couple of pages - because I’m not attached to the characters yet, so I don’t care enough about what happens to them. But there are exceptions to that - it depends a lot of the concept of the story and the author’s style.
  • Being “locked” onto a romance “route” if I don’t know enough about the ROs. I only see ONE exception to that, and it’s a very peculiar thing, but aside from that specific case, I really don’t like it when the game expects me to select a RO when I know nothing about them. I don’t mind the game asking about an opinion on the RO, though, unless it implies an in-depth opinion - but usually it will be about first impressions so that’s fine.
  • One thing that always breaks immersion a bit for me is when pan / bi ROs (or “playersexual” ones) don’t take into account MC’s gender during interactions. I like to have it accounted for in one way or another, even if the romance mostly plays out the same. I DO prefer games with more consequential impact, but that can be a lot for authors, and besides, it’s also a matter of inclusiveness and stuff like that, and it depends on the taste of each author on how to portray these things.

I think that would be it for me!

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Being asked ‘how do you feel about that’ or something equivalent,
and there’s two characters arguing with each other, and then ask me who would I support,

I don’t know how to put this…I’m not saying I don’t care about ‘feelings’, I was just enjoying the ride pretty much of the times, hiding behind my MC doing choices here and there to guide them, I’m just a player with a control in hand, I can’t help but feel I was being pulled out and forced onto the stage instead, or it’s like I was watching a movie in the cinema, the screen freezed now and then inbetween scenes and someone jump out ask me how do the scene make me feel, when being asked so bluntly. I prefer games let the player choose the MC’s feelings following the current of the narrative instead of just blunt out the question “how do you feel” without even make efforts to subtly disguise them.

And about have to support one of the characters or factories or countries or whatever opposing each other, it’s really against my natural of prefer staying in the middle ground.

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This was my main gripe with the otherwise terrific This Is How You Lose the Time War. Out of a majillion time-streams, a few too many of the in-jokes and references were to our modernity. A few jokey references to e.g. JORD and the Sapgulak Fince would have kept me better immersed.

Still a fine novella though.

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Never like getting too specific in my criticisms, but a popular Choice title did this with a character who I assumed (incorrectly) was a romance option where the reader was turned down with a somewhat harsh 'what, do you think you are the protagonist of this story?" comment that was seemingly out of nowhere, as the game had not really featured much fourth wall-breaking up to that point.

I was already feeling like the game was going to end in failure, as every victory so far had been pyrrhic, but this just made it feel like the author knew how to drive home that I, as the reader, was not going to get what I wanted out of the story.

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This is one of mine too, which is also why I was adamant on having a reserved stat in my WIP :joy: Other than what has been mentioned, here are a few things that break immersion for me:

  • when customization choices appear prior to the plot unfolding. If I start reading a story and immediately find myself clicking through page after endless page to determine my MC’s name, hair length, eye color etc, I quickly lose interest.

  • Stat punishments. That is, when a stat gain necessarily comes with the lowering of another. It frustrates me to no end, to the point where I cannot immerse well into the plot because I’ll be agonizing over that fact. Say, if I decide to train to become better at wielding a sword, I don’t think it should make me any more dimwitted than before. Similarly, it breaks immersion for me when choices go You decided to spend time with Character A? Congratulations! A loves you… but B and C hate you now!

  • Actual vulgarities, spelled out. More so when the MC uses them in speech. Passively stating it like “cursed under their breath / hurled a string of foul words” are absolutely fine, but seeing the actual swear spelled out in the text is extremely jarring for me.

  • When failing a mission objective leads to loss of relationship points. I find it upsetting when failing stat checks leads to NPCs behaving in a hostile manner. I would expect friendship to matter much more than that! Such a reaction just makes me feel as if my MC is walking on a thin line, and relationships only matter for as long as they are “successful”.

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Agreeing with pretty much all of the above.

I’d also add that while nobody wants 80 pages of just description, I do have a hard time feeling immersed in the world when there’s barely any at all. I want and need a sense of the world I’m in, particularly if it’s not a modern, realistic setting. I want to know the climate, the architectural makeup of the area, the density and diversity of the population, my relationship to those things. A lone scholar wandering through the crumbling ruins of a city long reclaimed by nature feels very different from an undercover agent blending into the rush and apathy of a crowded street full of tourists, neon, and booming advertisement screens. I think the issue is usually choosing the right words so as to be concise but comfortable instead of giving too much or too little. It’s a hard thing to balance I think.

I also have a really hard time with relationships in games. It’s hard not to feel rushed or like getting along with them (platonically or romantically) dictates my character’s personality and that’s very frustrating. Just because I want to hang out with “the fun one,” doesn’t mean that I myself want to be loud or outgoing or overtly flirtatious or whatever it is.

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Going to preface by saying that YMMV and that i definitely dont represent all readers. But personally I dont mind wall of texts or ridiculous plots.

For the first, I would give my fondness for actual books as an example. So for me the word:choice ratio isn’t really a big deal. Good and stylish writing is going to go a long way in that department though, so try to avoid long exposition and character backstories until after the reader is hooked.

As for ridiculous plots, i would say that its not super important to me. All stars pro wrestling game is a great example. Literally no plot but still immersive because of the writing style and the good characterizations.

For me what breaks immersion the most is when a cyoa tells me what my character is thinking. Sometimes its necessary, but i would advise you to try to avoid it as much as possible. On a related note, if the stats are “personality” traits, having the choices and transitions that are worded in ways that don’t mesh with particular traits breaks immersion for me. Usually i’ll start the game by opening up the stat screen and looking at the various stats. If you are using the opposing stats, i’ll decide during character creation the personality i’m interested in roleplaying. If you have a shy vs confident stat, but you have a group of choices that are only written from one perspective, if I’m trying to roleplay the other stat, it breaks my immersion.

Another thing that breaks my immersion, is forcing relationships on the player. CYOAs are a bit different than regular books. Its a lot easier to manipulate a reader into liking characters in regular books because you have more control over the main character. In a CYOA, if its important that the MC has a particular relationship with another character, introduce them ASAP to the reader and have them have an established relationship. If the character is being introduced to the MC for the first time during the story, expect that different players are going to roleplay the relationship differently. I won’t call out particular CYOAs, but I have had my immersion broken at times for this reason and it has hurt my overall enjoyment of the story.

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In lots of WIPs, usually after your character gets knocked out, there are consecutive one word/sentence pages where you have to press continue button over and over again. IMO it doesn’t work. Just a single page would work, but it gets boring when you have to wait for the page to animate and press the button.

Also piggybacking on @Konoi 's comment, not having moderate flirt options bothers me. You’re either Commander Shephard from GamerPoop, asking everyone to have sex with you on the spot or you’re the most socially awkward being in the universe who can’t utter a single word as you’re too busy with blushing. Subtle innuendos, holding the RO’s gaze longer than normal would be enough for me.

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I never had that happen to me :thinking:
If it did happen in a game I played (or well, at least the way I played), it would have really bothered me too.
I have seen instances where failing a mission doesn’t do nothing, as far as relationships go, while succeeding adds some relationship points, and I can understand it that way around, since it may be admiration for the MC, for having managed to do something difficult etc. I still prefer when there is no affection gain if succeeding in a mission (stat check related), unless it’s something MC is doing for a specific character. But at least, I don’t mind it that much either, so not an immersion breaker.

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Thanks to a topic starter and those who contributed! I have nothing to add, but this tread is gonna be a huge help.

I would argue or rather specify @Konoi point about stats. I think stat based game are fine and valid IF reader knows that stats play a huge role from the very beginning. And if there is some gap to breathe between checks. Also it should be clear how to gain a specific stat.

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I’m of this sentiment as well! And, thankfully the “relationship stat punishment” is not something I see often - but I know two titles that have it (I shall refrain from mentioning them here). Still stuck in my mind like that tripledent gum ad from Inside Out :sweat_smile:

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Hmm I’m a bit split about that :thinking:
I think I’ll stick with my opinion though, that stat-based games are my bane and basically deal breakers. I have played balanced games, where both stat checks and roleplay are important (my favorite IF game, “Relics of the Lost Age” is a good example), and I do agree with you that it should be made clear how to gain stats AND also what stat is getting checked (seriously, I hate it when I don’t know what the options even mean). And I also agree with you on the gaps between stat checks.

But the thing - again, that’s for ME and my immersion being broken - is that I really CAN’T focus on stats - if a game relies heavily on them - and still focus on the story, since I’ll sacrifice roleplay (aka the thing I’m playing for) and the customization of my MC to shape them into what I want in order to succeed in missions and get a good ending. So no matter how it’s done, a stat-reliant game can’t make me immersed. And that was the question, after all :rofl:
The issue is that I may be interested in the story, and be frustrated since I won’t be able to actually enjoy it or even truly play it, even if I know about the fact the game is stat-based beforehand.

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Long passages without choices can go either way:
If the plot and prose are good, and the choice is worthwhile, no matter how small, they can help with the immersion.
But if you have long passages of drivel and then a fake_choice for something that has no impact at all, that’s where it breaks. Like if you have page after page of the author telling you about all the things you’ve experience (past tense) and your feeling about them and then asks ‘how do you feel about things now’ with 3-5 choices that set no stats, give no different dialogue etc. Nope.

Another thing for me would be scene-describtions that don’t come together logically or logistically.
E.g. the characters are standing somewhere where they should CLEARLY see something else happen, but they don’t for plot-reason, or a scene is described in way that makes no sense that the characters doesn’t spot something immediately.

World-building that leaves massive questions open without any rhyme or reason is another thing. Like, if you write in a way that leaves implications about not everything being as it seems, try to address it somehow.

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I’m probably forgetting a lot because I don’t think about this a lot, it’s just something that happens and don’t give much thought to.

  • Fourth wall breaks- I saw this mentioned but it only takes me out of it if the story didn’t start with said wall break. Does that make sense? Or if it’s written in a Second POV (that probably makes more sense), I don’t care. But in First POV, yeah, it can be strange. Maybe if it were a comedy, satire, etc. kind of piece, I’d be fine, and perhaps expect it. Otherwise, I don’t often care for it.

  • Walls of text- I’m being real original here but it’s true, especially for me! Reading is very difficult for me. Not because I can’t do it, but because I can’t focus long enough as I don’t imagine anything in my head when reading (no matter how much I love the writing/story). If I’m having to scroll through page after page, or screen in this case, chances are I’m skimming at best, and skipping it all at worst.

  • Romantic choices- I struggle with this myself, so I know it can be difficult to write flirty options that cover at least a couple ways to flirt and/or respond to flirting. But good god, it can be super out of character or just out of place, especially the more overt options… I’ve always preferred the subtle means of showing attraction than just “hey, let’s bump nasties”.

  • Unexpected character twists- to elaborate, I mean when a character is revealed to be something we thought they weren’t, expect there weren’t any hints dropped along the way. So when this reveal comes, it’s from so far out of left field, that it feels out of character and a missed attempt to shock the reader (slightly unrelated, but I experienced this in a show that made me drop it afterwards because it was like: ??? UHM??? What??? He was shown to be good all this time?).

  • Flowery or fancy language- Could just be me, because I’m an idiot, but I hate it when authors flex their knowledge of the language and use all these… large or perhaps uncommon or unusual words, even more when they could be exchanged for simpler words and nothing would change. I understand, I do, but it can be hard to understand what is being written if I don’t know what the words mean. I don’t want to feel like I need a dictionary ready at the hip every other word just to understand that Mike went to the store and saw a pretty lady.

  • Choices that aren’t written clearly- I’ve experienced this in Choices as well, and Chapters. I’m given choices to do “this” but instead of it being what it said, it’s “you’re doing ‘this’ but with the addition of ‘that and that’”. Hopefully that makes sense? Like, I can choose to smile at a character in Choices, and I earn affection or romance or whatever points. Man, I just wanted to be friendly, not flirt!

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It’s become such a famous trend in media, unfortunately :joy: not sure why it gets so much love just because of the unpredictability, but yeah, people do love that.

This thread’s actually quite helpful. Might help me see if there are improvements I should probably make in my own work

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