​Wait, is Breath of the Wild an immersive sim?
Image courtesy of Nintendo

Wait, Is ‘Breath of the Wild’ an Immersive Sim?

Danielle Riendeau rejoins the Waypoint crew to discuss the most Waypoint-y of topics.
December 30, 2019, 3:00pm

“Five star podcast, five star runtime” has become the unofficial mantra of Waypoint podcasts in the last year or so, a way of admitting we have a very hard time getting any of us to shut up once we get going. You, our beloved listeners, have embraced this mantra. Yet, constraints can be good. It can also mean less work for everyone involved. That’s possibly a win-win.

This is how we settled on a unique framework for several of our game of the year podcasts, in which the group worked through a series of topics and could only talk for 30 minutes. As we were brainstorming, it became impossible to not write down one phrase: immersive sim.

And if you’re going to talk about immersive sims, if you’re going to consider what the definition of an immersive sim even is, you cannot do that without Danielle Riendeau, previously our in-house immersive sim specialist. Danielle has since moved on to Fanbyte, but she was gracious enough to lend us some time to revisit the decade in immersive sims.

Austin: Rob was asking, in 2019, what do we mean when we say immersive sim? What do we talk about when we talk about immersive sims, a famous short story collection. What do we mean? You raised “Is Hitman 2016 an immersive sim?”

Rob: Because it checks a lot of the boxes, right? It's systemic as hell, it’s about watching a clockwork world operate and learn its its workings, and then how you can subvert them or bend them to your will. But at the same time, it doesn't feel like an immersive sim.

Austin: I don’t read a single email.

Patrick: I don't hack into a terminal.

Austin: I might hack into a terminal but not hack into a terminal. Not like [emulates typing] typing.

Ricardo: The first thing you pick up? A wrench.

Austin: It might be! I don’t know, Danielle, do you think Hitman is an immersive sim?

Danielle: I actually think it is, and I would posit that any game with a sufficiently advanced physics engine/systems that interact with both player verbs and mechanics and level design is, in fact, an immersive sim. And I think Breath of the Wild fits these criteria.

Ricardo: Whoa.

Austin: Is Death Stranding an immersive sim? I think Breath of the Wild fits those criteria.

Rob: Death Stranding is an interesting question because I think Death Stranding definitely feels like it's part of the walking sim lineage. But the walking sim is intertwined with the immersive sim. There's a lot of games you can view as foundational to walking simulators, but one of the major works, Gone Home, was made by with my Fulbright, a bunch of people with lots of immersive sim chops and experience. And so to degree, a lot of what the walking sim became, and a lot of what maybe the future of immersive sims looks like, is walking sims.

Patrick: My mind just expanded upon this point.

Austin: I will say there are a lot of “walking sims” that don't do anything immersive sims do in terms of systemic interaction. They're immersive in other ways, in terms of environmental design…

Patrick: Reading emails.

Danielle: Immersive walks, you might say.

Austin: You don’t need a physics engine. Could you have a 2D sprite-based immersive sim? Like, a Final Fantasy immersive sim?

Patrick: The physics allow for a lot of verbs, by the consequences of the physics.

Austin: Right. The reason I'm asking this is because like, is it an immersive sim if— can I have a text-based immersive sim? Can I be playing an immersive same on my phone or through a text parser?

Patrick: I feel like you could, but when we’re talking about about you know.

Austin: I know, but I’m trying to find edge cases. Because for me, Death Stranding is the one that fits everything that Danielle just said. We wouldn't traditionally call it an immersive sim, but it does also fit into that walking some overlap which, as Rob just positied, maybe that’s the future of the immersive sim.

Patrick: At what point is that just an adventure game? I mean, video game genres are bullshit.

Austin: I’m not interested in “What is an adventure game?” I’m interested in why we want to make the distinction between Dishonored and Zelda. Whereas Breath of the Wild, like you said Danielle, you feel like it fits.

Danielle: I like it crosses into the into the line there. I think it is sufficiently broad and deep by both versions of my definition that it crosses into that line. I also think it's a platformer but that's another that's another discussion. [laughs]

Patrick: I didn’t know Danielle had so many fuckin’ Breath of the Wild thoughts. [laughs]

Ricardo: Is a stealth option intrinsic to immersive sims?

Rob: Great question. See, I don't think it is, but I do think once the stealth option appears, it moves much closer into that venn overlap of like, “Ah, that's an immersive sim.”

Austin: But is that a historical quality? Do you know what I mean? Or is that intrinsic?


This excerpt was edited for clarity and length.

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