Whenever people ask me "Per, what is the most important aspect of an RPG?" I always answer "The game world". No one ever asks me that, so I usually tell them preemptively. The most important part of an RPG is its world. There you go.
I recently tried out the very awkwardly named Monster Hunter Portable 3rd with two buddies and while they were going on about armor sets and crafting ingredients, I was mostly wondering how interesting the environments would be. As it turns out, not very, as each map is basically a bunch of small rooms linked together by portals. I rarely give a shit about stats and combat intricacies, so I was disappointed. I guess I'm a fucking casual.
Anyway, that made me think. If there's anything emotionally meaningful that video games will probably always have over movies — you know, except for being fun and all that — it's the ability to immerse. I enjoy movies as much as the next guy but when all is said and done it's usually two hours of predetermined events, however well written or visually spectacular, in a world that doesn't really exist beyond those two hours. This is true for a lot of games as well, but with RPGs in particular, you've often got a much more tangible world that doesn't simply stop existing once the credits roll.
But you know what most certainly doesn't add to the immersion? Receiving a Steam IM about cute kittens on YouTube. I speak from experience.
I'm one of those people who like to be reachable at any given time. Whenever my desktop PC is on (which is pretty much whenever I'm home) I'm online on Steam and Skype, and thanks to my phone I'm always reachable on Facebook, via e-mail, texts, or through a plain old phone call. Ah, the wonders of instant and ubiquitous communication. Where it gets annoying is when you're in the middle of something else and the chat notification basically drags you feet first out into the harsh reality of expectations and responsibilities.
Back when I was younger I could spend hundreds of hours investigating every nook and cranny of each game. I realize this is very much #firstworldproblems, but obtaining a new game was a rare occurrence and you basically had to make do with what you had. I have the benefit of age and wisdom on my side (did I mention I'm in my early twenties?) to realize that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The fewer games you have in your backlog, the more you appreciate what you do have, and the less you're inclined to just rush through it to the next one. And playing it at a slower pace makes it much easier for the immersion to kick in, even for a mediocre game. That's my experience, anyway.
So the next time there's a $1 Humble Bundle, maybe I should ask myself: do I really want to play these games? And the next time there's an evening off for gaming, maybe I'll just turn off everything but the game and give it my undivided attention for a few hours. Maybe. If I don't end up slitting my wrists from communication withdrawal. We'll see.