Sunday, May 8, 2011

First and Third Person View

This is a little spin-off from my last post.
There is an interesting discussion about first and third person view at

I have been struggling with this, as well. And I disagree with Danc who tries to summarize the entire discussion with "In 3rd person you can see (and thus empathize) with a visualized character and in 1st person, you can't. ". But he is right that this is the core of it.

The problem is that at first glance, 1st person view seems to be more immersive - for obvious reasons. Only at second glance do you realize that in first person view you have a much worse feeling about the body of the protagonist. You don't know exactly where your feet are, you don't know exactly where your arms are. Shooters have an advantage, because you can run around with the hands (and the gun) just in front of your eyes. But this doesn't really work with a sword.

Also, from other media we are not used to a first person view. Our brains are wired in a way that we can put ourselves very well in the position of other humans that we see from a 'third-person' point of view.

Stand up and look down. You see much more than just your feet, because your eyes move, too. Something which is (almost) impossible to realize in a game. Look straight forward and hold your arm straight forward, too. What do you see? A silhouette of the arm, something that cannot be shown in a game.

Last but not least, the "flying" and strafing in 1st person view annoys me. Doom, Quake and their successors were good games, they weren't good simulations.

And then again, I actually think the debate is mostly superfluous. Immersion is influenced by a lot of things. The perspective may seem important at first, but actually you can be immersed in either way. I guess it is mostly a matter of getting used to.


  1. In third person, you can see what gear your character is wearing.

  2. The difference - for me - is that in Uncharted (3rd person) I'm controlling Drake, whereas in Mirror's Edge (1st person) I *am* Faith.

  3. This is easily said, Andrew, but is it really that much of a difference?

  4. a while ago I was forced to play ffxi in 1st person because my gamepad wireless receiver broke. 1st person with keyboard is the least horrific option.

    It was like being disembodied. Couldn't see my arms, couldn't see my body.

    Reality is more a mix of first person and 3rd person.

  5. "Last but not least, the "flying" and strafing in 1st person view annoys me"

    The difference for me is that first person is often way too limiting and "floaty". Animations in first person are a whole different ball game, and are very difficult to make look right. Often times you get the silly look that Oblivion had: a floating camera with odd swinging animations that don't feel right when you see them come into view.

    Not to mention the field of view is reduced tremendously and there is no peripheral vision.

    When the human head rotates to change view the eyes don't keep staring forward, the eyes lock-on to things and adjust as the head rotates. It's much more responsive because we don't have slowly turn ourselves to see things around us: if my peripheral vision catches movement, I glance over in that direction, and then I may shift my head while my eyes keep locked on if I want to face that direction.

    We are extremely empathetic. We don't need to see from someone else's perspective to associate with them. Think of movies, there aren't too many first-person movies and there doesn't have to be. There are many experiments about people being able to associate themselves from different perspectives, even when the person they are viewing isn't themselves.

  6. Interesting article. It seems strange to talk about "empathy" and "immersion" as if they're the same thing, though. When you're immersed in a game, you *are* the main character, and you can't empathize with yourself! Saying you empathize with the main character seems to imply you're less than fully immersed.

    And I agree that the perspective is only a small aspect of immersion. I've been immersed in both first-person and third-person games.

  7. Nils: Yeah - I feel much more a part of the story in first person games. In third person games I can't help but feel more detached.

  8. "When you're immersed in a game, you *are* the main character, and you can't empathize with yourself!"

    I have never "become" the main character in any experience. I find that saying you "become the main character" is incredibly cliche and inaccurate.

    That's not to say that I don't feel the things I go through and put myself in the mindset of the character, but I never play myself in a game, so regardless of the perspective the experience is mostly empathetic: like reading a book written in the first person is empathetic.

    First person in games is not currently done to an extent where I think it can benefit the experience (besides a game that uses aiming from the person's perspective like a shooter).

    It's a restrictive perspective as it is in current games and not remotely "realistic". Jumping, running, and moving in general is awkward (although people adjust to it), just about all character animations are unusual since the head of the character is fixed forward. It is very unnatural, kind of like the "uncanny valley" for perspective, it tries to be like the real thing but it is distinctly unnatural and as a result is worse off. People will still try to tell you it's "immersive" like they'll try to tell you the characters in Mass Effect are "expressive". It's a case of ten years from now people will look back and actually have perspective to see how lacking our games actually are.

  9. I recall a story about Quake where you could, with masterful execution, jump off something high and land on someone's head. Then whenever they moved you moved in the same direction to stay on top of them. You could then, say, hit them with an axe whenever you wanted. Unless the person turned their camera up at a high angle they would never see you. That to me expresses everything that is wrong with trying to be immersed in a first person view in a video game.

    I agree with Tolthir that empathy (we should really talk about sympathy, not empathy) is the same thing as immersion. You can evoke sympathy with written words, so the graphical choices are pretty irrelevant. I just think that third person view is a better simulation of the information available to a real person walking around in a real world than first person is.

  10. Hey Gilded, I think you misunderstood my post. I'm not saying you have to play the character as if he's identical to you. I'm saying that the association between player and character in games is much higher than in books or movies.

    For example, if your character in an MMO gets ganked, it would be extremely unusual to feel sorry for your chracter because he got ganked. It's more angry you'd feel anger that *you* got ganked. And that's true even if you're roleplaying your character as someone completely different from you.

    This is important to the discussion of first vs third person. In movies, you experience emotions vicariously, and it's important to be able to see the main character so you can understand the emotions he's experiencing. In games, the emotional experience is usually direct rather than vicarious, so a first person view works fine (at least to me).

  11. I think what you're referring to has very little to do with the perspective. If I play a game of chess I also feel anger for getting "ganked" and not sympathy for the piece. It doesn't matter how I view the game if we are talking about the emotions we have when dealing with the game itself. The player's emotions are still those of a person playing a game.

    First-person is very much a game and only a game (it's just the player as a player); third-person is a game and a novel (if that makes any sense; there is a distinct character with distinct qualities that you can see going through the experience that you are playing through). Obviously the degree of "empathy" depends on how much of a character the game gives your character.

    With a 3rd person view you can associate with the character, however it's characterized (think of Nathan Drake as someone you view in 3rd person; now imagine playing through the game in first-person and not seeing Drake).

    In first-person you're playing a game as a camera, you experience things as a player playing a game almost exclusively. In third-person you're playing a game as a character, you experience things as a player as well as through a character.

  12. In first-person you're playing a game as a camera

    Ah, we must have different playstyles then. At least in good games, I feel like I'm a person physically present in the world, and not like I'm a camera.

    And a game is definitely different from a novel in the sense that I feel like I'm actually "in" the story when I play a game.

    We don't want to take over Nils' blog though, so we should probably take this conversation elsewhere. ;)

  13. Oh please continue, if you like. This is very interesting and exactly what comments are there for. I'd be the last to complain if people comment too much on my blog. At least if you add something interesting with each comment; which you did.