The newly launched Association of Electronic Interactive Marketers Wednesday handed out the first round of the "Senet-Muse" awards for innovation in the promotion and marketing of interactive entertainment and video games, recognizing companies like Microsoft, Activision and Ubisoft for their efforts on behalf of their premium titles.

The award is named after Senet, thought by archeologists to be the oldest game in the world, enjoyed by the pre-dynastic kings of ancient Egypt, as early as 3500 B.C. It's hard to deny the classical and archaic appeal of the AEIM's choice of monikers, but the games they are lauding today have an important and vivid difference from the games of yesteryear--a distinction that is very significant to marketers looking to have their brands appear in games.

Beginning in the early 80s, game designers began to become increasingly interested in the concept of "immersion." Games played on consoles and computers were becoming less abstract--less like chess, which has no characters, no setting, and no story, to speak of, and more like games of make-believe, where players took on a new persona, acquired new abilities, and were encouraged to think and feel as someone else entirely. It is this concept, and not all the technological and graphical bells and whistles, that chiefly separates the games of today from the board games, dice games and card games that people play offline.

Game developers today seek to immerse players in the game worlds they create, emotionally, visually, and intellectually: Players of modern console and PC games can perceive, think, and feel as another person, becoming totally absorbed in the gameplay experience. Don't believe it? Pick up a copy of "Half-Life," praised as one of the modern pioneers of immersion.

Released in 1998, "Half-Life" put players in the role of Gordon Freeman, a nerdy nuclear physicist turned alien-battling commando. "Half-Life" was at the cusp of technology where the processing power of PCs was just beginning to support highly detailed and realistic game environments, and the designers of the game decided to make the whole game continuous--no stops, no cut-scenes, no fast-forwards--which deeply involved players in the experience of the game. The gameplay was fast-paced and exciting, and included puzzles that required both tactical and critical thinking, immersing players in every way.

Now, that kind of immersion is what nearly all big-name game developers aim for. Marketers, when choosing how to present their brands in-game, can help or harm the level of immersion, which will have an enormous effect on how their messages are received. When a player's character walks down the street of a modern city in-game, and all the cars are generic, look-alike vehicles, rather than actual name brands, immersion takes a tiny hit, as players are forced to suspend their disbelief just a little.

If car companies get onboard with game designers and allow their brands to be used, the developers are happy with a more realistic cityscape in their games, the players are happy with a more immersive game experience, and the brands are happy for the exposure.

On the flip side, brands in games can just as easily hurt immersion. If, in the abovementioned cityscape, all the brand-name cars are indestructible--a common practice in racing games that use real cars, since automakers rarely wish to see their prize models reduced to flaming wrecks--the player must disbelieve more, and immerse less.

Either way, when a brand helps immersion--or hurts it--players will notice. And they will remember.

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