I don't think it would be "immersion breaking" at all.
Plus Accel-World(by Reki Kowahara who wrote SAO and in the same universe many years later) has the exact interface seen by players in SAO for use in everyday life replacing a cellphone. and visible to nobody else.
“Immersed”, as I’m using it, means “a state of unawareness that one is performing actions in a game rather than in actuality”. An “immersion break”, then, is anything that reminds the player that they are in a game universe, not the real one.
Because the Sword Art Online virtual universe is a magical fantasy medieval one, having cellphone-replacing augmented reality floating-before-your-eyes-only menus, which are out-of-place in a medieval setting, “break” the medieval virtual universe.
Many if not most present day screen-and-controller video games have menu systems, because the limitations of this kind of interface don’t allow the tasks performed via the menus to be done in a more realistic way. For example, in a present-day world setting, when I need to get something I am carrying into my hand, I must locate it, which may simply involve reaching into a pants pocket and feeling around until I find it, or a more involved activity such as opening slipping off, opening, and searching through a backpack, then closing and slipping the pack back on. A typical video game replaces this with a menu which may show the location of items against a diagram including my pockets and backpack, but more commonly shows simply a list or grid of cells. Using this menu system breaks my immersion in the video game, because I am no longer controlling my 1st-person view.
An example of a popular video game series where its makers made an effort to reduce this immersion break is the 3rd-person perspective Dead Space
, where the pop-up menus are “explained” by showing them being created by a visible piece of equipment
worn by your avatar. Because the setting of Dead Space is a space traveling science fiction world where such displays are the norm, floating-before-your-eyes only menus aren’t out-of-place in it, although some of the actions it allows you to perform, such as pausing or quitting the game, are.
An entirely avoidable immersion break free interface would not permit the play to pause of quit the game via a menu system, because you can’t pause of quit a real universe. Some game makers have made efforts to minimize the “quit immersion break” by linking the quit function to an something analogous to “quitting the real word”, such as steering your avatar into a bed, triggering a “going to sleep” effect. Examples: Red Dead Redemption
; the Far Cry series
(where you must set your avatars wristwatch alarm for the amount of time you wish him to sleep).
A practically perfect VR interface like the still fictional FullDive would provide game makers the ability to avoid practically every kind of immersion break. Rather than popping up a menu to find a possession, the play would actually have to look for it in whatever place it was. With its direct-into-your-brain interface, the “go to bed to quit” game mechanic could actually feel like going to sleep (in the game universe), then waking (in the real one), and vice-versa.This raises the question
of whether players would want the game to avoid every kind of immersion break. For example, in a non-magical, present-day game universe, if your bedroom is a filthy mess, do you want to actually have to clean it in a perfectly realistic manner, or break immersion with a “magic button” that does it for you? A common example of present-day video game makers intentionally providing optional unnecessary immersion break are fast travel systems which allow players to avoid the monotonous task of walking or riding a long distance between places in the game. (See this article
for an anti-fast travel opinion. See practically any gamer forum complaining about a lack of fast travel for pro-fast travel opinions)
The fictional FullDive SAO game depicted in Kawahara
’s manga and anime has many avoidable immersion breaks in it, more, I think, than many present-day video games. The actual game mechanics of one of its core activities, sword fighting, is one. As described in the manga, “sword skills” are not actually learned athletic skills are they are in the real world, but acquired “abilities” that the player triggers, and your avatar then performs “automatically”. Thus a SAO player may be an excellent sword fighter in the game, while having no real knowledge or skill of it in the real world. In game SAO fight mechanics are “magically” unrealistic – avatars can jump/fly distances impossible in the real world, smashing and cutting thing impossible to smash or cut with melee weapons in the real world. Injury of player avatars and enemies is “PG rated”, a hit point gauge lowering to zero, then the figure vanishing in a sanitary, pixilated way.
I suspect that some players would prefer game mechanics like this, while others would want ones more real-world like. Players who prefer as little immersion breaking as possible might be rare.