Quick thought due to my recent playing of Red Dead Redemption, which luckily blossomed into deeper thought about the games I play. The engrossing nature of RDR's delivery of its storyline is quite appealing: it places me in a world of hostility in which I squint into the horizon for anyone who may require assistance, be it for dastardly or helpful ends. I quickly become immersed in the fiction of the game; but just as I am about to move on to the next activity, I am forced to bring up a menu to gain access to the map and get my bearings right for the direction I must next head. And then, just as immediate as the immersion in the Wild West rose, it plummets as the sound of the birds and wind are cut off and the disembodied cursor roams the old map.
It appears to me that in many games, that quick stop to the map or inventory screen can break one from the experience of the game, and make the player quite aware that they are a normal person staring in front of bright screen trying to find the next capital letter to set their waypoint to or equip the party with the appropriate items. It may not be a great big break in the flow of a game, but it is a break nontheless, and its quite noticeable the more I think about it. A menu/pause screen in a game is quite functional and essential to the "playing" of the game, however, it still manages to halt the immersive quality a game is able to give to the participating individual.
A game that I hope (and know) many people have played, Bioshock, manages the use of a menu screen quite well, and to a similar extent so does Mass Effect 2. Bioshock's "menu", for lack of a better word at the time of writing, causes the action to pause while the player chooses their plasmid or weapon of choice in order to tackle the next situation. While instances in which the typical player may access the selection wheel of death only occur for no longer than a few seconds at a time, they are stylized in a manner that keeps the player feeling as though everything is consistent with the world they currently "inhabiting". This quick solution to pausing the action keeps the player engaged in what is happenning around them in the game and doesn't make them aware of the reality of what they are doing outside of the screen. Mass Effect 2 does this as well, but also relies on more sophisticated menu applications.
I hope I do not sound as though I am incriminating the menu and making all games that use them sound terrible because that is not what I'm trying to do with this Destructoid Community Blog Post. I just wish to share my observations on the games I play and hear what others think regarding similar topics. The menu can be wonderfully useful tool for the player to use to enhance their character and the overall experience of the game. They empower the player, weaken their enemies, and provide room for personal expression through the items the player chooses to utilize. The mighty menu, if understated in may games and player's minds, has both the power to wrestle the individual from their warm place inside Rapture (not really warm, more wet) or keep them even more interested in the place they are interacting with and give them a strong sense of belonging as their eyes roam the screen and take in all of the gear and items they have amassed over the course of their time invested in their game of choice.