I was thinkin' about this for a good while, and I concluded that what I value most in The Video Games is Heroics, whatever that may mean.
Whether the game mechanics allow you to do heroic maneuvers, or the story is about heroism, or you can make heroic decisions -- I am willing to tolerate an otherwise-poor game if it succeeds in making me feel heroic. =P
Of course I play non-heroic games too (i.e. Hitman) but when I find myself wishing I had a game to play, and finding that none of my current ones fit the bill, it's usually because they are about stuff that's too abstract to allow me to witness some virtual heroism.
(Heroic here being a sort of catch-all for bravery, selflessness, and capability, probably other things too -- but not necessarily Freedom Force style =P).
Fun. And I'll even elaborate as to what that means for me ;). Given that my tastes usually revolve around RPG, strategy and shooter/action, this mostly boils down to three things being interesting; the things I use to blow shit up, the way I use them to blow shit up and the shit I blow up. Doesn't have to be all three, but anything less than two makes for some really bland gameplay. Guns in a shooter need to feel powerful, enemies need to be more interesting than cardboard cutouts, that sort of thing. Of course that's not all there is to fun and certainly not all there is to a game, but the fastest turnoff for me is a game with bland combat mechanics (Doom 3 springs to mind; bland, piddly guns that do dull things to boring enemies).
Story. Not every game needs one and it doesn't have to be a Tolkien-esque epic, but it improves most games to have one. Hell I even liked Starcraft 2's almost universally reviled story and characters. I'm not too fussy when it comes to storyline so long as the delivery is at least reasonable.
Challenge, learning curve, fairness. The three go hand in hand, most games lack the first two now. The first two without the third are a waste of time. Dark Souls is a good example of the first and last, less so the second; the game is in general a challenge and never an unfair one, you never die because the game mechanics didn't work properly or because a completely unforseeable occurrance got you, if you died it was your own damn fault. The difficulty curve is there, but it's a bit unstable, prone to spiking both up and down, on average increasing throughout the game, but never with much consistency. I honestly can't think of a game that's got all three aspects of this perfect, I'd probably have to look back to the 80's or 90's.
Solid controls, tight mechanics. Not one that immediately came to mind, but no less important. I don't want to die because the game mechanics didn't function as intended, I don't want to lose my units because input delay reared its ugly head. Some games never lose the feel of constantly wrestling with the game and its controls to make the bloody thing do what you want, these are never good games.
A decent single-player that lasts more than a few hours. I want to play on my own schedule.
Fun and Emotion.
If a game gives me a feeling of elation, when I've achieved something, then it's a good game.
If a game makes me very angry, because it beat me, and I knew it was only due to fault of my own, then it's a good game.
But most of all, if a game is fun to play, and you actually enjoy yourself most of the time while playing it, then it's a good game.
Immersion. For me, personally, the immersion usually comes from sense of place (a game world I can explore and interact with), exploration and story.
But it depends on the game. Some games like Morrowind can grab me purely with sense of place and no need for a story. Others like KotoR might grab me mainly through story and visiting interesting places.
For this reason I usually, but not always, find 3d games to be more immersive, as they allow me to feel more freedom and more sense of exploration and being inside the world.
Games have a similar function to imagination for me. "gameplay" or "graphics" are all secondary considerations.
If I'm not allowed just say fun, then immersion is king for me.
If I can lose myself in a game and notice the next time I look at a clock its hours or days later I know it's given me great value.
Internal consistency, unless the game makes a point of beating its own rules (McPixel)
I think he means in hockey games
Yeah, maybe adding "fun" as a possible answer was kind of redundant. In the end, most people use the words enjoyment and fun in the same way.
I'm pretty happy to see almost all of you put more value into the interactive stuff (immersion, challenge, feeling of control), leaving the non-interactive (visuals, story, music) as a secondary condition for enjoyment, although of course they are directly related.
What I like most in games is creating my own story/customising things.
Which is why systems like Kingdoms of Amalur's crafting system, JRPG crafting, Dwarf Fortress and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts are among my favourite games.
I'm picky, though. Skyrim's world feels dead and empty to me.
Sadly, I can't find many games with decent (non-linear) crafting (I don't want "7 iron is an iron sword, that is all you get", I want "A sword made with 7 iron has more Cutting and less Heavy than one made of platinum, also you can decorate it with stats and odd abilities")
Conan! What is best in video games?
Crush the mechanics. See them operate before you. And hear the lamentations of their developers.
Of course, any characteristic that you can name as an elemental part of what makes you enjoy a videogame can't stand on it's own; if all other characteristics suck, the game will not be all that enjoyable.
For me the focus is on the core gameplay. Challenging gameplay --> reward.
A big plus:
- style (art)
- good music (or none at all) and sounds
- damage modeling, realistic physics simulation
As you said, it's all directly related, and it varies from game to game and genre to genre.
I do think that the nature of CONTROL in games helps to make them more immersive... for example even the half life intro where you are just looking around feels more immersive than a movie clip might, but it's not really very interactive except in the most basic sense.