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Old 11-30-2014, 09:24 AM   #1
johndallman
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Default Immersion

I've thought a bit about immersion in RPGs since this post of Bill's:
Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
That would concern me more if I had any concern with immersion. I've never seen a discussion of it that makes it seem like something I would want to strive for, and the player who seemed most closely to fit the descriptions of it that I've seen was an actual obstacle to my GMing until I got him to change his style of representing his character. My goal is primarily not for players to be experiencers but for them to be performers.
What it means to me is that I'm immersed in the game: seeing in my mind's eye what the character I'm playing sees in the game setting, and reacting as the character, usually immediately and naturally without having to think about what the character would say. It's much more "method acting" than "chess playing".

I like this because it makes the game play quite quickly (I like actually accomplishing things within an RPG), and because it seems to me that it makes the character play more naturally, with a realistic level of oversights, mistakes and bright ideas.

This may restrict my range of play somewhat: I don't tend to play characters as alien to me as some players I know, but I'm OK with that: I'd rather portray somewhat ordinary people well than very extraordinary people badly (an idea I picked up from H.G.Wells).

Obviously, it requires that you know the character fairly well, which contributes towards my preference for fairly long-term campaigns. Working my way towards being able to do this with a new character usually takes a few sessions of play, and some development outside of game sessions.

I realise, thinking about it, that immersion is easier for me as a GM than as a player. There are two reasons for that: I know what the scene looks like when I'm GM, rather than having to construct it from descriptions, and when an NPC has a clear purpose in a scenario, a personality that will be compatible with that is easier to pull out of my hindbrain than the more complex and contradictory personality of a PC.

Returning to Bill's post, I'm interested to know how close this description of immersion is to the ideas he's encountered. I also reckon that I perform better when I'm getting some imaginary experience to shape the performance.
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Old 11-30-2014, 10:42 AM   #2
whswhs
 
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Default Re: Immersion

Well, there are several different things that strike me about this topic.

The use of expressions such as "seeing with my mind's eye" frames the matter in a sensory and cognitive modality that I don't use much. I'm almost totally nonvisual, so I don't "see" either my characters or the scenes I run. When a character comes to life for me, it's by having a distinctive "voice."

When I encounter what I think of as "immersive" play, it goes a bit beyond what you're describing. I think I could best describe it by saying that the player is taking what I would call "audience" or "experiencer" standpoint, with their focus on their private experience of the virtual reality of their character's awareness of the world, to the point sometimes where they don't try to make it visible what their character is thinking or feeling, either by directly describing it, or by narrating actions and speaking dialogue. It's a very introverted way to approach things. I think I see rpgs as a way for introverts to play at being extroverts, and it kind of derails my GMing style when a player doesn't take up the opportunity.

As a GM I am trying to offer experiences. But I'm also trying to offer affordances: opportunities to act on the world, hints of what actions are possible, and feedback as to the outcome of those actions. The player who puts the "experience" part so far forward that they aren't thinking about what action they can perform is a problem for me, whereas if they come up with an action they'll get experiences in the course of carrying it out.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 11-30-2014, 11:15 AM   #3
johndallman
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Default Re: Immersion

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
When I encounter what I think of as "immersive" play, it goes a bit beyond what you're describing. I think I could best describe it by saying that the player is taking what I would call "audience" or "experiencer" standpoint, with their focus on their private experience of the virtual reality of their character's awareness of the world, to the point sometimes where they don't try to make it visible what their character is thinking or feeling, either by directly describing it, or by narrating actions and speaking dialogue.
Ah! OK, I see what you are getting at. I have not encountered many clear cases of that; some of the players I've met who felt that dressing up as their character was an important way to get "into character" may have been doing it, but I tended to avoid them, so I can't be sure.

And yes, I agree that what you're describing is undesirable inasmuch as it harms the other players' experience. I don't feel the need to narrate steam-of-consciousness - characters can have private thoughts, and ideas that they (or I) can't immediately find a way to express - but the shared play experience is what we're both trying to achieve.

Can we find some terminology for these different things that we call "immersion"? RogerBW, for example, was in favour of immersion in the thread I referenced at the start, and I think he means something fairly similar to me by it.
Quote:
As a GM I am trying to offer experiences. But I'm also trying to offer affordances: opportunities to act on the world, hints of what actions are possible, and feedback as to the outcome of those actions. The player who puts the "experience" part so far forward that they aren't thinking about what action they can perform is a problem for me, whereas if they come up with an action they'll get experiences in the course of carrying it out.
I'm willing to let characters do some experiencing, while they're taking an interest in the setting and learning about it, which tends to involve taking actions. But I'll present a need for action fairly regularly, either as a mission or an emergency; I prefer to use campaign frameworks that let me do that.
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Old 11-30-2014, 12:00 PM   #4
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Default Re: Immersion

Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Can we find some terminology for these different things that we call "immersion"? RogerBW, for example, was in favour of immersion in the thread I referenced at the start, and I think he means something fairly similar to me by it.
I'm kind of at a loss for what words to use. I found the concept of "immersion" baffling when I first encountered it, but after long discussion (with someone other than you or Roger) I was able to take away the "private experience" understanding. But I haven't done a comprehensive survey of how the expression is used.

Quote:
I'm willing to let characters do some experiencing, while they're taking an interest in the setting and learning about it, which tends to involve taking actions. But I'll present a need for action fairly regularly, either as a mission or an emergency; I prefer to use campaign frameworks that let me do that.
It's not action alone that's an issue. My campaigns are mostly pretty heavy on character interaction, which depends a lot on how characters express their attitudes and emotions. Now, we don't have facial expressions, or body language, or all the other things that connect human beings to each other to rely on. So it takes a little description of emotional reactions and attitudes to enable that interaction.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 11-30-2014, 02:01 PM   #5
Joe
 
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Default Re: Immersion

Just chiming in to say that I've found this discussion very interesting already, and it's presumably early days.

For what it's worth, it appears to me that at the moment the point of difference between your two views is mostly just terminological. It seems clear that you understand quite different things by "immersive"; but it's not yet clear (at least to me) what, if anything, this indicates about your (presumably different?) preferences as to play style.

With respect to the terminological discussion, I would say I've always thought of "immersion" as a positive term, partly because to me it often seems to indicate something that I suspect we may all agree is a good thing, namely that the game is engaging. (i.e. everyone around the table is focused on the game, rather than on chit-chat, checking their phones, etc - and they're focused on it because they find it dramatic and interesting, not simply as a result of social pressure, fear of the GM, or lack of other stimuli!)

But the word clearly also denotes more than this, and this more seems to be where the problem arises. It seems to have something to do with creating a rich descriptive environment, or a persuasive virtual world, or similar.

Whswhs's sense "immersion" seems a bit unfamiliar to me - I'd never heard it used in this sense of a very private, almost solipsistic "immersion" in one's own individual experience, at the expense of actively participating in the game. Clearly that seems like a bad thing - I wonder, though, if it's really what most folks mean by "immersion" when they're looking for it in a game?

johndallman's sense of "immersion" as providing a kind of rich first-person view on the events described seems like a more familiar use of the term to me, though I'm not sure that what he's describing is precisely what I want during the game - I'd have to hear more.

More, please!
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Old 11-30-2014, 03:28 PM   #6
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Default Re: Immersion

Obviously, I'm a big fan of immersion. My setting books/handouts have the basics, because I know most people don't care about immersion, then the other 80%, which is devoted to inkling details about the setting, like what to wear to funeral, what kind of pets you can buy, what foods are in the market, etc, which make no difference to standard adventuring. But for a player looking for that, it's treasure. I want them to *see*.

And its about love of language. My favorite genre is infotainment - I like reading descriptions of fantasy worlds and Field Guides to Gnomes and such. My first recorded setting came about after I read a book on hypertext style and decided to do the opposite - I made the hypertext follow the world. It was a disk, so you start in the middle - all links are embedded, there is no index - you have to adventure through the document to find out things. See Worldstree.

Lack of detail killed the Savage World game I tried to play, something about space priests and zombies, but it gave zero info about the doctrines of the church.
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Old 12-01-2014, 02:57 AM   #7
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Default Re: Immersion

For me, the term immersion in the context of RPGs is associated with the following things:
  • As applied to a player's playstyle: making choices more on IC than OOC considerations, particularly without the need of OOC prods such as being reminded by somebody else about a Disadvantage. Note that using information known to the player but unknown to the character to make a decision that runs counter to the character's psyche is one of the bigger breaks of immersion, even though it is sometimes considered necessary to 'save a campaign' (the arguments about the goodness/badness of the latter as an ends are another topic entirely).
  • As applied to dialogue style: keeping the ratio of free indirect speech to indirect speech, and of direct speech to indirect and free indirect combined, as possible.
  • As applied to worldbuilding and world-description:
    • Keeping the amount of Fridge Logic, Plot Holes etc. to a minimum, since they risk raising the question of 'Why did not the character do the thing that made sense? Was it just to make the challenge/adventure/etc. possible?'.
    • Access to a necessary amount of relevant details. If I'm supposed to pick the most optimal path through a hazardous 'gauntlet' of some sort, then I should have the information my character has about the layout of said 'gauntlet', particularly the information that would affect my character's opinion of which of the paths is safer/faster/etc.
    • Access to some reasonable amount of background/flavour details that provides RP opportunities (and occasionally investigative utility!) and can be weaved into the narrative, or left alone. E.g. in Transhuman Space, an NPC mentions Iapetus, and I proceed to make a half-joking mention of the black monument on it. Because I know that Iapetus has a black radio beacon monument on it in THS. Even though this was never explicitly mentioned in the campaign before. (The 'monolith' turned out to be relevant to the current investigation, though we're still not sure of the specifics.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
It's not action alone that's an issue. My campaigns are mostly pretty heavy on character interaction, which depends a lot on how characters express their attitudes and emotions. Now, we don't have facial expressions, or body language, or all the other things that connect human beings to each other to rely on. So it takes a little description of emotional reactions and attitudes to enable that interaction.
I certainly see descriptions of emotions and the like to be appropriate.

While the idea of players using their own body language and the like to convey characters is highly praised by the (self-proclaimed, for good or ill) True Roleplayers that I encountered, I'm actually quite opposed to it, because (a) it promotes [method?] actors over roleplayers and (b) it forces one to look at and analyse fellow players and trying to translate that to characters, as opposed to thinking about characters in the first place.
There's also the consideration below:

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
When I encounter what I think of as "immersive" play, it goes a bit beyond what you're describing. I think I could best describe it by saying that the player is taking what I would call "audience" or "experiencer" standpoint, with their focus on their private experience of the virtual reality of their character's awareness of the world, to the point sometimes where they don't try to make it visible what their character is thinking or feeling, either by directly describing it, or by narrating actions and speaking dialogue. It's a very introverted way to approach things. I think I see rpgs as a way for introverts to play at being extroverts, and it kind of derails my GMing style when a player doesn't take up the opportunity.

As a GM I am trying to offer experiences. But I'm also trying to offer affordances: opportunities to act on the world, hints of what actions are possible, and feedback as to the outcome of those actions. The player who puts the "experience" part so far forward that they aren't thinking about what action they can perform is a problem for me, whereas if they come up with an action they'll get experiences in the course of carrying it out.
My experience with introverts vs. extroverts in RPGs is far from positive one. As far as I've seen, GMs advocating enforces extroversy or extroversy-emulation seem to make subtlety of any kind problematic.
I certainly have a problem with players/PCs who do absolutely nothing, as much as any other GM (and am annoyed by them as a player too).
But I find the idea that a character's thoughts need to be as obvious as noon sun to be . . . unpleasant, to say the least. I want, both as a GM and as a player, to see characters capable of plotting and scheming, such that the motivations and intents become clear only in retrospect after several sessions.
But I suspect that the things I object to are not quite the things you're envisioning, at least not completely; maybe there's some sort of golden middle between the two problematic states of things.
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Old 12-01-2014, 05:30 AM   #8
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Default Re: Immersion

For me the moment of immersion is when I'm no longer thinking 'what would my character do next?' but I'm just doing it, just being the person in the situation.

That doesn't mean I'm hallucinating I'm standing on the bridge of an airship or whatever but the personality of the character is so clear and fixed in my mind that I can just decide and speak as them.

And since I don't play introverts in this sort of game (nor the sort of person who wants to go off and quietly run a pub, John Dallman!) I don't sit still and ignore what's going on in the game. I interact with the other players and the GM in persona.
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Old 12-01-2014, 02:17 PM   #9
johndallman
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Default Re: Immersion

Quote:
Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
As applied to a player's playstyle: making choices more on IC than OOC considerations, particularly without the need of OOC prods such as being reminded by somebody else about a Disadvantage. Note that using information known to the player but unknown to the character to make a decision that runs counter to the character's psyche is one of the bigger breaks of immersion
Agreed, although we need to distinguish between that and a character doing things that they don't want to, but realise are necessary.
Quote:
As applied to dialogue style: keeping the ratio of free indirect speech to indirect speech, and of direct speech to indirect and free indirect combined, as possible.
I am failing to understand your terminology here.
Quote:
  • Keeping the amount of Fridge Logic, Plot Holes etc. to a minimum ...
  • Access to a necessary amount of relevant details....
  • Access to some reasonable amount of background/flavour details that provides RP opportunities (and occasionally investigative utility!) and can be weaved into the narrative, or left alone...
All of these things are part of good GMing and world-building, but their failures don't seem to me to be specifically spoilers of immersion, but of suspension of disbelief, something that's a requirement for the game to work.

Quote:
While the idea of players using their own body language and the like to convey characters is highly praised by the (self-proclaimed, for good or ill) True Roleplayers that I encountered, I'm actually quite opposed to it, because (a) it promotes [method?] actors over roleplayers and (b) it forces one to look at and analyse fellow players and trying to translate that to characters, as opposed to thinking about characters in the first place.
For some of us, not extroverts or talented actors, it is nonetheless easier than enunciating our emotions, our own or those of a character we're immersed in.
Quote:
... I find the idea that a character's thoughts need to be as obvious as noon sun to be . . . unpleasant, to say the least. I want, both as a GM and as a player, to see characters capable of plotting and scheming, such that the motivations and intents become clear only in retrospect after several sessions.
Definitely. I've been making plans about what to do in one game where I fear a fellow-PC might go rogue for several years, and don't expect them to be needed for years more.

Last edited by johndallman; 12-01-2014 at 02:36 PM. Reason: emotions, not motions
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Old 12-01-2014, 04:49 PM   #10
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Default Re: Immersion

Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Can we find some terminology for these different things that we call "immersion"?
If I had to take a stab at what Bill is talking about where the player is so into the character's headspace that communication suffers, I'd call it "submersion," in that the player's communications fall off as they become further and further "underwater."

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