Thursday, November 17, 2005

I Don't Get Immersion

So there's lots of talk about Immersion both on Sin Aesthetics and at Eliot Wilen's Journal. Normally, I like to think of myself as this nice, open-minded gamer who enjoys just about any facet of the hobby, not tied down to any particular CA or technique or what-have-you, but I simply can't wrap my head around the appeal of Immersion.

Now, I think I "get" Immersion -- being in your character's head, thinking as your character, declaring actions as your character would make them, and generally enjoying the experience of being in that headspace. (Good so far?) Not reaching outside of the character to affect the character, staying in Actor Stance (Still good?). Taking in what the other players at the table give you, responding and reacting to it, and spitting out that reaction (Leaping off track yet?).

Now, I can understand the sort of be-someone-else sort of feel to that, but it seems to me that pursuing that feeling necessarily abandons the possibility of taking fuller control of what happens to the character (as opposed to what the character does). No Author or Director Stance for you. No Scene Framing. No supplying yourself with the beyond-your-character "Ammo" to get what you want out of play. No strategizing on a narrative level, just on an experiential level. To me it seems like deciding that you really like potatoes, and not eating the rest of Christmas dinner.

I'm assuming that I've totally screwed up my characterization by this point -- what have I missed? Or are all those extra-character techniques and powers either not necessary or not desirable? If those extra-character techniques and powers aren't desirable, are you relying on another player (probably a GM) to supply you with pokes, prods, resources, and bangs? Is Immersion a specifically reactive stance?

Immersion is enjoyed by intelligent, creative people that I respect, so I'm sure I've got something wrong, here. Can someone tell me what I'm missing?

32 Comments:

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

Hello Joshua,

I'm not an immersionist, but I've thought about the phenomenon some. I don't know if I can help you, but in my experience there's nothing inherent in the act of immersion that forces the things you mention in the third paragraph away. At least not as long as you separate the roleplayed scenes from the between-the-scenes talk where you frame the next scene and decide where the story should go.

But on the other hand, some of my best friends are immersionists (how did that sound?) and they definitely want the GM to be very strong force, a producer of the whole session. They want to care about their character and then, as you say, react to whatever comes up in play in a way that feels natural for that character.

Another thing they're very into is present day, or at least more or less modern day, games with more toned down conflicts that they can relate more to as players. Getting your hand chopped of by your father's lightsaber? Not likely. Probably more like playing people on a high school reunion that has unsolved stuff bubbling under the surface, or people attending a funeral after a childhood friend's suicide.

Why am I talking about conflicts? Well, there's an obsession at the Forge and elsewhere on conflicts as the thing to strive for in games. In MLwM or PTA, you play until you reach the conflict and then you break out the dice or cards, resolve it, and maybe act out the resolution. In PTA you do have Matt Wilson say that it's ok if you don't find a conflict in each scene, but you still get a feeling that it's what's desirable.

When I discussed conflicts with one of my immersionist friends he said that he wasn't at all interested in these over-the-top dramatic moments where the character has to take hard choices, but instead wanted very down-to-earth things going on. Breakfast and dinner scenes are very popular with these people, having the characters sitting around a table chatting about nothing and everything, but not trying as players to find a conflict and attack it. It's like how it can be thrilling to watch someone get chased by a killer in a movie, but you wouldn't want to experience the feeling firsthand. Same thing with many of the harder conflicts, it's too much to take in if your playing scene after scene fully immersed.

But I have to confess that I can be pretty baffled and confused by the whole immersion thing. You have people violently attacking the Forge and everything it stands for, people refusing analysis of their games, Forge people refusing to discuss immersion since they've done it unsuccessfully before, people trying to build bridges but that sooner or later will drift to far from "one of the sides" and get attacked anyway. I don't know, I've found that I'm interested in precisely the things immersionists attack, so I usually try to stay away from any arguments anymore.

What I would like is a game that supports immersionist play through mechanics or through well-written guidelines. The main problem seems to be that there's many different kinds of immersion and such a game wouldn't promote what every immersionist calls "immersion." And since immersion is not something you can force, as little as you can force players to make thematic choices if they insist on doing "what the character would do," it wouldn't probably teach anyone anything that wasn't already interested. But perhaps I should write the game and make a million bucks?

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger IceCreamEmperor said...

I'm no expert (though I am a MUSHer, and it seems to me that most MUSHers hold up character immersion as an ideal for play), but there's a few things that I think may be overlooked:

1) Immersion can start and stop.

Some of the questions you ask -- particularly about Immersion being reactive, and precluding any effort by the player to "take fuller control" of their character's situation -- seem to assume that Immersion is an all-or-nothing playstyle. If you're playing as an Immersionist, you're always playing as an immersionist, even when you're at a point in play where your character isn't even present (for example, scene-framing, or snack breaks.) I've seen this opinion elsewhere (rarely explicitly stated) in similar discussions, and I don't think it's very fair.

It seems to me that Immersion is a collection of techniques, and that there is no reason a player could not de-immerse and re-immerse during play, depending on his priorities and the flow of the game. In fact, this seems to me to be key to successful Immersionist play. You create your character and frame scenes and situations, and then you get 'into character' and play out what you've created. I don't see a reason to assume that Immersionist play must be analogous to Method acting, but I could be wrong -- I think I'd be startled if a player kept talking and acting like their character during a 30-minute dinner break in the middle of a game.

What you say about Immersion being reactive makes sense, but only once the immersive state is achieved, or made the primary goal. One conclusion from this would be that games that allow players to front-load as much situation and theme and framing as possible will be better-suited to an immersive player. It might also mean that the feedback loops you've described with your Circle o' Stuff might be temporarily disabled for that player.

--

The other thing I think you're missing is mostly about preferences. For you, missing out on all the framing and director-stance stuff may be missing the forest for the trees -- but some people really like trees, and for good reason. For me, the idea of having meta-level control over my character's fate is appealing, and a way to solve a lot of problems I've encountered in gaming -- but it doesn't replace the original appeal of gaming, which for me was and is very much 'what it's like to be someone else.' And what it's like to be someone else includes not having meta-level control over what happens next. What you describe as weaknesses -- from a structural, game-playing point of view -- I would also describe as strengths, from the point of view of individual player experience.

For me, it's an unfortunate problem with many roleplaying games that director stance, scene framing, and other techniques are necessary in order to have coherent, entertaining play. It's a happy coincidence that the solutions to those problems have also created a huge host of other ways to play that I also find interesting and worthwhile -- but there is still a mode of play that I find attractive where these techniques disappear and I concentrate entirely on inside-out characterisation. Where 'being there' is the entirety of the goal, and it doesn't actually matter whether 'there' is the best possible place to be.

I have no idea if these are 'immersionist' opinions, but I certainly sympathise with them, regardless of their label.

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger John Kim said...

Or are all those extra-character techniques and powers either not necessary or not desirable? If those extra-character techniques and powers aren't desirable, are you relying on another player (probably a GM) to supply you with pokes, prods, resources, and bangs? Is Immersion a specifically reactive stance?

Well, no. Being immersionist is reactive if you have a reactive or disempowered character, and proactive if you have an empowered and proactive character. In many tabletop games, the tendency is for the GM to dominate activity -- though this is changing. But this isn't necessary. You can see this in, say, an art larp where there is no active organizer. No one declares cuts from on time to another or declares external events. Instead, you realize that characters themselves can drive things.

Characters don't need to be poked, prodded, or banged for there to be action. Instead, the characters can proactively pursue their goals, and act as foils and opposition to each other. If you haven't played in a good art larp, you should try. You can have an engaging, active scenario simply by having everyone act out their charactes.

In practice, when playing immersively in tabletop, I often either delight or infuriate (or sometimes both) GMs by being too active or active in the wrong direction -- pursuing actions which were not part of their intended storyline, and responding incorrectly to their pokes and prods.

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

I'm only asking clarifying questions right now, cause I want to get more input before I try making anything resembling a conclusion.

John, I can envision a scenario where ten characters are played strictly "true to character" and their agenda intersect, interact, and conflict. I mean, hello MUSH. But what ensures that that will happen, and what maintains that sort of action? Is it all front-loaded in Immersionist play, or do the players "come up for air" every once in a while (as ICE suggests) to strategize? Or, as jonas suggests, is creating those intersections and conflicts not the goal of play in the first place?

 
At 7:40 PM, Blogger Marco said...

IME what keeps everyone on the same page and keeps things happening is the front-loading. If the characters start with agendas that intersect and situation that is relevant to them then there's no reason to think everyone will go off on their own.

Put another way: most assessments of good fiction do not show/require the clear hand of the author in terms of breaking character or manipulating the world in counterintuitive ways in order to get a satisfying narrative. There's no reason gaming fiction has to either.

-Marco

 
At 12:45 AM, Blogger John Kim said...

Well, there are a couple of things. First of all, I think a common theoretical mistake is to treat the channeled character as a meaningless physical object which will naturally head in whatever direction it was front-loaded to do. It is not. In rational scientific terms, the channeled character is unconscious expression of the player. In metaphoric terms, the character has metagame wants. Ursula Le Guin, for example, described writing The Farthest Shore as Ged telling her how he had to die.

The point is, that for immersionists, the characters are expressions of the unconscious imagination, and following the character will take you to places where the imagination is leading you. The imagination is intelligent and has interesting things to say. It is not a dull interpreter of input. By trying to control it, to steer it in the right directions, you are interefering with its message.

A lot of people express worry about this. Effectively, they are saying: "You can't let imagination guide your game! You need to have rational strategic thought guide it."

Now, that said, sometimes you will find that immersive methods lead you to places which you have problems with for some reason. So there are techniques for doing otherwise. For example, breaks both during the session and discussion between sessions can be used to guide things. Often a GM or organizer will not immerse and may establish limits on the action.

However, in my experience, if you actually touch that part of the imagination, you're always going to get intersections or conflicts. At least for me, what happens under immersion has very little to do with front-loading. Front-loading may establish limits to the action, but the driving force is dynamic. It is what I find out.

 
At 6:06 AM, Blogger Marco said...

Hi John,
If you were responding to me with the front-loaded bit, I agree: the channeled character is not simply an arrow shot from a bow that travels in the narrative equivalent of a parabolic arc.

The strawman objection to immersion is that the players create a rabbi, a bounty hunter, and an a cheerleader (which could be the set up for a dirty joke) and the GM presents a series of grizzly murders around the city and ... well!? How do they get involved with anything or each other or ... anything.

In my experience that doesn't happen: channeled characters have the same reasons to stay together, pursue positive courses of action, and make exciting things happen as folks in real life and good fiction do: because its in their interests.

But if there is *no* cohesive factor in the begining of the game or the characters created are dedicated to stasis (the PCs are made as incredibly hard to motivate, jaded, comfortable where they are, and with no forces acting on them) then, yeah, I think Channeling will tend to lead to more of the above.

-Marco

 
At 5:10 PM, Blogger John Snead said...

Hi, I got here from Eliot Wilen's LJ, and I'm also a serious immersionist in that the only style of play I enjoy is immersion. I'm also a bit uncertain as to how to answer your question. I've been gaming for 20+ years and I've never felt the slightest impulse to pursue non-immersive gaming (other than a very rare desire for some mindless beer & pretzels dungeon crawling). I've tried gaming non-immersively, but doing so feels exceptionally bland and uninteresting to me. I suppose that the best way to express how I feel is that for me, immersion is one of the core reasons that I game, w/o it, gaming loses more than 3/4s of its interest for me.

My few experiences with non-immersive play have not worked because I simply do not enjoy the experience of gaming and being outside my character. Even when I GM (and I am primarily a player) I tend to GM major NPCs immersively. The short for of my answer is that I'm interested in immersion and I'm largely uninterested in "the possibility of taking fuller control of what happens to the character". I hope my response has been at least somewhat useful. I find my own preferences difficult to explain because I have difficulty understanding on any real level what people get out of non-immersive gaming.

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Welcome to my little corner of the discussion, John. If I'm reading you right, you fall into the camp that finds any out-of-character actions to direct the course of the game as undesirable -- does that apply both during play and between sessions? Do you find you are reliant on someone else to provide situations for you to immerse your character in, or do these sorts of situations just crop up through play?

 
At 4:19 AM, Blogger Marco said...

For my part, it's quite easy to direct the course of the game in-character, during play: The PC's decide to do something and go do it.

This doesn't require anything but a GM who is capable of facilitating that (i.e. a modestly experienced GM who isn't committed to railroading a particular outcome) and Players who have some ideas about what they would like to do.

I'm surprised people would see it any other way. I think there are some foundational misconceptions about immersion here.

-Marco

 
At 5:34 PM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Marco, I've played in numerous games that ran under "do whatever you want... as long as it's within the bounds of your character's abilities." The simple fact of the matter is that players are forgoing a number of options by playing under such rules. Introducing a character that serves as a foil for your character, for instance, or telling a flashback story which requires setting up some specific details of past history -- these are things that are not things that "my character can do" but still things that I might want to see as a player.

I've no argument that the players, sans a railroading GM, can "take the story anywhere" by declaring that they're putting one foot in front of the other and going to Chicago or the Blasted Dragonlands or whatever. Unless I'm seriously not seeing something, I don't see how immersionist techniques allow the players to make the story about sibling rivalry, global politics, or coming out of the closet. Is there some element that I've completely not mentioned that allows for this?

 
At 1:55 AM, Blogger Elliot Wilen said...

Hi, Joshua. I'm going to just jump right in and talk about my preferences. I'm pretty sure I'm a light immersionist at most. In fact I suspect my tastes are fairly well represented by the profile that came out of a little quiz on Robin Laws' gamer types, which put Tactician and Method Actor near the top of my list.

I tend to enjoy the situational aspect of characterization more than the personality aspect. The character is defined by certain interests and a role in society, and my goal is to pursue those interests in the manner appropriate to the character. The psychological aspect is backgrounded or nonexistent except to the degree that it gets reflected back at me by the reactions of my fellow gamers. I.e., I construct the personality of a character at the start of play and make a conscious effort to present that personality. If successful, I get reactions which help me "settle into character", very much in the way that wearing a mask can help free one of inhibitions at a costume party.

But once that's done, I don't particularly revel in exploring the psychological depths of a character or his emotional conflicts. I've traditionally focused more on tactics. And here the need for Actor stance comes simply from the fact that you can't "push" against a world that you yourself create.

(I'll have to leave it at that for now because it's already late.)

 
At 7:28 AM, Blogger Marco said...

I don't see how immersionist techniques allow the players to make the story about sibling rivalry, global politics, or coming out of the closet. Is there some element that I've completely not mentioned that allows for this?

The technique I've found for it is "front-loading." I've made characters with sibling-rivals and made characters who participate in global politics.

If one makes a character who is in the closet, comes out, and no story develops around that, when the player wishes one, then clearly something has been missed (such as setting up a conflict about why the character is in the closet in the first place).

In GURPS and Hero the most common tools I have seen for it are disadvantages. In other games, the character background usually suffices.

Put another way, if a character is not "fit" (i.e. a character has no siblings or has friendly or distant relationships with them) how would authorial stance-play make the story about sibling rivalry?

I agree that *directoral-power* could do it ("in this episode I introduce my hitherto unseen brother with whom I share a rivalry") but that's, IME, a pretty far stretch for most games and would still be considered "front-loading" ("For this episode I take a new Enemy: my hitherto unseen brother.")

-Marco

 
At 12:25 PM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

So just to clarify, Marco, in your "in this episode I take a new Enemy" you're assuming non-immersionist strategizing "outside" of play or between sessions?

 
At 12:51 PM, Blogger Elliot Wilen said...

That is definitely the sort of thing Marco and I have discussed. IMO it reflects one form of improving the functionality of immersion. It might not work for everyone, such as the anti-conflict immersionists that Jonas wrote about. I would bet that they'd have a little harder time playing with non-immersive players. However, it's not like there aren't some pretty sublime bits of literature and film/TV which are almost pure characterization with conflict dialed down to a minimum. Such as episodes of Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Homicide, the comic book Love and Rockets, and the movie Life is Sweet. If a non-immesive appreciates those, they might work well with a deep immersive of that sort.

(Apologies for the jarring non-sequitur that's about to happen here. If you were on LJ, it'd be a separate thread in the comments :) )

I'd like to say something about Laws' Tactician as an immersive type, incidentally, because the concept can be taken to mean something other than what I intend. For example, see the description of a Tactician in Who_should_use_FFRE_02.pdf.

Peter Knutsen's idea of the Tactician, based on that text, is someone who's interested in tactics specifically at the micro-level. I doubt that's what Laws intended (there's a short version here). Whatever--what I take from Laws' term is that I'm interested in confronting problems from a first-person perspective, which means that Knutsen hits the nail on the head when he says the player has the opportunity to make "the macro-strategic, strategic and tactical decisions, on behalf of the character...such as whether to attack from the rear or flank, or whether to try to bribe or seduce, or whether to hurry or work very carefully and slowly when examining the strange alien device." Heck, I get jazzed over whether to travel by land or by sea, whether to ally with this faction or that one, etc. Very large-scale decisions. The impact on the need for Immersion is the same: I want the decisions to be meaningful and I'd to make/execute them based on pretty much the same information, interests, and resources as the character.

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger Marco said...

So just to clarify, Marco, in your "in this episode I take a new Enemy" you're assuming non-immersionist strategizing "outside" of play or between sessions?

Yes--between sessions. What it points out is that if I have made a character who is simply not suited ("fit") for a conflict I want (i.e. I create an only-child character and then want sibling rivalry plots) even authorial stance won't get me there. I will have to exercise directoral power in order to manipulate the world so the conflict can arise.

-Marco

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Marco wrote:

"Put another way, if a character is not "fit" (i.e. a character has no siblings or has friendly or distant relationships with them) how would authorial stance-play make the story about sibling rivalry?

I agree that *directoral-power* could do it ("in this episode I introduce my hitherto unseen brother with whom I share a rivalry") but that's, IME, a pretty far stretch for most games and would still be considered "front-loading" ("For this episode I take a new Enemy: my hitherto unseen brother.")"

This kind of directional-power do not have to be excluded when striving for immersion. As you certainly never immerse between the sessions you can "re-front-load" the story between each session. This is in fact how I most often handle it as a GM. Before each session I discuss with the players where they want to take the game and their characters. This way they can have direct influence as players while still having and immersive playstyle during sessions. For me it is the best of both worlds.

I also got to say that Jonas Karlsson made an accurate description of his "immersionist friends" and how they reason, me being one of the most hard-core of them :)

 
At 7:27 AM, Blogger Merten said...

I guess I also fall to the hardcode-immersion category alongside with Jonas B, so:

I think you are pretty spot on with your understanding, Joshua, and only missing with what the immersions get out of playing with their chosen style. At least around where I play, players or player-enabling powers or methods are not intresting; character-enabling methods are. Players don't do a thing; characters do, and players act through their characters. So, yes, one could call it reactive playing, where players are reacting (mostly) to what other players are doing through their characters, or (usually, less) what GM is doing.

The division of labour is pretty straighforward; players concentrate to their characters (and have sole ownership over them) and GM handles the rest of the imaginary setting (diegesis, whatever). It tends to produce a very dialogue-driven play.

Different techniques like scene framing or what have you could probably be used with immersion (see Jeepform for loads of techniques), but as for out style of playing, we haven't really had need for them. For us, immersion is about making and watching stuff happen through the characters and only through the characters. What player wants is taken care of in advance ("so, would you like to play in a game which is about these themes?"), but not giving player control over where the actual play goes is sort of the point of immersion. What player wants is not important - what character wants, is. It's kind of like jumping into a current and exploring where it takes you and (as hindsight), why did it take you there, how you felt during the trip and what did you get out of it.

I don't know about other more or less HC-immersionists, but for me, experiences with live-roleplaying have been a major thing shaping what I want out of my roleplaying and how do I get what I want. I've posted some notes about the subject to my blog while following this discussion, in case someone is intrested in that angle:

http://merten.kapsi.fi/rpg/?p=63

 
At 9:33 AM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Welcome, Merten and Jonas. Would it be a fair characterization of "your" immersion to say that, in immersion, the player takes on the constraints of one character's perspective and ability in order to create? Sort of similar to other art forms where the artist takes on arbitrary restrictions -- Kafka writing without the letter 'e' for instance? And that, further, the restriction serves some sort of aesethetic agenda, or even as a challenging framework under which to operate?

 
At 9:36 AM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Eliot, your emphasis seems to be on what is referenced elsewhere as "meaningful decisions" -- land or sea, seduce or bribe, flank or rear. Does that sound about right? If so, are there any meaningful decisions that you're not particularly interested in making in an RPG setting?

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Joshua, I guess you could say that, but as I see it the process of creation is more or less separated from the experienceing part of the game. (What could I have used instead of "game" here? I do not like that world as it implies rules to so many people.)

I create a character and depanding on the session maybe also a setting and a story seed.

When it all starts I experience this character/story from a fist person and hopefully immersive view.

I also like to point out that I, in contrary to Merten, tries to make as much use of scene framing and the like as possible when leading a game, as I've found it helping immersion in table-top games. This is especially true in campaign games with a plot more epic than visiting weddings and having breakfast.

My campaign games usually switch from descriptive third person scenes to immersive first person scenes depending on what is most suitable. The main point is to make it totally clear to the players when they are supposted to be in fist person mode.

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger Merten said...

Would it be a fair characterization of "your" immersion to say that, in immersion, the player takes on the constraints of one character's perspective and ability in order to create?

I'd think that it's a fairly good assumption, yes - the player creates a mental construct of his character from whatever sources he is presented with (pre-written background, usually, though the character might be his own creation, a shared creation or something else) and filling the blanks himself. The player acts through this character by trying to be him, with and through whatever constraints the character has.

So, if you're playing an immoral massmurderer, what you are, as a player trying to achieve, is a mindset of an immoral massmurderer. You look at things through the eyes of the said murderer, or however good emulation of the mindset you can come up with, using whatever techniques you like (like method acting). And if your massmurderer mindset tells you that you oughta massmurder other player characters... Well, that's what you do. Aside the characters goals is the players goal to experience what's it like to be a massmurderer. Why he is what is he is, how he feels, what's the thrill of it.

Needless to say, playing a very - ahem - different mindset can be very unsettling and very hard, though the experience might be forceful. Thus, the characters tend to be someone who's mindsets you are able to slip into.

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger Elliot Wilen said...

Your emphasis seems to be on what is referenced elsewhere as "meaningful decisions" -- land or sea, seduce or bribe, flank or rear. Does that sound about right?

Yes, pretty much, but note that there are other things that I appreciate in games provided they don't interfere with the "meaningful decisions" part. Also, it doesn't come up in the Tactician description, but I would equally appreciate "moral decisions" as a type of "meaningful decision".

If so, are there any meaningful decisions that you're not particularly interested in making in an RPG setting?

Not to sound like a scratched CD, but in the midst of play I'm not particularly interested in making decisions regarding things over which the character would have no power. I'm especially uninterested in making decisions that negate the meaning of other decisions.

E.g., a GM asks me, "Do you go by land or sea?" and I answer "Are there any reports of pirate activity?" If the GM says "I dunno, you tell me", it's going to kill my immersion. On the other hand, if I ask the GM about pirates at a point when it really isn't relevant to my character, and the GM says "That's something I really haven't thought about. What do you think?", I would be much happier to give my impression of how the fictional world works--my impression, as a player, not necessarily my character's impression.

I also need to say that in order for a decision to be meaningful, it has to really contribute to a resolution. The GM shouldn't confuse my interest in tackling decisions as an invitation to concoct a series of ad-hoc complications. I suppose this is a stakes-setting issue. Going by sea will get me there faster, but there's a danger of pirates. I opt for the sea route and the resolution system works in my favor. (Doesn't matter if it's a drawn-out series of scenes punctuated by rolls on an encounter table, or a single conflict resolution.) So I get to my destination quickly. In most cases, the payoff for winning a gamble like that should be to get me closer to my goal. If I perceive that the GM has me in some sort of Red Queen's Race/Zeno's Paradox (I'm making a jargon nomination on this) such that doing well just makes more work for my character, that's also going to blow Immersion.

(Has anyone else had a "makework" math teacher who, if you finished your exercises quickly, would "reward" you by giving you more of the same tedious sums to add up?)

 
At 1:50 PM, Blogger Elliot Wilen said...

Er, I originally had "I'm not interested in making 'meaningful' decisions over which my character would have no power" but I took out the quoted word "meaningful".

It wouldn't be a problem to make non-meaningful decision over which the character has no power. At most it'd be borderline. E.g., my character is in a spaceport and he wants to buy a can of soda, a tennis racket, and an kid's inflateable swimming float, for...whatever reason. I don't think it would hurt my immmersion if it was understood and expected that I would just declare that those things are available for sale. And it'd be perfectly fine if the GM built on that later in ways that did impact meaningfully on my character.

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger John Snead said...

Welcome to my little corner of the discussion, John. If I'm reading you right, you fall into the camp that finds any out-of-character actions to direct the course of the game as undesirable -- does that apply both during play and between sessions?

Only during game sessions. I'm perfectly open to metagaming discussions between sessions. I'm not particularly interested in setting up specific situations for my PC and find it far more enjoyable for such situations to simly occur during play. This is also the reason I vastly prefer diced to diceless play - I enjoy having little knowledge or control of the external events occurring to my PC and prefer to have at least some level of chance (as opposed to pre-planning on anyone's part) involved in how these situations work out. However, I also find it very useful to analyze previous sessions from a metagaming perspective to keep track of necessary elements like party dynamics as well as discussing any problems I might have with someone's GM style or suggestions for general improvement. I prefer to keep such suggestions fairly general. My strong preference is for the details of play to a mixture of GM pre-planning combined with both on-the-spot decisions by the GM and the players, and random chance. Part of being immersive for me is specifically not knowing the details of how a particular story will work out or what affect it will have on the PCs (other than a basic player contract that mandates no meaningless deaths).

Do you find you are reliant on someone else to provide situations for you to immerse your character in, or do these sorts of situations just crop up through play?

Such situations crop up during play. Also, except in a few specific games, my group almost always mandates that all PCs be people who are more inclined to be active than reactive and to be characters who will be people that move towards adventure rather than away from it. As a result, I play characters who actively seek out interesting situations. However, on an internal level, the act of doing this in-character feels very different from doing this in a non-immersive fashion, in that the PC is chosing to get involved in various situations rather than having my expernally mandate such choices. However, I very much do not find immersion to be a reactive style of play (unless one is playing a reactive PC). Immersion is not about being active vs being reactive, it's about changing to locus of control of the situation from the player to the PC. While doing so provides less control over externals, I find those limits to be interesting and very much enjoy having a PC control a situation.

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Jonas, maybe the word you're looking for instead of 'game' is simply 'experience'? I know 'experience the experience' is kind of redundant, but it sounds like you put things into two separate phases, the set up and the experience.

John sounds similar, being okay with metagame concerns but doesn't want to create 'specific situations' that he has to address. This sounds similar to Eliot, who is fine with adding in player-fiat for things that are not important (can I buy a soda in this spaceport) but doesn't want to exercise player-fiat that are important (if there are pirates). In rough terms, it seems that you guys don't want to determine the situation (the significant elements of play and their relationships) in-character.

Is it then the role of the GM to pose situations for the players to address through their characters? Or the role of the group in front-loading enough volatile elements into the characters and setting so that a situation of one stripe or another will manifest?

Once such a situation is posed or manifests, it seems like immersion seeks to sort of revel in the process of coming to those meaningful decisions, rather than the final decision itself. I'm hedging into putting words into people's mouths, here, but perhaps Eliot gains a sense of responsibility for those decisions (I chose to go by sea) whereas Merten produces a sort of context for those decisions (why the mass murderer wants to do what he does). Is the root between the two creating a sense of sympathy with the character?

 
At 4:34 PM, Blogger Elliot Wilen said...

you guys don't want to determine the situation (the significant elements of play and their relationships) in-character

Wow, that's a toughie. I'm going to tentatively say "yes". Defining a situation (and we've talked about situation profitably on the Forge lately) is a metagame activity (Author or Director level).

But as you say in your next paragraph, it's still something the players can do when front-loading a campaign or a scenario. You have an unnecessary division, there, though. We have a GM and we have players. Someone can pose situations for the players to address through their characters. If it's the GM, we have a rather centralized game which might tend toward railroading or trailblazing. If it's the players, I think we have an extreme example of character-centrism, rather like having the GM hammer directly your Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel, or on your Social/Psychological Ads/Disads in GURPS.

OR, someone can frontload enough volatile elements into the characters and the setting so that some kind of situation will manifest. If it's mainly the GM, then I think you have something rather like a "world based" game. (Look here for an old discussion.) The idea is that there's enough happening in the background that there's bound to be something that grabs the characters' attention. A more focused and player-centric approach might be Relationship Maps. At least in the example Ron Edwards pointed me to, R-Maps are contrived by the GM but "resolved" into their full significance by the player-characters.

 
At 4:38 PM, Blogger Elliot Wilen said...

Elliot [note, two l's] gains a sense of responsibility for those decisions (I chose to go by sea) whereas Merten produces a sort of context for those decisions (why the mass murderer wants to do what he does). Is the root between the two creating a sense of sympathy with the character?

Sorry, I didn't get to this. Um, I'm going to have to go with "creating a sense of being the character and/or living in the fictional world".

 
At 4:48 PM, Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Joshua, can you elaborate a bit on this?

"Once such a situation is posed or manifests, it seems like immersion seeks to sort of revel in the process of coming to those meaningful decisions, rather than the final decision itself. I'm hedging into putting words into people's mouths, here, but perhaps Eliot gains a sense of responsibility for those decisions (I chose to go by sea) whereas Merten produces a sort of context for those decisions (why the mass murderer wants to do what he does). Is the root between the two creating a sense of sympathy with the character?"

 
At 7:50 PM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Elaboration:

See, I'm shading into Big Model territory, which I normally try to avoid, but... Narrativism prods the characters to address the situation/premise, and it is important that the players 'have their say' -- the end decision that they make is the important thing (but not its success or failure). Gamism prods the characters to address the situation/challenge, and the important bit is success or failure.

I was speculating that Immersion guides the players to experience the process of addressing the situation, with the end result and the success or failure largely irrelevant. It seems it's the making of the meaningful decisions rather than the decisions or their success/failure. Even the Nordic dinner party scenes with no earth-shattering consequences still revolve around making decisions of what to do and say and doing them in the right way rather than coming up with the right answer. I'm just hearing a lot of "Immersion allows me to address the situation in a certain way" and the parallels are too easy to pass up at least proposing.

Elliot (sorry, I read way too much TS Eliot in colllege) --

Yes, an "immersionist" can do the metagame thing, but there's a time and a place for it, and that's not during the roleplaying. As far as I can tell it seems immersion is defined by adopting restrictions of when players can employ which strategies and interactions; now I just want to know why it is so constituted. What's the pay off? At least provisionally, it seems to me that it's experiencing a decision-making process that is not your own.

 
At 12:57 AM, Blogger Merten said...

I was speculating that Immersion guides the players to experience the process of addressing the situation, with the end result and the success or failure largely irrelevant. It seems it's the making of the meaningful decisions rather than the decisions or their success/failure.

I'm still not sure if I understand this right, but it sounds about correct. What we (as in, around here, not implying other folks at this comment thread) usually want is to be someone else and see how they react to whatever happens - and what happens after that. So yes, the process is more important - if you'd be like this, what'd you do and why? What'd you feel during this kind of situtation? How do you get along with this kind of guy?

I'd like to stress that I don't really get this addressing something-thing and meaningful-something-thing as the core of a play. Meaningful situtations in which the character has to make important decisions might and probably will come around during the play, but there's no structure that would make it the sole most important thing in the play. Something like that could be point of the play, if there is a point that someone wishes to make. Or there could be a lot of them. Or the characters (and players acting through them) could just say "aww, sod it" and do something else, if that's possible.

As for the situtation, I'd say that we a habit of front-loading a lot of potentially intresting stuff (characters, relationship maps, setting, etc) into the play and then see if it ignites. Usually it does, but if not, that's pretty intresting and rewarding as well.

All this, while I'm identifying with what Elliot and Jonas B are saying.

 
At 11:58 AM, Blogger Elliot Wilen said...

Yes, I pretty much concur with Merten, although I do think he has emphasized "being a character" more, while I've emphasized "experiencing a situation" ("living in a fictional world") more.

Maybe that has something to do with my self-identification as a light immersionist as opposed to a deep immersionist.

 

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