Intro to Immersion 101
I've been promising an essay on immersion to a bunch of people for a while now, so as much as I hesitate to use any word so formal as "essay", I guess this is where it starts.
Hrm, OK. Lets start here:
It can be said that:
- Narrativism requires active rather than passive participation in the process of the game.
- Narrativism requires enhanced emotional commitment to the story in order to make it powerful.
- Narrativism requires strong, dynamic, pulsing characters that make strong, dynamic, pulsing choices to make the story out of.
And I find:
- Immersive players, by nature of their immersion have clearer ideas and often fuller articulation about the wants and needs of their characters, which can lead (with support) to fuller, more dynamic kickers, and choices.
- They have techniques, which enable them to make strong emotional investments into the game (via their characters).
And yet, much of the theory around Narrativism seems to suggest that immersion is antithetical to Narrativist play. To this I'd like to say: WTF?
I concede that immersive players who create full, cohesive, complete backgrounds in which their stories are already told and there are no choices to be made, or who's rich internal dialogue never comes out of their heads and into the story do not make good additions to a Nar game. However, I’d go further to posit these behaviors don't make good additions to any game at all because they are dysfunctional behaviors and are not complementary to any mode of play. Essentially they're just the immersionist version of turtling.
Does that mean all immersionists will exhibit these behaviors? By no means. Many immersionists will employ the techniques used in Narrativist games to enhance both their immersive play and the story. They will do so consciously, and functionally, and the game will be better for it.
The problem is, that immersion's a difficult thing to pin down. It's hard to talk about because it's an instinctual and emotional process – that by which we find the place that we can most satisfactorily "plug in" emotionally to the game. I don't think that those who use characters as their emotional "socket" are the only kind of immersionists, but I'll talk more about that later. For the rest of this entry, I'll stick with these folks alone. I'll also show my biases up front: I consider myself a character immersionist, and I believe that we are frequently given a bad rap.
There seems to be this perception out there that all immersionists talk about their relationship to character as if it's a magical or mystical process that cannot be explained, and that this leads many of the theorists to get exasperated and decide that immersionists simply are obfuscating because object to the analysis of their play. I disagree with this, and I find it rather dismissive.
There's a reason why so many immersionists express their immersion experiences in mystical terms: the immersion process is in a secular sense, extremely mystical in that the process is enigmatic, obscure, and it often inspires a sense of wonder in the person who experiences it.
I think that this mode of expression means less that "I object to you analyzing my play" and more a statement of one or more of the following:
- I don't necessarily fully understand the process myself
- I have major trouble expressing it analytically because it crosses over from the left brain to the right brain, and I have trouble finding language for it.
- It feels less authentic and emotionally satisfying to me when I try and force it language around it.
- I'm sensitive about because I'm emotionally connected to it and while I don't object to subjecting it to the process of analysis, I feel like people are frequently dismissive or belittling about the process and I fear that people will dismiss or belittle me for engaging in it.
- It's an emotional process and I've been socialized against discussing emotional things.
- I'm doing it for dysfunctional reasons and I don't want to admit to myself that I'm being dysfunctional
- I've learned to do it not out of choice, because of dysfunctional stimuli and I don't feel safe talking about it, or I'm dysfunctional about how I do it because of dysfunctional stimuli and I don't feel safe talking about it.
So, how do we get around that? I don't know… yet. I do know that I am a character immersionist, I don't object to analysis of my play, and while I do have a dose of A, a hefty chunk of B and a little bit of D going on, I recognize that games are being created by both myself and others, and if I want those games to support my style of play. In order for that to happen, we need to find a way to get at what it means. So, this post and the posts to follow will be me talking about the bits I've figured out or am trying to figure out.
Some of the stuff that I'll be talking about in later posts:
- Description of what immersion means for me as a player, how I came to it, why I like it, and some techniques I use while doing it.
- Different substyles of immersion
- Immersion and GNS modes
- Other immersion "sockets"
- Mechanics that support immersionist play and mechanics that detract from it (specific to Nar games and actual play examples, possibly more)
- Probably a whole lot of other blather.