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10 February 2006 @ 04:17 pm
My theory of immersion in role-playing  
Many of us already switch personalities every day as we move through our daily roles. At home, we are one person. At work, we are another. On the weekend, out with friends, we're another. How did those different personalities get created?

I strongly believe that some people can get so into their character while role-playing that they start to channel the character. I suspect that the way the brain records memories can be trained to record fictional memories in a special way so that a player can switch to the mode of a character and filter decisions and reactions through that character.

Immersive play then is a ritual form of gaming that helps players switch to their character's personality and presents no obstacles to staying in that mode. A lot of the immersionists on RPGnet repeat, I want a game that stays out of the way. They mean that certain game mechanics distract them and force them back into player mode rather than character mode. It requires a switch of personalities, because the PC-personality doesn't know about the resolution system, the main player personality does. Any out-of-character metagame discussion breaks the magic of the ritual.

Here are some things I am not saying:
  • Immersive players are psychotic.

  • It is the "character" who is making decisions, not the player.

  • The player is not responsible for his actions while channeling the character.

(Deleted comment)
Rachel "Sparks" Blackmanseattlesparks on February 10th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Suspect analogy
We can't play a character who's not made from us - either our own selves, or our mental models of the other. But we can certainly forget that we are playing a role - particularly if we spend enough time and energy on practicing, ritualizing that role so that it becomes not a clumsy mask but a second skin.

Which is what method acting (over in the world of stage and movie and television) helps with; by gaining experiences in common with the character, you now have a basis in yourself to give you better immersion in the role.
Christian Griffen (xenopulse)chgriffen on February 10th, 2006 10:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Suspect analogy
Damn, you just made me lose The Game. :)

Now, social roles are a little more involved than just masks. One of my social roles is that of a father, and that's not only a behavioral role, it's one that imbues me with duties, responsibilities, and a value system that are different from my other roles. And those can be in conflict: do I act according to my parental responsibilities here, or according to my responsibilities as an employee? (E.g., splitting up time between my kids and my work; do I say yes to working on the weekend because my firm needs me even if I promised my kids to spend it with them?)

But anyway, I think your point about the inside of the mask is excellent and helps me understand the difference between immersion-as-experience and the outward results of it.
jhkimrpgjhkimrpg on February 11th, 2006 12:05 am (UTC)
Re: Suspect analogy
The reference to masks is interesting. James Wallis used the term "Mask Play" to describe the most immersive level of role-playing (in Interactive Fantasy #3). This is based in particular on Keith Johnstone's discussion of "Mask and Trance" in his book Impro and other works. He describes it:

'Mask-play' is the most complete way that the player can enter the game-world. Think of it as a virtual reality: when the player looks around, they see the game-world. They look at other players and see the characters. They look in a mirror and see their character's face. Only by doing this, by shutting out as much of the real world as possible, will the player be able to let their normal personality take a back seat, and allow the personality of their fictional character to take over. I can't describe what that actually means because it doesn't happen often enough to be analyzed, but personal experience makes me think it's worth striving for.

I haven't read Impro yet myself, but certainly in other cultures mask play is often associated with trance and becoming of the Other.
Christian Griffen (xenopulse)chgriffen on February 11th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC)
Re: Suspect analogy
Keithstone's books read like they were improvised, too :) You won't find in-depth analysis, he just jumps from game to anecdote back to exercises and never lingers much in any one place. Still, there are lots of gems to be picked out in there.
Christian Griffen (xenopulse)chgriffen on February 11th, 2006 12:29 am (UTC)
Re: Suspect analogy
Hah! I smushed his two names into one. It's really time I get home and catch some sleep.
 Adam Drayadamdray on February 11th, 2006 02:01 am (UTC)
Re: Suspect analogy
Those "multiple personalities" we talk about when we're switching between contexts and role in our daily life, though? They're a whole lot more ephemeral than the concept of character required for immersion (in the hardcore sense). They're not whole personalities (and when they are, that's generally when you start talking about MPD). Role-based, presentational self is a matter of learned ritualized behavior and emphasis, a selective masking of internal states and deliberate presentation of a facade.

That's pretty much the opposite of the stated goal of hardcore immersion. You can't channel a mask.

Those ephemeral, un-whole personalities created by learned, ritualized behavior and selective masking? That sounds exactly like what we do when we role-play immersively. That is, I think you're agreeing with me. It sounds a lot like you said what I said, anyway. Or what I meant to say.

We can forget we're playing a role at work, or when we're out at the club, too. Just as our character is a mask, so is our work persona.
(Deleted comment)
yeloson on February 11th, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
This makes a lot of sense to me. It also means that this ritual goal is pretty distant on the "map" of agendas or "stuff we can do with this game" from most other goals. In fact, this seems so specialized that it doesn't seem like it would work well with any other possible goal in play.

What do you think?
 Adam Drayadamdray on February 11th, 2006 02:12 am (UTC)
If you're suggesting it's a Creative Agenda, I don't think it is. The immersionists have been telling us for a long time that they don't fit into GNS.

They tell us that Gamism ruins their fun, that typical Narrativism techniques (but not necessarily the CA) have too much 'meta' in them to be fun, and often say that the Big Model description of Simulationism doesn't map to what they want.

Sim as it's been described in Forge discussions a month or so ago (where 'Constructive Denial' was coined) does seem to offer a definition (or clarification) of Sim that fits or envelopes Immersionism. I don't know that Sim as Constructive Denial interferes with Immersionism goals at all, really.

So it probably isn't but I'm open to the idea that it is. I think most people don't understand Sim very well at all. The original Right to Dream article wasn't very clear and Constructive Denial theory fits what Sim people are doing a little better, I think, though I'd want to bounce it off some of them before deciding for sure.
yeloson on February 11th, 2006 02:22 am (UTC)
It could be a Technical Agenda, but what I'm saying is that it is so specialized that it is pretty exclusive in the types of play that it is "compatible with". That is, it doesn't want any play that breaks the ritual, therefore it's a narrow range of types of play it can work with.
(Deleted comment)
yeloson on February 11th, 2006 03:06 am (UTC)
I'm not saying all immersionism = hardcore. I'm saying that play where the goal is ritualistic immersionism is hardcore, and that particular type of hardcore is pretty exclusive by it's nature.
(Deleted comment)
yeloson on February 11th, 2006 03:59 am (UTC)
it seems to most often coexist with other technical adaptations (snip) which probably expand its range substantially.

I see those adaptations as what makes it particularly narrow, in fact, it's a narrow range even within immersive play. Consider that most of the time, when folks are talking about the spectrum of immersive play, they usually include any/all of the following:

a) Emotional engagement to the game (not really immersive, but...)
b) Emotional engagement with the character
c) Emotional sympathy with the character (evoking similar emotions)
d) Masking/Actor stance

And, depending on where on this scale they expect play to be as a standard. What makes this type of play particularly hardcore is that it aims to have all of the above, hitting ALL the time, and also is "hostile" to other types of play that might disrupt the ritual aspect. That is, I can be all deep in my character but if Joe starts going on about his "+3 advantage" it disrupts my vibe.

While it definitely rides that Sim/Nar border, that doesn't mean it's a broad place at all...