Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On Immersion

Immersion is the single most important thing in roleplaying! Yes, I do make this claim but before you get upset (some of you may just agree, of course) let me clarify a bit. The way I see it there are several levels of immersion and depending on taste one may prefer to focus on one of them or mix and match. They are not really set levels but more of a sliding scale from outside observer to total identification.

Setting Immersion
This is the most basic level of immersion, as it happens every time something is engaging enough that the outside world is shut out. When reading a good book, watching an exiting movie or listening to a skillfully told story you immerse. The imagined world becomes real to you. You are an invisible observer but the characters and events feels real, in the sense that they matter to you. Sometimes the events themselves are real but you still identifies more with them than their objective significance to your life would mandate. A good example on this would be watching sports.

As you see this definition of immersion makes it something to always strive for. As soon as you do something involving your fantasy, immersion is a good thing. I bet almost everyone enjoying a roleplaying game immerse to some extent.

Character Immersion
When we go from being an outside observer to experiencing the fantasy through the senses of one of the protagonists we get character immersion. For most people we are now firmly in the domain of dreams, daydreams or roleplaying. You act thru your character, sees what he sees and put the words in his mouth. You feel with your character as she experiences good and bad. Most roleplayers get to this level of immersion to some extent, regardless of the amount of rules or if you play one or several characters.

Deep Immersion
Now things get deep. There is no longer a difference between you and your character. There is no separation between his and your thoughts. When she experiences something it is you who experiences as there is nothing else. There cannot be a game in this type of roleplaying as little as there is a game in real life. You can roll dice as little as you do it in real life. There is no other way of resolving an action than just doing it. There is nothing forcing a conclusion to a conflict.

This kind of immersion is probably only possible in certain types of lajv (larp) and even then it is a fragile thing. It takes a long time to enter and it can be very hard to keep. The face of a real life friend or an association from a certain smell can be enough to come crashing back into reality. Combining deep immersion with rules of the game (like no violence) can be very hard and take practice. Most of the time you slide gently in and out of it. How deep can immersion be? I do not know and as it is something very personal it is hard to compare. Some people claim to have stayed completely in character for a week, some claim they have a hard time returning to their real self.

Preferences
I see deep immersion as the highest form of immersion and something to strive for, but only because I enjoy it most in the same time as I seldom get to experience it. It takes a lot of work and you have to sacrifice other parts of a game, parts that are also part of the fun. Deep immersion is certainly not the only enjoyment you can get from roleplaying. What I personally try to do is getting as much immersion as possible from the game I play. In a game focused on rules heavy combat you could probably not get close to deep immersion during the battles, but maybe when playing out the conversations around the campfire.

My best (and not very original) advice is immersing to the level of still being fun. The taste differs and you cannot have it all at the same time.

26 Comments:

Blogger Per said...

Jonas, immersion is the most important thing for you. Another roleplayer might have a different view, like me for example. Immersion doesn't do it for me. In fact, it's not even on my list of priorities in roleplaying.
I see you split into setting immersion, character immersion aso. but I am not sure that's entirely accurate. Where is Story immersion for one?
I guess I am saying that I disagree with you :)

2:01 PM  
Blogger Jonas Karlsson said...

This is an interesting topic, and I'm glad that you talk about it. I know immersion is king for you, so I'm going to ask some questions to make your point more clear.

You said: "A good example on this would be watching sports."

I would like to say that it would be watching sports in a certain way. If I meet with some friends to watch a game of soccer, I probably don't even want to immerse to the point of blocking out the outside world. The social level of joking around, talking about what's going on in your life or whatever is going to be lost. I think a lot of people role-play to hang out with their friends, not to feel like they're actually walking around in a fantasy world bashing monsters.

If immersion is shutting out the outside world, what happens to the social player level of role-playing?

Also: "I bet almost everyone enjoying a roleplaying game immerse to some extent."

I bet there's lots of people playing the same way they play other games; to challenge their friends in a fun way. If I use my barbarian to provoke your knight, perhaps I want to see what you as a player is going to do about it. I'm not interested in your character, I don't feel like a barbarian, I'm just going to put my character in front of yours with his sword out, to see if you want to risk the life of your character. There's no immersion involved, but there's a lot of role-playing.

I don't buy that immersion would be the single most important thing in role-playing, unless you define it in such a vague way that every reason to role-play would be included. I do think that immersion is something that should be examined, and agree that being immersed can be a lot of fun. Trying to find reasons to immerse will be really hard, you're not going to convince someone who's not interested, but it would be very nice with a set of immersion-enhancing techniques that could be applied to game design or at the table.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Per: I include story immersion in the "setting immersion" cathegory.

Jonas:

"The social level of joking around, talking about what's going on in your life or whatever is going to be lost. I think a lot of people role-play to hang out with their friends, not to feel like they're actually walking around in a fantasy world bashing monsters."

I actually include all that in the setting immersion. In this case setting is not "the imaginary game world" but "the sum of all activity going on". Maybe I should have used another world or made four tiers with the first being "situation immersion".

"...unless you define it in such a vague way that every reason to role-play would be included."

That was actually my intent. I did not mean this to be a "there is one true way" post but rather listing different ways to have fun during a game, how they are all immersion, how they relate to each other and the problems you may encounter.

Maybe there is a real or percieved difference between "immersion" and the swedish word "inlevelse". Jonas, can you agree that "inlevelse" is something that is an important part of fun? Or maybe rather an effect of fun. Is immersion the wrong word for this?

Do you still disagree? I appreciate your comments and I might very well have to post an improved version when we are done talking...

5:05 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Some googling tells me that "inlevelse " is the same in Danish, so your comments are equally helpful, Per.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Reading my text again I realise that your way of interpreting it is probably the most resonable one... I clearly had one idéa in mind and wrote something else. Now I *have* to add another layer of immersion.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Per said...

He, yes "indlevelse" is a Danish word as well, but you could equally use the word "fordybelse" - meaning to immerse yourself into.
So, what's the difference?
1. Indlevelse to me is being able to accept what is going on. We are on Mars 2315. Ok. We are hobbits. Ok. I am making decisions for a mob wise guy. Ok. I am green. Ok.
2. Fordybelse is then to enter into the personlity of the setting or character and look at things from within. A kind of method roleplaying perhaps, bordering on actual acting.
I hear that Jonas K says, if immersion is the first one (suspension of disbelief), it is just to broad and general to be useful when discussing roleplaying.
If it is the second, then you are talking about a specific creative agenda, a certain way you want to explore, when you are roleplaying.
If you were right, Jonas, then Primetime Adventures wouldn't even be classified as roleplaying. And I think it is, just not as we (you) are used to on the Nordic scene.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

"I hear that Jonas K says, if immersion is the first one (suspension of disbelief), it is just to broad and general to be useful when discussing roleplaying."

I wouldn't put it in either of the two categories, but an even wider meaning. I would call it "inlevelse" when you forget you should eat because you are so caught up in the game, when what happens in it really matter to you and the world outaside your game do not, at least at that point. This is independent of whether you immerse in your group and its activity, the game world or your character.

Yes, this is broad to the point of stupidity, but that was the point I was trying to make. Immersion by itself do not really say much if you do not specify what you immerse in. I can se how I missed that point but not specifically mention immersion in the social interaction.

If I put it this way: You always immerse when having fun when playing a game. The way in which you immerse may differ greatly. It may be in the social context of the game, the fictive world, or the character. The preferences depend on taste and what you try to accomplish with the game.

How do that sound to you?

8:15 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

"If you were right, Jonas, then Primetime Adventures wouldn't even be classified as roleplaying. And I think it is, just not as we (you) are used to on the Nordic scene."

I setting and character immersion impossible in Primetime Adventures? I have not played it myself but it have never seemed that way when I have read about it.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Per said...

Jonas:
"Now things get deep. There is no longer a difference between you and your character. There is no separation between his and your thoughts. When she experiences something it is you who experiences as there is nothing else."
You are saying that this is something to strive towards, right? It's an ideal so to speak.
To me, this is exactly what I'd like to avoid at all costs. You are just as different from your character as you are different from John McClane or Frodo Baggins or Sam Fisher.
I am not interested in exploring what it is like to be one of them. So, immersion is not WHY i play roleplaying games.
I am excited, engaged, into it - immersed? - when I do. But that is also true when I play board games or frisbee as well. Or cycle or discuss relativity. Or write.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Per: "You are saying that this is something to strive towards, right? It's an ideal so to speak.
To me, this is exactly what I'd like to avoid at all costs. You are just as different from your character as you are different from John McClane or Frodo Baggins or Sam Fisher.
I am not interested in exploring what it is like to be one of them. So, immersion is not WHY i play roleplaying games."

What I say it that it's an ideal to me personally. I do not say it is an ideal for everyone, quite the contrary. It's very clearly stated in the post:
"I see deep immersion as the highest form of immersion and something to strive for, but only because I enjoy it most in the same time as I seldom get to experience it."

Per:"I am excited, engaged, into it - immersed? - when I do. But that is also true when I play board games or frisbee as well. Or cycle or discuss relativity. Or write."

Yes! This is what I have been trying to tell you all along. Deep immersion is a special case of this, with a very narrow focus and requiring special prerequisites. Look at it like this:

(General immersion)
Situation immersion
Setting immersion (including story)
Character immersion
Deep immersion
(Specific immersion)

In a roleplaying game you *may* narrow your focus in this way but it is not necessarily a good thing. It is for me but I have never claimed it should be the goal of everyones game. I guess you could narrow you immersion in other directions than towards deep immersion, but I do think this path is the one that comes most natural when roleplaying. It is easier to identify with a fictional character than for example an idéa.

Once again, I DO NOT claim one type of immersion being better than the other.

(This way of reasoning is of course just a theory, as arbitray as for example Creative Agenda. It makes sense to some and is useless to others.)

12:31 AM  
Blogger Per said...

OK, there is some sort of immersion present in anything you involve yourself in. Fine. No problems with that.
I have issues with deeper immersion being something to strive for. Or rather, immersion cannot be upheld in any case and why should it? Just being in character for the sake of being in character is just not something I would endorse. On the contrary.
There is a thread here that discusses alobng the same lines, and I completely agree with Clinton when he says:
"Much like that, examination of the RPG process is necessary to it being a fulfilling and wholesome activity for adults. I can't believe I'm saying this, but, yeah, I think unexamined play of RPGs is an unwholesome activity. If you're getting together and doing it just for the sake of doing it, then you've got a big problem on your hands.

And that's the problem I see with some people who get all up in arms about their immersion. It seems they're playing that way just to play that way. There's no other point to it. (Or, better said, there is a point, and they refuse to examine it.) I would love rebuttal, but I know I'm going to get "I don't do that; I immerse because X," which is awesome for you, but not the 20 people who don't know why they do."

3:59 PM  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

Per, I really can't understand your way of thinking. And in no way I can see any resemblance in your last post of anything else than attempts to make people angry by calling them childish. A very unnecessary kind of communication.

When I discuss with my liberal friends I might say 'communism is evil'. It's not excactly true and I wouldn't say that in a debate with adversaries.

"Much like that, examination of the RPG process is necessary to it being a fulfilling and wholesome activity for adults. I can't believe I'm saying this, but, yeah, I think unexamined play of RPGs is an unwholesome activity. If you're getting together and doing it just for the sake of doing it, then you've got a big problem on your hands."

First: Why would there be any connections between unexamined play and immersionism? Look at the whole Nordic larp rpg theory body of works (the Knutpunkt books, for example) and what they are dealing with.

Secondly: "I think unexamined play of RPGs is an unwholesome activity"

This is just such silly statement. Like walking into a S/M place and say, "I think sucking twentythree cocks in one hour is an unwholesome activity." From a hundred year old catholic priest and maybe my grandmother I could accept any of those two quotes, from anyone else it's just notions from a mind so utterly conservative that we definitely will have a problem sharing the same planet.

" It seems they're playing that way just to play that way."

Yeah. Waht's strange about that? It seems like people who enjoy taking long walks do that just to take long walks. Surprise.

I haven't got the same view on immersion as Jonas neither, but that's a completely different discussion.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Per said...

Sven, excuse me, it wasn't really to piss somebody off. I don't think I called anyone childish did I?
The reason I included the first part of the quote was not to miss where the statement in Clinton's second paragraph came from - ie. unexamined play. I should have made that more clear - it was the second paragraph about immersion as a means to an end in itself I was really interested in, and I can see you disagree. So, sorry for that confusion.
So, ignore my last post an read the first part of the Forge thread instead, that's probably better ;) Or ignore both ;)

10:30 PM  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

Well, I guess I disagree, but I actually would like to hear some kind of elaboration on *why* you dislike it.

It's obvioulsy more than that you don't like to play that type of game (because that is not a hard one to understand, there are a lot of other points of interest, obviously. I am myself into a certain kind of immersion, but it's definitely different from Jonas' deep immersion. A writeup about this is on the way.).

I should also mention that I read most of the thread. Clinton's first quotes seem very strange, but later he elaborates and clarifies that he actually talk about unexamined play. Of course you should be able to play unexamined play, but I can still understand what he means here. That makes actually sense in a way. I might be bad, but I surely examine my games.

But you talk about something else. You talk about that it's morally wrong to strive for immersion. I don't understand why you are saying that. Everone have their hang ups I guess. I sure have mine.

1:56 AM  
Blogger Per said...

I am not saying it's morally wrong to strive for immersion. I am saying that I understand that immersion is the goal of play for many roleplayers, just don't assume that goes for everyone and don't say immersion is "better" og "higher".
That I don't understand WHY is should be a goal of play on its own is another matter entirely.
I think I will try and write a post on Mørke Steder about why I "dislike" immersion, and I hope you'll comment.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

Good!

I will write about some chunks of my view of it at Polyfem. But before I do that I will play Dogs in the Vineyard (tonight).

1:01 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Most have already been said on both sides but i still want to add some points about the "deeper" forms of immersion (quite a few it turned out):

- I do not think anyone have said that character immersion is inherently better than other possible goals of roleplaying. How could this ever be proved?

- As taste differs it is natural that some people thinks it is the most important thing for them in particular.

- It is in turn quite natural for these people to say "Character immersion is the deal!" as long as they do this in a "my opinion" tone.

- It is always good to examine your play, but that immersionists do this less than other roleplayers seems like wild speculation if anything.

- I do not understand why character immersion should be weirder than other forms of roleplaying. It may be harder to accomplish but why couldn't that be part of the fun? For me, failing to immerse is often more fun than not trying to do it. Succeeding is a blast!

- In most cases character immersion is not the only goal in the lives of immersionists. I enjoy both the occasional low immersion Forge game and non immersive boardgames (if you not use my "all is immersion" theory). One type of game do not exclude the other.

- Most importantly: Debate is always good.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Martin Svahn said...

If you are interested I think Anders Björkelid wrote something about "besättning" in Nisse Nytt #2 -97. The article are called "rollspelets språk". I dont really know if it still are possible to order it but try if you havnt read it.

For me, Immersion - as you describe it here - are one main factor to roleplay. Some models on how you as a writer can help to set the immersion for the players would be good thou.

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Tobias Wrigstad said...

Wrt the last comment: I think we just concluded that possession (besättning) and immersion has little to do with each other on Frispels wiki where this is just discussed in conjunction with "is larp and freeform role-play almost the same thing". Feel free to join in.

Anyhow, this is a nice way of thinking about immersion. I agree with Jonas that "Story immersion" includes "Setting immersion". However, I don't think it is clear how deep immersion relates to the other styles (I have to read all these comments one more time, I guess). Does it really have to be connected to the character? (I think not.)

I also agree that kidding around in the game on a social level has nothing to do with immersing in the game.

Last, I also agree with Per about deep character immersion not being good for what I enjoy with role-playing. Story and form are central to me, and I find it necessary to relate to these at all times during a game. Deep character immersion turns a game into a simulation, which is not what I want out of a role-playing game.

The part about forgetting the self and really becoming a different person for a week (or not being able to stop being your character) has always been bullshit to me. It might just be my strong ties to freeform, but I think not.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

Tobias:

The part about forgetting the self and really becoming a different person for a week (or not being able to stop being your character) has always been bullshit to me. It might just be my strong ties to freeform, but I think not.

Just to clarify:

I have never delt that kind of immersion myself and my goals of play are other. In the posts above I didn't discuss immersion, I just responded to what I saw as agression instead of discussion from Per.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Tobias and Martin:

I agree on some and disagree on some of your points. I'm quite busy right now but I will make a post on the wiki when I get the time...

Link:
http://frispel.nu/friform/pmwiki.php

3:01 PM  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

BTW, Jonas, I have the article that Martin mentions. I got that issue on last LinCon.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I turned out that I got it too...

12:05 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

Here comes my last revisions. I guess I need to write a new version on this when I get the time:

- Ok, the basic fun of meeting your friends should probably not be included in immersion, no matter how intense and focused it is. Not because it couldn't be defined that way but because it makes the definition unruly.

- I do realise this invalidates my claim that immersion is the single most important part of roleplaying. But I still thinks that the majority of roleplayers strive for at least setting immersion.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

"But I still thinks that the majority of roleplayers strive for at least setting immersion"

Yes. But I also think that the traditional use of 'immersion' doesn't include 'setting immersion', but sees this as someting different.

This is one clear source of misunderstanding, I think.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I have seen the word "character immersion" in much more use than simply writing "immersion". It was based on this use that I defined immersion as something wider.

As the word is not in any way invented by roleplayers it would be weird to have it only apply to a single character. Or?

5:45 PM  

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