Immersion

edited January 2010 in Story Games
I need some help articulating an idea here, one that could have quite well have been expressed by superior minds and more voluble wits than mine before, but what the hell! Let's open the box again:

I want to talk about immersive roleplay.
Playing 3:16 yesterday, I was struck by how anaemic the people I was running it for were, almost to the point of being standoffish. Now, I appreciate that some players don't like getting into a role, but I was really trying to draw them into the world of 3:16 - exposition, descriptions, voices; providing action and interaction. I'd pepper these offerings with questions, asking them all how they'd react, what they wanted do or gain; I'd ask them what this-or-that NPC would look like or do, or what things could be or look like.
Blank. I got, at best, a suggestion that plasma should be blue, and that was only after I forced the issue. Admittedly, getting militant about it isn't the best way to engage players and immerse them in the fiction but it seemed to shake up the group and we had a more active conclusion to the mission as some troopers took the initiative and led the narrative. Not everyone, but I let the warm sun on my benevolence shine on those brave souls.

Perhaps my game-mastering style could be called into question, but what stayed with me after the game ended was how little incentive the players had to engage with their character (i.e. to roleplay) and the fictive world. I didn't want play to stagnate thus so I'd latch onto the most subtle of assents or indications of choice and push the narrative forward - players could easily operate purely through monosyllables and nods. After the game I breached the subject with the group and only the two who'd let themselves be drawn into the excitement on the conclusion seemed to agree with me that player-immersion was fun and desirable.

I respect that people have different expectations and desires of their gaming and, on a wider-scale, free-time, but I would be interested to discuss the merits or failings of immersion. Is it down to the style of game, game-master or play-group? Or a combination of those three? Is roleplay really roleplay without the roleplay?

-Mike.

Comments

  • I don't much care for chewing the scenery, unless it's interesting, and never if it gets in the way of addressing and pursuing conflict. But it sounds like the players you're describing just weren't emotionally engaged!

    How engaged were they strategically/tactically? Were they interacting with 3:16 as a war-game, at least? Otherwise, I'd point to them just not caring about it at all.
  • In "Shared Fantasy," Gary Fine talks about how *infrequent* is playing a character as a character rather than as an instrumental extension of self. So it's not just you. In Forge terms, you may have been having a tough time as a group fixing upon a creative agenda. Alternately, there may have been some other social level disconnect or awkwardness. More data!
  • edited January 2010
    Sorry, double post.
  • edited January 2010
    I don't think that there's a simple answer to this question. I could regale you with my thoughts about how we live in an overly self-serious culture, where repression and mindless puritanism are habitually mistaken for sobriety and gravitas. And if you cared to disagree, I'd point you in the direction of all the lovely posts about Proper Etiquette that have been gracing these very forums of late.

    But here's one thought that may be of more use: I think a lot of time, GMs can underrate the very significant distance between narrativist and simulationist styles of play. A lot of my friends who are wonderful, spontaneous storytellers are very squeamish and nonplussed when other players pull faces, gesture wildly,and talk in funny voices at the gaming table. And a lot of improv theater types who roleplay with gusto are curiously inarticulate about topics such as whether the plasma should be blue. It's easier to run a game when you've settled in your mind which of these two types of "immersion" you should be aiming for.
  • Yesterday I played a game of Hot War (the project breather scenario). There was nearly no in-character talking at the table, roleplay was minimal, the group played the scenario as a Call of Cthulhu investigation scenario, very strategically. The game dint work me and I was really not immersed as a player. And yet, everyone where eager to add descriptions, to contribute to scene, to suggest details, etc. So in-character immersive roleplaying was low but creative input was hight. It is possible to have low "in-character immersion" but to provide a lot of creative input. (sorry for not using precise immersion vocabulary, I don't quite remember the jargon).
  • I think Cedric has a point here, Immersion (with a captial I and Forge origins) usually means the specific act of connecting with and channeling your character on a very high level.

    It sounds more like the original problem is much bigger, being that of low player participation in general, compared to the intent of the game and you, Potemkin.

    Trad games tend to breed a certain style of play in the players and only those of us who gamemastered them too have the creativity skillset to jump right into the open narratives of indie/story games. It takes a few tries for newcomers to shake off the old habitual restrictions on narration, while people who come fresh to the hobby usually have less problems getting the shared input groove on.
    Most people take a while to adapt to a new thing, they start out just observing and then input once they get the hang of things, when they are sure they are not doing it wrong.

    Co-creating at the level of saty 3:16 is a very specific skillset that you can't just expect people to acquire on command, it's hard to learn the subtle nuances of creative permissions, even with the books in hand and good fellow players.

    And that's for people who are actually interested in doing it, I know tons of players who prefer to participate on much lower levels, just going through the game rolling dice and collecting loot, having a blast being entertained by the gm.

    In the end it is about making sure everyone is on the same page from the start, as in all things.
  • Thanks for the replies. Let me respond and clarify a few points.

    Importantly I don't feel the issue is particularly about 3:16 itself; I could have put any game you'd care to suggest and the issue would've still held, the latest indie/story-game or classic D&D. It's not me being underwhelmed by the attitude of my players but my disappointment at their lack of sensation (in this case, immersion) when I tried my best to stimulate them. I genuinely believe immersion in a fictional creation is fun and wish to share this with my friends.

    However, I don't really want my players leaping about and pantomiming gun-battles. Just to mentally/verbally experience and interact with an imagined space that allows and promotes this behavior would be enough - otherwise I might as well give them a wargame or tell them to go back to Mass Effect 2.

    I haven't read the forge definition of immersion but I'd say it's not specifically about being enthusiastic and contributing (although these two things help a great deal) - it's about the level of interaction between you and your character and your character and the imagined space surrounding her. 'Being there', y'know. It's not a matter of simulation over narration but the combination of both to facilitate both textural/aesthetic and narrative/empathetic experiences to make a compelling whole.

    Bill, what data? Specifics, man! Put forth some suggestions!
  • Posted By: PotemkinBill, what data? Specifics, man! Put forth some suggestions!
    Mostly what others have suggested:

    The important one: Was there anything that did engage them? What at-the-table or in-game circumstances produced any kind of response or, um, arousal? What kept them from walking away before the game ended?

    Also: Did you have the sense that they did or didn't know each other socially, or if they had or hadn't played with each other before? You didn't know them, right? What were the demographics of the group, and to what extent did you match or contrast with those characteristics?

    The answers to those questions could help diagnose whether it's a mismatch in creative approach or what.
  • For whatever it's worth, here's a slightly overzealous but very fun discussion of the notion of "immersion" in RPGs.
  • I must expand that the Turku manifesto is an extreme viewpoint based on ye olde bastardized nordic larp theory, for them the integrity of acting in character is absolute. Their holy gameform of Immersionism is an extremist sub group of character simulationism. It was immensely popular in scandinavian larp for a while, silly us.

    A common comedic stereotype of a Turku play is the shoemaker sitting in the corner crying because he cannot make the perfect shoe, never interacting in the game, but still immersing completely.

    To add to Bill's questions: What were the players' previous gaming experiences, if any? How was your sales pitch for the game?
  • I've only played 3:16 once (at a con), but I was left with the impression that the fictional details don't have any impact on the choices you have to make. It doesn't matter if you take cover behind a rock when shooting at bugs, the mechanics play out the same way. With that assumption I felt like narrating things was a chore.

    I recall a game of classic D&D - maybe OSRIC - I played at a con. Fighting pirates on a ship I leapt up and cut the sail down to pin a number of them. I was actively looking for details I could exploit and I think that drew me into the game world.
  • Posted By: PotemkinIt's not me being underwhelmed by the attitude of my players but my disappointment at their lack of sensation (in this case, immersion) when I tried my best to stimulate them. I genuinely believe immersion in a fictional creation is fun and wish to share this with my friends.
    So, did you share this belief of yours with the rest of the group (before you started playing or during the session)? How about your wish to share the fun of creating together?

    Also, something others have asked as well, in different words: what do you think the other players believed the fun of 3:16 was in? Any guesses or reads on that?

    I think it is a common assumption that the fun in role-playing is mainly in playing the role. However, I'm not at all sure the assumption is correct for everybody, everywhere. I've had many experiences where I have seen the behavior of players at a table to favor another approach, instead of immersion, to playing the game to maximize their enjoyment of the game. For me too it's oftentimes more enjoyable to fight for a certain event or outcome in the story than to juts immerse in the situation of my character.
  • When we play 3:16, there's a lot of character play between and in the set-up to fights. This is more often than not about authority and petty rivalry between characters.

    When the fight starts, there will be some banter and some character play, especially when it comes to range selection, use of strengths and weaknesses and the chucking of grenades, but there is also a strong focus on killing the enemy.

    For us, 3:16 is not so much about the fighting itself, that bit is usually over pretty quickly, it's all about character interaction, authority, seeing what you can get away with, accidentally fragging people you don't like, sticking it to the Man, goofing off etc. To view it as a tactical combat game with minimal roleplaying would get you strange looks round these parts.

    Our scenery is very definitely chewed.
  • edited February 2010
    This isn't specifically about 3:16, it was just my most recent example. Perhaps 3:16 isn't the best game due to its perceived abstractions; but mechanical abstraction does not stipulate narrative/descriptive abstraction! Immersion isn't a single coherent GM-led voice sharing his vision with a group either, but that's a thought for a later post.

    I'm not one of those who keeps quiet at the table then bemoans the lack of communication later to the interweb; I wasn't specific at the outset ("I want and expect X,Y out of you all!") but I didn't feel I was being coy about my desire to engage players with the space ("What colour? Who? When? etc etc"). To have stopped the game and demanded a change in attitude is counter-productive in regards to immersion, no? Also, a little aggressive; I was hoping all the players would rise to my style naturally and, admittedly, a couple did but not as fluently as I would have liked. As soon as play was over I drew them back to the table for a powwow, I talked about immersion and the majority seemed evasive in their opinion on the subject. If this, you feel, is just reflective of my manner as a GM, please say so.


    Was there anything that did engage them?
    Killing bugs. Everyone loves the thrill of combat and the sweet smell of victory - 3:16 caters to this taste excellently, as you well know.
    What at-the-table or in-game circumstances produced any kind of response or, um, arousal?
    Stimulation... arousal... this conversation is perfectly legit, right? Dramatic changes ("Suddenly, an ambush!" etc) grab everyone's attention, but a general interest in military techology and chain-of-command in the setting seemed to grab the players, yet they didn't seem keen to contribute to the fiction.
    What kept them from walking away before the game ended?
    They were having fun, you know! Geez. I mean, just because they weren't immersed didn't preclude them from enjoying combat and perfunctory roleplay. My issue is about rising from this plateau to new heights. If I don't succeed, we'll all still be having fun regardless.
    Did you have the sense that they did or didn't know each other socially, or if they had or hadn't played with each other before? You didn't know them, right?
    A mix of friends and society members, but all of whom I've played with before and know on first-name-terms.
    What were the demographics of the group, and to what extent did you match or contrast with those characteristics?
    Late-teens to Mid-Twenties Liberal Students. All of us. This is why I'm baffled as to the variation in response to my... stimulation.
  • edited February 2010
    Hey, Mike, is it fair to say that the issue is less about immersion per se than it is about the distribution of narrative authority between player and GM? In other words, regardless of the extent to which players were using their characters merely as diegetic avatars (i.e., extensions of themselves in the fiction) or as fully-fledged alternate personae, the "real problem" as you see it was their unwillingness to step up and provide situational color during play?
  • I've looked at this thread a couple of times and have been there. I've had players not want to join in to what I thought was real cool. It especially happens when I try to introduce narrativist play to players who haven't signed on for that. Since it must be a shared imagined space I know I'm the one not sharing because I'm trying to railroad not railroading the players. In those games the players want me to do all that work rather than share authorship with me.

    Maybe they were just tired that day. Don't give up on them though, they may come around on another day.
  • edited February 2010
    Posted By: Bill_WhiteHey, Mike, is it fair to say that the issue is less aboutimmersionper sethan it is aboutthe distribution of narrative authoritybetween player and GM? In other words, regardless of the extent to which players were using their characters merely as diegetic avatars (i.e., extensions of themselves in the fiction) or as fully-fledged alternate personae, the "real problem" as you see it was their unwillingness to step up and provide situational color during play?
    No no no, player inaction and participation (distribution of the authorial voice, or what have you) is a means by which to intrigue the players into more intuit, immersive responses to the fiction. A method by which to procure empathy for the fictive. But that was just one action undertaken by me supported by a host of descriptive and interactive elements (I hope my first post is clear). Really, I didn't want this thread to become an AP-critique of my 3:16 experience, it's just an illustration.
  • edited February 2010
    Posted By: PotemkinI respect that people have different expectations and desires of their gaming and, on a wider-scale, free-time, but I would be interested to discuss the merits or failings of immersion. Is it down to the style of game, game-master or play-group? Or a combination of those three?
    The reader's digest version: I think it generally comes down to the style of the play-group. See below for details.

    When you say "immersion," I hear "player investment." (or player buy-in / player adoption / whatever your favorite buzzphrase is). If a player sits down to play a game, I think its safe to assume there is at least a minimal amount of investment on their part. I think to get to the next level of investment (where they actually interact with the rest of the group and show that they have a pulse), the facilitator of the game needs to determine why each player is at the table and what they expect - the quickest way I know to do so is to just ask. If the players are having a difficult time communicating to you what they expect, ask them why they sat down at your game. If you know what initially drew them to your table, you may have a better idea of how to draw them into the game.
    Posted By: PotemkinIs roleplay really roleplay without the roleplay?
    hamana-hamana-hamana-wha??
  • Posted By: xenomouseI think to get to the next level of investment (where they actually interact with the rest of the group and show that they have a pulse), the facilitator of the game needs to determine why each player is at the table and what they expect - the quickest way I know to do so is to just ask. If the players are having a difficult time communicating to you what they expect, ask them why they sat down at your game. If you know what initially drew them to your table, you may have a better idea of how to draw them into the game.
    Have you ever, genuinely, asked a player what they expect from a game or why they sat down at the table? Unless they are either a) exceptionally introspective or b) acquainted with game-theory you will, without fail, get one of two answers:
    1. To have fun/be entertained.
    2. To tell a story/to roleplay (or, To kill things/get treasure/be a patrol-mouse; whatever the apparent object of the game is.)
    People are, in my experience, stunningly bad at rationalising and communicating their intentions and motivations, especially regarding the nonacademic sphere of leisure.
    Now, if a player is suggesting he's here to play at killing things, I can add more combat but that's not investment, that's entertainment. Of course, entertaining one's players is no less than the greatest good but it's not quite the same sensation.
  • Posted By: PotemkinHave you ever, genuinely, asked a player what they expect from a game or why they sat down at the table?
    Yeah, I didn't mean ask them that question verbatim. You can ask someone what kind of style of play they want or even for specific examples of actual play that they really enjoyed.
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