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I had a great, albeit short, conversation with an old friend last night, from my first foray into collegiate life.  Let’s call him J.  J and I attended college together, and shared more than a couple common friends, most of us with a severe interest in gaming.  Over the years, we have drifted in and out of contact, exchanging pleasantries when we met, along with promises to keep in touch.

Most recently, he read my blog post about Trends in Gaming, and we ended up having a nice conversation about gaming in general, especially at this point in our lives.  J brought up a great point, as he loved the section wherein I spoke about and emphasis on “role in group versus role playing”.  And it really made me realize a couple things

Immersion: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, immersion is defined as “b: absorbing involvement <immersion in politics>”.  What this means in our context is completely entering the role of your character, and experiencing the game as that character, instead of just sitting, divorced from the experience as the player.  Immersion is the hallmark of a player that is out for the story and character development.

That is not to say that the person divorces themselves of the line between reality and fiction.  What it does is allows the person to fully experience the narrative that is being put forth.  Sometimes called character acting, immersion is a technique used in theater, and the ability to immerse oneself fully into the role is usually a hallmark of a very good actor.

In gaming, it is the hallmark of someone that is willing to explore the story, facets of their character and, in general, encourage others to do the same.  One of the usual hallmarks of the beginning of character immersion in a game is the player telling the game master their actions in the format of “I do X” instead of “My character does X”.  It is the first step of suspending disbelief, and allowing yourself to perceive the game as your character, instead of using your character as little more than an avatar for yourself.

One of the other things we discussed was the tendency of people to act immature and/or act out in the game.  When players immerse themselves into their role in the game, they have a tendency to like disruption of that immersion to be a minimum.  It takes concentration and focus, and when someone disrupts that, it has a tendency to piss us off.  The event brought up by J regarding this kind of behavior involved a game called Deadlands, that can easily be a horror Wild West game.  The game in question was intensely horror driven, and when said player took out his “equipment” and waved it at a hanging judge, J was suitably incensed.  He left the table.

And I can’t blame him.  If I was a player, I would have left too.  If I was the game master, I may have warned him once about behavior, and then kicked him from my table.  Before you go yelling “elitist” at me, understand something.  I don’t do a horrific amount of prep work for my games, and most of what I do for prep centers around telling the story.  I try to let my players’ actions dictate where the story goes, and make sure it is an engrossing and involved story.  When I am a player, I try to be the hero my game master wants me to be, and contribute to the story and experience in a positive way.  Because of this, I expect at least a modicum of the same from my players/fellow players.

It may seem elitist but, look at it this way.  When you join a group of guys for say, poker night, and one player barely pays any attention to what is going on with the bets and passes, and then gets all fire pissed off when they lose the hand, it annoys the hell out of you, right?  He’s not paying attention, then throwing a temper tantrum when things don’t go his way.  Would make you want to tell him to get the hell out, right? It’s the exact same thing.

Immersion players and GMs put a lot into our games and game play.  We want the others at the table to experience the game in the most intimate, personal ways imaginable.  It is viscerally satisfying to see your players, or fellow players, rejoice at the victories of the party, or weep at the loss of a loved fellow character or non-player character.  On one occasion, I actually reduced one of my players, a young woman that I care for a lot as a friend, was reduced to tears on the floor of my living room, when a non-player character that her character was involved with in a sort of “he was my bodyguard and companion” way, was killed in front of her, just for being associated with her.

It is those moments that immersion players and game masters live for.  Those small instances where you can see the emotion come out.  Recently, at a convention, I got a chance to play a character alongside old companions in an End of the World kind of game.  For years we had played alongside each other, forming relationships and friendships in game.  At the start of the game, my character received a letter telling him that his greatest friend, a dwarven warrior, was dead.  Immediately, I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  My immersion in my character twisted in me like a knife.  As the game progressed, and it was discovered that the apocalypse would consume the world, my character secretly plotted to get everyone else out that he could, and stay behind to do what he could to help those left behind.

All through the game, I felt on the verge of tears.  I remember looking at my friend Courtney, who sat beside me and played one of my character’s other friends, and with tears in my eyes, saying, “How do you say goodbye to home?”  I meant it.  I felt it that entire four hours session.  I was Luth, master mage of Deepwood, and hero of dozens of adventures, including being the wielder and owner of one of the great Dragon Orbs.  But that all was for naught as I, as my character, was forced with leaving behind his home and lands, in order to try and find a refuge for the people, to survive the coming apocalypse.  At the last minute, with a portal open to a safe haven, Luth’s mind was changed when his companion, played by Courtney, told him that they needed him more than ever.

This is what J, and myself, are talking about.  Immersion is an extremely satisfying facet of role-playing games.  If you have had a bad day, and you get to game, immerse yourself in Rashak the barbarian as he leads his companions against the marauding hobgoblin horde in order to save the innocent village, there is a visceral satisfaction in every imagined crunch of an axe impact, in every sizzling zot of a lightning bolt cutting through your foes.  If you are feeling like you have no control over your life, there is a momentary satisfaction when you take on the mantle of your Werewolf shaman, and hold council with the spirits in order to bring honor to your pack, and bolster your efforts to save the innocent kinfolk kidnapped by the madmen.

The next time you sit down at the table, pick up your dice, and prepare to play, consider trying to immerse yourself.  You will find it an amazing experience.

There is one other thing that I would like to talk about, and it is also something that J and I talked about.  And that is simply this: being the hero.

There is a large tendency right now for players to take on roles of complete asses.  They have forgotten that, in these games, even the dark ones like Vampire and Werewolf, you are still supposed to be the hero, or at least, the antihero.  This doesn’t mean that your character is a goody-two-shoes, or an annoying Dudley Doright on his white horse.  What it does mean is that you are out to do the right things, for the right reasons.  Even the antihero, whose methods may be questionable, is doing the right thing for the right reasons.  It seems to be a current trend in players to take on roles of morally deplorable characters that want nothing more than to satisfy their own agenda, and make money (or power, or whatever).

This really breaks my heart, and makes me realize what a sad state we are in.  I am not saying that we should all want to be the Lone Ranger, or even Tonto.  But for the love of all things, we should at least be striving to do the right thing.  Or at least, play the guy that wants to do the right thing.  At any games, at any of my tables, I try to get my players to understand they need to be the hero; that my stories are about extreme situations where heroes are needed.  We need to encourage players to get back to this; it is far more fulfilling than just being a dick.

What do you think?


One Comment

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly!

    Found the link from Gnome Stew, amd glad I did. I am an immersive GM/player, amd it is difficult for me to deal with Players that are not immersive. I especially deplore the dick player/ character I have tried treasure, threat of penalty from powerful NPCs, etc. But I always find that if there is little or no hero in the character, the stakes and rewards in the game seem shallow and dim compared to the heroic deeds performed by idealistic individuals.

    To me, it is like an e emotional drug. The immersed hero player is delving deep into the highest highs (and lowest lows) that give you that emotion that can last a long time. The non heroic player / character may get some good vibes from getting treasure or other rewards, but the lack of heroic ideology makes these rewards more hollow. They always need more, amd are not satisfied with the same amount as before. The reward must be bigger, and received more often, or the player / character loses interest. Note that I keep using player / character… This is because without immersion, it is mostly a metagaming player as opposed to a well formed character.

    Personally, I believe that a lot of this is due to a sociological relationship with video games. Most video games are built around metagaming a character, where the goal is to retrieve items or complete quests for treasure or other rewards. It is so common place, that, RPGs being themselves a game, players may have difficulty separating themselves from their gaming experiences, and press the tabletop games they play into that mold.

    I try to impress on players that tabletop RPGs that I GM are more like the TV show or movie paradigm than a video game. I am trying to mold the stories I create I to the four part dramatic structure of a TV show to try and bring the idea home.


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