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My last post was about immersion in role-playing games, and how it makes a much more satisfying and voyeuristic experience.  Which begs the question then, just how do you go about immersing yourself in character?

It all starts with the Game Master (GM).  The very first thing a good GM needs to do is find what it is in your character’s back story that can be used to draw your character, and by default, you, more fully into the game.  It really is the responsibility of the GM to get this ball rolling.  A PC can create a wonderful, three-dimensional character, with great history and personality, as well as a lot of opportunity for personal development and involvement in the story.  But if the GM doesn’t get off his happy ass and use what he is given, it will never happen.

One of the first things you can do as a GM to utilize the opportunities you have been given is to find a nemesis.  Nothing will spur a player into taking the events that happen to their character to heart as much as a rival or enemy that they can hate.  Hell, even despise.  Sift through the character’s back-story and look for clues to craft the behavior of the nemesis in order to prick at the nerves of your PCs.  If you can find a way for the nemesis to act that gets under their skin, they will more easily fall into character and actually hate their nemesis.

One of the other things you can do to draw your players more fully into their characters is to make sure to tailor-make your modules to give them a reason to have a stake in what happens.  When it comes to completely homebrewed games, this is usually not a problem.  You can structure, session by session, and improvise as you go.  It becomes easier to see the little chinks in your players’ armor that you can slide your plot blades through, and strike at the soft spots.  When it comes to using pre-generated modules, this can be a much more daunting task.  It may sometimes require whole-cloth rewrites of the module in order to make it work the way you need it to.  While this is not as time-consuming as writing your own (usually), it can actually be harder to do.  This is yet another reason I prefer homebrewed modules to the store bought ones (more of which will wait for a later post).

You have to watch doing this, as well, as you can burn a player up by drawing in too much.  I know of at least one young lady that told me the few time she went into near full immersion in character, she came out of it shaken and a bit odd.  There still has to be that fine line that separates the player from the character, or you run the risk of becoming one of those statistics from the 80s that gave the Dungeons and Dragons game a black eye.  I am not saying every immersion player is going to escape to the steam tunnels, or kill themselves when their character dies.    But it may agitate their emotional states, and make some things worse, instead of providing catharsis and entertainment.

The best way I have found to prevent this is to have a short cool-down period at the end of every session, before things really break up.  Talk about the events of the game to the players in a more detached manner, until they seems to be deactivated from the immersion, and calmed down.  It is very similar to the way you right a paper using inductive logic, drawing the reader in at first, and then at the end, letting them back out into the wide world slowly and gently.  It is less of an ego shock (the strictest psychological sense of that word), and more of an eased transition.

Now, let’s talk about what you, the player, can do to increase your immersion experience.  If your GM has given you every reason to slip more fully into character, and take ownership of your experience, you really ought to do so.  He has done the extra work to provide for you, the player, the chance to make the game your own in a way that is meant by the New Age-y business term “ownership”.

The first thing you can do is learn what the personality of your character is.  I mean really learn.  Look at it this way: your character is your creation; much like Victor Frankenstein crafted his Creation.  You have pieced together the parts, sewn them caringly         into a whole, and all it needs is that spark to quicken it to life.  That spark is you.

You have constructed your Creation, and you breathe life into it.  As you learn the ins and outs of your character, you should start posing questions to yourself, as your character.  Not just the little things like “Why do I like the color blue so much?” and “Why do I prefer stout beer over an ale?”, but also the bigger questions, like “Why have I chosen not to live a life on the farm, with a family and children, but instead the life of the adventurer, with death around every turn?” and “What do I hope to accomplish with this life?”

Just as in life, you should never stop questioning the personality that is your character about every decision.  Not necessarily a challenge to the path taken, but more of a serious question of “Why did you do that?”  Just as we learn in life by questioning ourselves on our decisions, and pondering “What if?” a lot, you can learn more about your character but exploring these paths.

The next step you can take is to empathize with your character.  Come to feel for your character in intimate ways.  When you see your fellow PC that has become your character’s lover become the victim of a cowardly sneak attack, and go down like a sack of stone, allow yourself to feel the same outrage and hatred  your character would feel.  Rein it in; after all, we don’t want you leaping the table at the GM!  But open yourself to it, allow yourself access to those emotions.  You will come to indentify closer with your character as you come to understand that processes behind those emotions and impulses.

Immersion role-playing is a both a powerful voyeuristic experience, and a gut-wrenching one.  It will eventually give you insights into personality that go beyond your own head.  However, there is a reason I used the Victor Frankenstein comparison above.

You see, it is also easy to let the monster, the Creation, get out of control.

Let me say right now, IMMERSION ROLE-PLAY IS NOT FOR EVERYONE!  Is it intense and satisfying?  YES!  Is it involved and rewarding?  YES!  Is it awfully dangerous, and skirts the chance of blurring the line between fantasy and reality?  More often than any of us care to admit, YES!

Taking on a new personality that is totally fictitious, as well as coming to identify with that false creation is seductive.  It is easy to become addicted to being Lyric the dashing raconteur bard, and suddenly find yourself acting more and more like Lyric, instead of James the grad student.  It is frighteningly easy to let yourself be subsumed by what you create, and like the infamous Doctor mentioned above, become consumed by your obsession.

This makes it your (and everyone else at the table’s) responsibility to watch yourself.  This is just good form, in all honesty.  Even those friends who do not immerse themselves into the character run the risk of obsession, when the desire to be at the table and in the game consumes their waking moments.  (Trust me; I have been there, and back.)  So, when you see yourself, or one of your fellow gamers showing signs of obsession with the character, the game, or whatever, speak up.  Talk to your Game Master, or a fellow player.  Not in the form of gossip, but as a concerned friend.

When it comes to confronting the person about it, I suggest you contact a member of the clergy, psychological community, or even a parent.  Get help.  Get help to get your friend help.  Your pride about doing it yourselves should be put by the wayside so that your friend may get the greatest benefit possible.

When it comes down to it, it is still a game.  Repeat after me, “It is just a game.”  It is graphite rubbed on wood pulp, marked with chemical ink.  Immersion is a technique many of us use to enjoy the game even more.  But it is not for everyone.  Give it a try, you may like it.  Hell, you may love it.  But please, watch yourself.  Immersion is also a good way to discover an escape that is far too sweet a taste to stop sampling.

What do you think?

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