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D&D General The History of 'Immersion' in RPGs

D&D historian Jon Peterson has taken a look at the concept of 'immersion' as it related to tabletop roleplaying games, with references to the concept going back to The Wild Hunt (1977), D&D modules like In Search of the Unknown, games like Boot Hill, and Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood speaking in Dragon Magazine.


twh#15-roos-immersion.jpg
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I’m not sure I understand why it needs to be “locked in”.
Patterns and precedent.
I mean, it’s locked in to the extent that that’s what happened. If something different starts happening, then that creates some new fiction about the character. Maybe she’s not as dumb as we all thought.
My point is that after a certain time there comes a point where if something different starts happening it not so much new fiction as it is a violation of established pattern and precedent.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
More immersive than what, though? I think there's a difference between making decisions based on what I think my character would do (which I don't find very immersive at all) and making decisions as my character. Is that the sort of difference you have in mind?
I see those as being pretty much the same thing, in that either way I'm making the decision the character would make even if it's not the decision I-as-player might want it to make. :)
All I can say is I agree with @Campbell's statement up-thread (if I'm remembering/paraphrasing correctly) that any perceived discrepancy between my character as established by in-game events and what's written on the character sheet should be settled in favor of the former.
With one exception, I'd rather there be no reason to perceive a discrepancy in the first place. Play to what's on the sheet, more or less, and all is good.

The one exception is alignment. You can write whatever letters you want on your character sheet under 'alignment' but its your actions in play that'll determine what your alignment really is, should somebody or something detect for such.
Would you say that, in your games, and seeing that this thread is in the D&D forum, that this is seen as an unstated rule of the game?
Qualified yes. It's likely not a stated thing for a few reasons: one, to state it in writing would cause a tidal wave of arguments based on exactly how they wrote and defined what each number in each stat might represent; and two, because the designers probably feel like this using one's character sheet as a guide to role-play is so obvious a statement that it really doesn't need to be said.
It certainly isn't in my games, but I think if it were a rule or had some mechanical backing in the rules, I might be more tolerant of it as a resolution process. For instance, if I as a player had to succeed on an Intelligence check for my character to make the "come up with a plan" move, I wouldn't find it nearly as un-immersive as trying to gauge my character's plan making to its Intelligence score.
It goes beyond simple intelligence, though. Charisma, persuasiveness, wisdom, bonds-traits-flaws, background - all of these things* inform one's roleplaying, and they're right there on the character sheet.

* - or, where such exist, equivalents in other non-D&D systems.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think people are more concerned with doing what they want to do or what they think they should do. I mean, who makes decisions by thinking about themselves and what type of person they are and then asking themselves what that type of person would do?
I would say that the bolded sentence is the heart of roleplay. IOW, that is how I judge good roleplay all the time. If the player is simply playing him or herself, regardless of whatever character they are playing, they're pretty much not roleplaying at all.

To put it another way, how can you be considered to be roleplaying if you're not actually playing a role? And, a role is almost always someone who is not you. (Note, that there are RPG's where you play yourself, but, that's not what we're talking about here) If your decision making process for your character only takes into account your personal goals and whatnot, then, well, you're not roleplaying.

I am not my character. I take great pains to differentiate my character from me as much as I can. The degree of success is judged by how well I can portray that character at the table without the players engaging me, the other player, instead of the character that I am portraying.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I would say that the bolded sentence is the heart of roleplay. IOW, that is how I judge good roleplay all the time. If the player is simply playing him or herself, regardless of whatever character they are playing, they're pretty much not roleplaying at all.
In fairness to @Hriston , I don't really think that's what he's getting at.

As far as I can tell, he's speaking of a differentiation between these two things:

1 - Thinking as Hussar-the-player, perhaps with reference to other things e.g. the character sheet "What does my character do next?"
2 - Thinking as the character without reference to the character sheet or to anything else "What do I do next?"

In the second option the "I" refers to the character as the player is no longer thinking of "I" as the person sitting at the table.

I don't really differentiate between these two options as the in-play result (ideally) ends up pretty much the same: the character does whatever the character reasonably would do, sometimes regardless of what its player might think is best or most optimal in the moment (this discrepancy between player preference and actual character action comes up most often when playing low-wisdom types). Hriston sees the differentiation between 1 and 2 as much more significant, I think, hence our discussion.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
To put it another way, how can you be considered to be roleplaying if you're not actually playing a role? And, a role is almost always someone who is not you. (Note, that there are RPG's where you play yourself, but, that's not what we're talking about here) If your decision making process for your character only takes into account your personal goals and whatnot, then, well, you're not roleplaying.
Playing a role can include playing yourself in the role of an eldritch knight in a fantastical world, right? You pose yourself the escapist challenge "What if I lived in that world? How would I act?" You follow the kinds of motivations you feel you would yourself form were you in that world.
 

I am not my character. I take great pains to differentiate my character from me as much as I can. The degree of success is judged by how well I can portray that character at the table without the players engaging me, the other player, instead of the character that I am portraying.

I think the difference is that there's a difference between your character becoming you (token play) and you becoming your character (immersion). My objection to some posters is that they don't seem to think internalizing the defined traits of the character (including the parts on the character sheet) as particularly necessesary, and I can't get on board that.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Playing a role can include playing yourself in the role of an eldritch knight in a fantastical world, right? You pose yourself the escapist challenge "What if I lived in that world? How would I act?" You follow the kinds of motivations you feel you would yourself form were you in that world.
Which, in a stat-less game, would be great!

However, D&D (along with many other systems) has stats that lay out in more or less general terms a character's physical and mental (and in a few cases, spiritual) capabilities in relation to other inhabitants of the setting, and even if it's not hard-coded in the rules there's a certain degree of not-unreasonable expectation that one will take these things into account as one roleplays one's character.

Thus, if said eldritch knight's stats tell us he's strong of arm, tough as nails, but somewhat clumsy and repulsive to look at/be around (say, a stat line something like St 16, In 13, Wi 11, Dx 8, Co 17, Ch 6) that should, one would think, be likely to result in a somewhat different character in play than the same eldritch knight with the same stats only flipped around a bit (let's say St 13, In 17, Wi 6, Dx 11, Co 8, Ch 16) who is brilliant, suave and debonair, but a little fragile and who has a real propensity for attracting or finding trouble.

Chances are extremely high that neither of those stat lines accurately reflects you-the-player sitting at the table, which means at least some movement away from simply playing yourself becomes necessary. That said, some players are better at this movement-away-from-self than others.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
Which, in a stat-less game, would be great!

However, D&D (along with many other systems) has stats that lay out in more or less general terms a character's physical and mental (and in a few cases, spiritual) capabilities in relation to other inhabitants of the setting, and even if it's not hard-coded in the rules there's a certain degree of not-unreasonable expectation that one will take these things into account as one roleplays one's character.

Thus, if said eldritch knight's stats tell us he's strong of arm, tough as nails, but somewhat clumsy and repulsive to look at/be around (say, a stat line something like St 16, In 13, Wi 11, Dx 8, Co 17, Ch 6) that should, one would think, be likely to result in a somewhat different character in play than the same eldritch knight with the same stats only flipped around a bit (let's say St 13, In 17, Wi 6, Dx 11, Co 8, Ch 16) who is brilliant, suave and debonair, but a little fragile and who has a real propensity for attracting or finding trouble.

Chances are extremely high that neither of those stat lines accurately reflects you-the-player sitting at the table, which means at least some movement away from simply playing yourself becomes necessary. That said, some players are better at this movement-away-from-self than others.
Why do you suppose that one cannot play oneself, but as one would be if strong of arm, tough as nails, but somewhat clumsy to look at/be around? I'm not saying that other modes of immersion are bad, and I'm also not clear where the resistance to just playing yourself - mutatis mutandis - arises from? Immersion in a different world, rather than immersion in being a different person.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Why do you suppose that one cannot play oneself, but as one would be if strong of arm, tough as nails, but somewhat clumsy to look at/be around? I'm not saying that other modes of immersion are bad, and I'm also not clear where the resistance to just playing yourself - mutatis mutandis - arises from? Immersion in a different world, rather than immersion in being a different person.
There's nothing at all wrong with playing yourself provided you can somehow figure out what your own stats would be in whatever system you're playing and use those.

Me, I'm not particularly strong of arm, nor tough as nails, but I'm usually not all that clumsy nor am I any more repulsive than the next guy (or so I'm told...other opinions may vary :) ). Therefore, if I end up with stats that indicate those features then by default I cannot (in good faith) play myself because those stats do not reflect me.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
There's nothing at all wrong with playing yourself provided you can somehow figure out what your own stats would be in whatever system you're playing and use those.
You might have misunderstood my example.

Me, I'm not particularly strong of arm, nor tough as nails, but I'm usually not all that clumsy nor am I any more repulsive than the next guy (or so I'm told...other opinions may vary :) ). Therefore, if I end up with stats that indicate those features then by default I cannot (in good faith) play myself because those stats do not reflect me.
I can imagination a stronger, tougher, more repulsive version of myself. But are you saying that for you to do something similar, you have to imagine a person that is different from yourself in all respects?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You might have misunderstood my example.


I can imagination a stronger, tougher, more repulsive version of myself. But are you saying that for you to do something similar, you have to imagine a person that is different from yourself in all respects?
Preferably, yes; and even more so if the character is anything other than Human.

I play the role of myself enough in real life. :)
 

To make it clear, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with "What if I was in a fantasy world and had This Guy's stats?" as a play style. I think its a little narrow, but I'm not going to judge others for what they get out of gaming. I just think its virtually the opposite of what most people are talking about when they talk about immersion.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
To make it clear, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with "What if I was in a fantasy world and had This Guy's stats?" as a play style. I think its a little narrow, but I'm not going to judge others for what they get out of gaming. I just think its virtually the opposite of what most people are talking about when they talk about immersion.
I think of immersion as the feeling of being in the game world: a property of the player. I appreciate that another mode of immersion is acting as if you are in the world. I have not a thespian bone in my body, sadly.
 

Hussar

Legend
Why do you suppose that one cannot play oneself, but as one would be if strong of arm, tough as nails, but somewhat clumsy to look at/be around? I'm not saying that other modes of immersion are bad, and I'm also not clear where the resistance to just playing yourself - mutatis mutandis - arises from? Immersion in a different world, rather than immersion in being a different person.
Well, after about the third character, wouldn't this get really, really tired?

Sure, it's a character concept just like any other, but, when you have that player who plays Himself the Fighter, Himself the Wizard, Himself the Cleric, it gets REALLY REALLY stale, very quickly.
 

I think the difference is that there's a difference between your character becoming you (token play) and you becoming your character (immersion). My objection to some posters is that they don't seem to think internalizing the defined traits of the character (including the parts on the character sheet) as particularly necessesary, and I can't get on board that.

I don't really see this distinction as important to immersion. To me, it is just the feeling of being as if you are the character. i.e. you can still be you, you don't need to adopt a fictional persona: the important element is feeling you are there. Some people get there by internalizing the PCs personality traits, some people don't do that. But both can still have the feeling of being on the ground in the game world
 


Mannahnin

Adventurer
I think one can be immersed either in a character (or role) or in a world or both.

When I think of immersion in an RPG or other game context I usually think of immersion in the world first, though I have experienced character immersion too.
 



Yeah, when I've seen it used it was always in the context of "immersion in character and world" but both parts were important.

To me the most important part was always feeling you are there, interacting with the world through your character. Whether that character is you with the serial numbers filed off, or some person totally different from yourself, was never hugely important to us (though people often would do the latter)
 

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