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Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Frank T on May 17, 2005, 12:48:51 AM
I am posting this to actual play because it is my personal view on immersion, and on the question what makes a session special and legendary. Maybe it can spin off a more general discussion, but for now I am sticking with my personal experience.

I have played RPGs for over 15 years now, in very different groups and styles. Scattered along this gaming career lie some sessions that I would consider especially inspired and fulfilling, especially intense and captivating. They are those long talked about moments, the highlights, the ultimate goal. I used to believe that if I could see what had made those treasured moments so special, if I could sort out the determining feature, the master formula, then I would have my personal key to the best, most inspiring and fulfilling roleplaying.

In my early attempts, when I was still all by myself without any link to the German, let alone the international gaming scene, I used to define those moments by "the game world feeling real". The key seemed to be identifying with the characters and setting, forgetting about dice and numbers and just feeling the experience. When I first heard the term "immersion", I jumped at it and thought this was it. But what was it? The term isn't self-explanatory and no-one really seems to know what it is, if it is substantial at all. The term is a lose cannon, you never know what exactly people mean by it. Some people just mean getting into character, full force actor stance, and acting it out. That doesn't do it for me, though, at least not generally.

Then there was this "dramatism" thing. For many years I used to GM just exactly the way Greg Costikyan advises in Star Wars d6 1st Edition. Sometimes the fascination arose out of the drama, but then again sometimes it didn't. For a while I used to think it was atmosphere. A dense atmosphere meant a captivating game experience. Fair enough, but what composes a dense atmosphere? The more I tried to explain what I meant by atmosphere, the more everything else, like drama, like character and setting, moved into it. I still wasn't grasping it.

Then I learned of Creative Agenda. Tried to apply that. Couldn't.

Today I am going back to fascination and intensity. For me I can say that there seems to be no general, single thing that evokes fascination and intensity in roleplaying. I have the sneaking suspicion that many other gamers are just like me on that account. It occured to me when I read the thread My Life with RPGs (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=15057) and oYo's writing about "purity". Purity was back then, when game X was still fascinating. I cannot go back there. Things have changed, and I need new inspiration to bring back the intensity.

Well, maybe there is a pattern after all. See for yourself, if you will. If you have a minute or two, I shall take you back there. It is of course only a selection, I have tried to pick representative and prominent moments.

The enchanted swamp - about 1991

I was about 14 and playing with three girls from my class. I was the GM and in dire want to impress one of them. We were playing AD&D Dragonlance, one of my first times to GM. Up to then I had only played in a very chaotic (both senses) AD&D group of a friend's elder brother that featured fighting, solving riddles and betraying other player characters, thereby outwitting the other players.

I honestly do not remember the characters, but I do not think they mattered very much since none of the girls would bother with the role anyway. They were just exploring the setting. The game was a spontaneous one and I was just making up details of an enchanted swamp. I don't think they had to fight or solve any serious problems. It was all about that "hey, I am in an enchanted swamp" feeling. The girls still talk about one instance when I described to them an obscure object unbeknownst to their characters which turned out to be - a bar of chocolate.

I didn't get the girl, though, at least not at the time. ;-)

Cultist bikers in the desert - about 1992

I liked the Cthulhu background but had a desire for a little more action, so I used it with WEG's d6 rules. I was GM'ing with a guy from my class and his neighbor as players. And again, the actual role of the characters was abysmal, the most remarkable thing about them being their names - Banana Jones and Clay O'Patra.

I had actually used their background (smugglers) as a hook to get them involved with a gang of cultist bikers. They were sneaking up on a meeting in the desert, sex, drugs and summoning going on. I tried to evoke an atmosphere of dark and danger while we were sitting in my parents' garden in the bright sun, and obviously succeeded. The process of sneaking up, killing guards, watching and taking care not to get discovered really delighted the players, and some guy even stopped on the street to listen for a while. It turned out that he was a roleplayer, too.

Ghost spaceship - about 1995

I started a round of Star Wars d6 with more people from my school in 1995. The group consisted of two guys, three girls and myself the GM. One of the girls had also participated in the enchanted swamp game (not the one I was after, though, at least not at the time ;-) ). Characters started to matter more, they would still be clichéd, but they would have their defining features. We had, female: the cynical smuggler, the snappy gambler, the annoying kid; male: the dreamy scout, the old failed jedi.

The gaming was heavily GM-driven, spiced up with different aspects of challenge. The players used to say what they liked most about my GM'ing were my detailed and atmospheric descriptions. Then I tried to go a little further, starting off an adventure with a dreem sequence, foreshadowing the death of the player characters, and leading them onto a cursed battleship from the clone wars, haunted by the ghosts of a Sith witch and the lawful captain that had been seduced by her and had killed his own crew. The thing I myself remember most fondly about this session is how I actually got one female player to ask to please stop it because she was afraid, all players jumping like mad on the beating of a wall clock, and how all of them really feared for their characters. What the rest of the group remembers best is the indeed very funny joke of one player that finally cracked the horror atmosphere...

Death Knight and demon - about 1995

At about the same time I was a player in a game of "Das Schwarze Auge" (DSA), a German fantasy RPG with very detailed setting and rules. I was playing with more school friends, one of them also a player in the Star Wars group. My character was a juggler that started off pretty indistinct, but over time developed a profile as a good-hearted, slightly naive, brave and quite religious person. Everybody loved the character. This session here was the one that made him gain profile as religious.

The GM had taken the story from the Ravenloft novel "Knight of the Black Rose" and adopted it for a campaign. Our job was to follow a powerful undead lord who sought his treacherous servant. We should make him go away, which basically meant make him find the servant and prevent him from causing harm in the process. As we struggled to catch up with him, we had to pass a swamp that was haunted by will-o'-wisps and ghosts, and I failed a check, indicating that my superstition took control. I had great fun acting out fear and desperation, and everybody enjoyed the performance, trying to sooth me and so on. In the end I prayed to the god of light and justice, not normally the god that a juggler would turn to. The GM described how I saw a light and felt my fear ease. I could still hug him for that, it was just so great.

In the same session we fought a demon in an abandoned mill. Since we had no magic weapons, we could not harm it and had a hard time getting away. That fight was very intense, and everybody was biting their nails and eyeing every roll of a dice in anticipation. It was also the first time we used background music, the "Interview with a Vampire" soundtrack. I think I rarely imagined the game events as vividly as in this session.

Die Hard meets Star Wars - about 1996

I was reading and playing "Vampire - the Masquerade" again and thinking a lot about story, conflict, theme etc. At that time I was putting a lot of effort into writing my adventures, starting them with quotes, detailing on theme and background a great deal. One of my masterpieces, or so I perceived, was about a rebel agent in Star Wars who would play Empire and Alliance against each other to his personal gain. He would bribe imperial officers and stage some show fights. As the player characters came to his base, he would put up some Potempkin hangar deck, trying to hide the fact that most of the Starfighters he had supposedly bought did not even exist. I loved the whole background and wanted to pose the question: "Are we really better than the Empire?"

The players didn't appreciate that as much as I would have liked, but I still enjoyed breaking it down. Yet the session became a long remembered one since the player characters somehow ended up in a giant hotel with a bomb and legions of stormtroopers, and played "Die Hard" in the ventilation system. One player made a "mistake" that led the empire to capture them, and everybody was shouting at her. They were really digging it, and I was indicating to them that they now had messed it and there was nothing more I could do for their characters. They would be taken to Lord Vader, and I mean, you gotta play Lord Vader realistically, right? They really believed their characters to be in mortal danger, and all but one had already given up when that last player finally came up with an escape plan that worked.

The psychiatrist did it - about 1996

Another Star Wars adventure that turned out very well was a whodunnit. The characters were by that time commanding their own battleship, and there were some mysterious murders going on. It was by far the most delicate r-map I had designed up to then, giving them a lot of different possible motives and interesting NPCs to check out. To make it worse, I had a gang of Gamoreans capture the bridge and highjack the ship. All players were really giving their best to maintain an overview of the complicated situation and sort everything out. Not only did they have to solve some riddles, but they were also confronted with people who had quite sensible motives for what they did, and had to make a judgement and decide how to deal with them. Moreover, we did some very good full-length dialogues with very well-profiled NPCs. All five players recon that this was probably the best adventure in the whole campaign, which lasted for quite some time. For me, it was good mainly because I enjoyed my own background so much, and because the players were so devoted.

Vampires in Constantinople - about 1997

As the Star Wars and DSA campaigns were starting to fade out, my favorite became a game of Vampire Dark Ages with yet more people from my school. We really got into the Ann Rice "I have become a monster" thing, our characters being very nuanced and acting out of complicated motives. Play became much more player-driven as the GM (the same as in the DSA game) would often just pick up our schemes and turn them into adventures, also allowing us to create places and NPCs ourselves. I was playing an inventor and philosopher who was struggling with his faith in god and his place in undead society. My companions were a power-hungry aristocrat and a self-oblivious troubadour.

For once, I cannot pick out a single session. In our vampire games, many things blended. We would play very long sessions of 10 hours and more, in the process talking women, friendship, politics and other issues, drinking single malt and listening to music. At that time, we four were best friends, and that was certainly a part of what made those games special. On the other hand, we also did some very intense roleplaying, especially when our characters resided in Constantinople. The GM used the official background and managed to establish the NPCs very well, giving them a lot of flavor and personality. We loved every bit of it and tried to find out as much about the background as we possibly could. At the same time, we would involve ourselves in our personal struggles of love, responsibility and the death we dealt. It was all about the characters and what was going on whithin and between them.

Increasing our position and abilities was a bonus that added in nicely, I guess, more so for the aristocrat's player than for us others, but I won't deny that it really kicked me when I finally raised my Potence to 4. Very rarely, fights would occur, but I remember how they were very different from the rest of the game. The GM made it clear he would not twitch the dice and that we might die if we chose to fight. Once or twice, we would ruin the plot he had in mind by chosing to fight and prevailing. Those fights held a lot of suspense indeed.

Showdown with Obi-wan Kenobi - about 2000

I hadn't had any contact with the players of my old Star Wars group for years when, in a sentimental moment, I wrote an email to one of the players, with whom I had parted in anger. By sheer coincedence, we met each other just the other day on campus. We decided to revive the group and play one more game with the old characters. The rest of the bunch were delighted and said yes immediately. I staged the game after the Battle of Endor and wrote an introduction for every character, detailing what they had been doing in the meantime. The players didn't mind me deciding it for them, at least no-one objected. (In fact, they will not do player-driven play nowadays even if I plead them to.)

The adventure was about some secret Sith sect trying to go back in time and kill Luke Skywalker as he still was a child. I had the characters get into trouble and be rescued, once again, by an old friend, an NPC. Since he had saved them several times in the old campaign, this was a nostalgic moment. We would play the Indiana Jones soundtrack, as always. In the further course of the adventure, the PCs sought out Obi-wan Kenobi and fought the Sith side by side with him. The players still talk about that final showdown, when the failed jedi almost got killed and the others actually managed to defeat a powerful Sith warrior by ganging up on him.

Elevator to a floor that doesn't exist - 2003

By the end of 2002 I was getting involved in a lot of online discussion about roleplaying, learning that out there there was much more than I had imagined. Having been gaming with the same bunch of people for all my life, I sought a new experience and started to go to conventions. Most of the games I had there were not very good, but one was brilliant. It was a game of KULT. We played cramped in a very small room, with sunlight filtering through the window and birds singing outside, but it was horror all the way.

The GM made us create our characters on the spot, and I chose an aggressive, cocain-addict NFL player. The adventure was simple as can be: The characters are spat out by an elevator on a floor that doesn't exist, see strange disturbing things and get attacked by zombie-like creatures. The GM did a very good job describing. All players really engaged in acting out the scenes, cursing, shouting, accusing each other, reasoning with themselves etc. In the end, the characters would turn against each other. I really got into it and had a great time.

Legacy of evil - 2004

On a meeting with people from my German rpg forum, I had another experience with KULT that was just as good. We played in the middle of the night this time, with dark music and candles. The plot wasn't all that different, it was again about reality suddenly disintegrating. Yet this time it was more personal. I had given my character a dark secret, he had as a little kid watched his mother kill his father, who used to beat her badly and tried to rape her. She covered the whole thing up and never got arrested.

The GM picked that up and took it much further: She had the mad ghost of my mother come back from the future and hint that my father had been a demon. I had a real good time acting out the impact this had on my character. He got totally fatalistic, wanting to find out the truth behind the veil that was reality at any cost. Again, the interaction between player characters was crucial.

I have played more horror RPGs since then, trying to get back to that experience, but I couldn't. It has worn out very quickly, and today riddles in the dark and GM secrets tend to annoy me.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 17, 2005, 10:07:18 AM
Well, let's say that I'm playing gamism really hard, trying to level up a ton, and I'm fascinated by the game mechanics, and the game is so well balanced that the competition is intense... and I'm using my character as a pawn in-game to get the win without paying attention to what the character is about.

Is that immersion?

I think you're missing some part of what you're describing.

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Frank T on May 18, 2005, 12:24:52 AM
Well Mike, whether that's immersion depends on how you define immersion, doesn't it? That's why I'd rather name it intensity straight away, for then I can readily agree with your statement. I would ask you to enlarge on what you think I'm missing, since I'm not sure I know what you mean.

- Frank


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 18, 2005, 07:42:18 AM
I'm trying to understand the point of your post. Is it that we should drop the problematic term Immersion to discuss these other terms? Or something else? If it is just using the other terms, then my point is that I think that there is something that's often covered by people's use of the term Immersion that the two terms that you're using don't cover.

If that's not the point...well then what is it we're supposed to be discussing here?

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Frank T on May 18, 2005, 09:25:54 AM
Okay, let me try again:

1) I take it the term "immersion" is by no means established with a specific meaning here at the Forge. If it is, I would be grateful for some clarification. As far as I have heard the term used, it may mean "near-total suspension of disbelief", or it may mean "very strong identification with the character", or it may simply mean "being engaged very strongly into play".

2) If "immersion" were to be associated with "the game world feeling real", as was my first impression, then the real question is: How do you get there? Do all people get there the same way? Hardly. So I ask: How do I myself get there? I have posted those examples to show how I have got there in the past. Anybody see a pattern? I don't. I have not been able to reproduce any of these experiences, either. But maybe I'm just missing something.

3) I suggest that "the game world feeling real" is probably just an effect of the player really engaging in play. Play is exploration, so if you are really fascinated by play, no matter the style of play, then you'll become engaged in the process of exploration and the game world will also feel more real. I don't know what to make of this yet, but I would be interested to hear if other people share this perception.
_____

So, this thread is about two things, really. First, about the general idea that being fascinated by play, no matter the playing style, should promote a kind of immersion. Second, about the examples, if anyone has some analysis to offer. Maybe I should have made it two different threads.

Quote
I think that there is something that's often covered by people's use of the term Immersion that the two terms that you're using don't cover.


I would be interested in hearing what, according to you, people mean by immersion.

- Frank


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 18, 2005, 01:21:28 PM
Quote from: Frank T
1) I take it the term "immersion" is by no means established with a specific meaning here at the Forge. If it is, I would be grateful for some clarification. As far as I have heard the term used, it may mean "near-total suspension of disbelief", or it may mean "very strong identification with the character", or it may simply mean "being engaged very strongly into play".
You're quite correct here. People, including myself, have taken a stab at it before, but nobody seems to agree on a useful definition. In part because even those with a vested interest in it can't seem to agree precisely on what it means. And worse, there seems to be a group who are dead set against certain definitons because these seem to privilege certain modes of play and such.

Quote
2) If "immersion" were to be associated with "the game world feeling real", as was my first impression, then the real question is: How do you get there? Do all people get there the same way? Hardly. So I ask: How do I myself get there? I have posted those examples to show how I have got there in the past. Anybody see a pattern? I don't. I have not been able to reproduce any of these experiences, either. But maybe I'm just missing something.
Ah, I get it. Yes, I think that you've identified a large part of the problem. Those who claim to have some special immersion feel can't point out how or when it happens with any sort of accuracy that would make it reproducible.

Quote
3) I suggest that "the game world feeling real" is probably just an effect of the player really engaging in play. Play is exploration, so if you are really fascinated by play, no matter the style of play, then you'll become engaged in the process of exploration and the game world will also feel more real. I don't know what to make of this yet, but I would be interested to hear if other people share this perception.
Interesting, but I disagree. Or, rather, there is a something that people get and want to call immersion that really is only delivered by a certain devotion to simulationism. In point of fact, there are things about gamism and narrativism that ruin this effect. Or so people (like myself) claim.

Quote
So, this thread is about two things, really. First, about the general idea that being fascinated by play, no matter the playing style, should promote a kind of immersion.
Well that's almost tautological. What's fascination? When you feel immersed? Rather, if it's a criteria for the phenomenon, then very much the question is what makes somebody fascinated. But that, sounds just as unanswerable as what makes a person immersed. It's just...something interesting. We can go around and around.

Quote
Second, about the examples, if anyone has some analysis to offer. Maybe I should have made it two different threads.
No, I think that if people have examples they should post them here. So we can see if something does emerge. I don't think it will, frankly, because they'll be talking about different feelings, I'll bet. But who knows?

Quote
I would be interested in hearing what, according to you, people mean by immersion.
I've been known to refer to something I call "Special Sim Immersion" simply to give it it's own term. Special Sim Immersion, when it occurs, results in a dualistic state of perception where you really do feel like you "are" the character. Not just that the world that the character seems "real." But that for the moment you feel that the character and you are one.

Note that there's no break with reality - any more than a person observing an optical illusion has had a break with reality. That's because of the dualistic state. There's still a part of you that's just you and only you. But that doesn't prevent the sensation from persisting when it happens.

I personally also have associated this feeling with something like being under the effect of some strange drug. That is I feel sorta "lightheaded" and giddy when it's happening. A feeling that I only otherwise get when I'm either waterlogged, or when I'm in certain very specific social situations that I'd prefer not to detail. It may well be the feeling that people get when they're drunk or high, but I can't verify that since I've never encountered either (yes, I've never been drunk in my 36 years).

Now, the latter part may just be very specific to me. Also, it's just possible that it has more to do with the social conditions at hand than with the in-game situation. But there are definite body chemicals like endorphins or something involved. I like to kid myself that this might be something like what some people encounter when they're having ecstatic experiences. So I won't put them on this sort of immersion. But my point is that it's a rather extreme state. It's not just being fascinated, or the experience being intense - I'd agree that those two things are true, but that they're not capturing the actual effect at all. Just requirements for the effect to happen.

Now, this may be rare - I wouldn't be surprised if, actually, people who had had an experience like mine weren't willing to share it for fear of ridicule. I've been ridiculed in the past for saying these things, in fact. But it's just my observations, and I'm betting I'm not all alone.

In any case, I do think that if not precisely what I'm talking about, then people do encounter some similar things. Your version of immersion, I'm thinking, may well have some similar feelings of involvement, but not as a character. Indeed, I don't think that I can have these feelings as a GM, but it seems that you can. So perhaps we're both fascinated, and having an immersion "effect," but in very different ways?

See how hard this is? If we ask for others personal definitions, everybody will come out of the woodwork and add theirs, and soon we'll have a zillion definitions.

BTW, one more thing to compare my version of immersion to. Have you ever been in a movie theater, and gotten tunnel vision, and lost the theater? Gotten to the point where you believe the events of the film are real in that same dualistic way? Very similar sort of thing.

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: jdagna on May 18, 2005, 02:56:27 PM
From what I've read here and my own experiences with whatever you're trying to nail, Frank, I'd say you're talking about a self-hypnotic state.

If you look at stage hypnosis, you're dealing with people who report being aware and in control of their actions and environment, yet simultaneously influenced by what the hypnotist is telling them.  If the hypnotist says "Look, you're naked!" they try to cover up, even though part of their brain is aware that they're still wearing clothes.

Regression hypnosis works very similar - even when people say "I see the man" they're still aware of watching themselves from a third position.  Interestingly, many skeptics doubt the validity of regression hypnosis because it appears to be as much about imagination and creation as it is about memory.

My mother used to be big into New Age stuff, including hypnosis/meditation in which someone would lead you through an imaginary adventure.  Ever the skeptic, I pretended to go along, but resisted the point of being guided by the third person.  Most people used these kinds of things to meet or get advice from a "spiritual ascended master."

Hopefully at this point, I don't even have to illustrate the similarities to RPGs and the feeling that the world is real.  In both cases, you feel an altered sense of consciousness, but not a loss of awareness.  Someone leads you through the experience but without taking away your control.  Your imagination is unleashed in a sort of free-associating kind of way where your ideas seem to come out of their own accord.

In my own experiences, the deep immersion kinds of feelings often happened in cases like hypnosis would - comfortable settings, no interruptions, people you trust and situations that demand your full attention (like a watch on a string, maybe).  But the stage magician proves that it can happen any time you are willing to go along with the process.

As a player, I've had this kind of thing happen many times.  

I used to play a posting board game where I often had to read over my own posts to know what I wrote.  What was interesting about that format is that we had some GM powers such as the ability to create scenery and direct other characters (even other PCs, though they got a veto if they didn't like it).

I had one character who saw a flying ship taking off from the edge of a cliff and he just jumped off after it.  I remember thinking about halfway through it "Boy did he just take a stupid risk" because the feeling was very strong that the decision came from somewhere other than myself.  Normally a tactical person myself, some of the other players commented on how boneheaded most of my plans were when I was playing that guy - but that was the character, with plenty of bravery and not much sophistication.  Thing was, I didn't have to intentionally dumb down anything to fit the character.

There have been plenty of other cases as a play, but I've had it happen as a GM as well.  It happens to me a lot more often as a player, but since I am a GM about 85% of the time, I've still had a few.

In one set of cases, we had a very extended dialogue between characters - I was playing with a friend in high school and we'd often do sleep overs where we played in the dark without dice so that nobody would yell at us for staying up all night.  These experiences were more like what most players feel because I was basically just controlling one character then.  

However, I had another case, where it was very clear that the players had gotten deep into a situation, so much so that they came up with some plan I had absolutely not expected.  As I was furiously ad-libbing the rest of the adventure, I had that same dual sensation, in this case like I was sort of a floating camera following behind the group.  Interestingly enough, the players revealed in a post-game discussion how awesome it was that I'd planned for them to do that.  

In a third case, I managed to rig a scenario up so that it actually scared the players, not just their characters.  And, in the way that you often feel afraid when other people are, I had a sympathetic reaction so that I very much felt afraid of my own creature.

Anyway, I think the sense of immersion partly requires surprise, so I don't think there's any way to plan for it.  I've generally seen it happen when the following conditions happened:
1) I had character(s) and fellow gamers who were very familiar to me
2) Emotions were strong, in a sort of positive-stress way
3) The game sessions were not being disrupted by phones, wives, kids, parents, smoke breaks, etc.
4) Something unexpected happened (something that still fit perfectly into the game world, you just didn't see it coming)

It might be very interesting to get a hypnotist to try running an RPG and see what comes out of that...


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mikko Lehtinen on May 18, 2005, 05:07:52 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
I personally also have associated this feeling with something like being under the effect of some strange drug. That is I feel sorta "lightheaded" and giddy when it's happening.

Sounds very familiar, Mike.

The creepiest special effect I sometimes get is that I lose the ability to judge distances and sizes. I look at the other players, and they seem to be very, very far away, they all look like giants, as big as the stars... I enjoy this altered state of consciousness, but usually I don't tell other players about it, at least not until the end of the session. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's the absolute roleplaying nirvana for me.

When does it happen? My stress level needs to be waaaay up for a long time. I need to be genuinely scared about the situation somehow. There must be an extremely important and pressing "hard question" that I need to answer right now. It could be a Gamist challenge or a moral question. In either case it needs to be a question of life or death. It could be simple fear of dying, or fear of "losing your soul", of doing something terrible. (Simulationist horror has occasionally worked very well, too.)

And then everything goes boom! My character might lose "everything". Suddenly, the unbearable stress is gone, and some kind of euphoria takes me over. I could cry or laugh easily, depending on the situation. Usually these scenes change my character in a dramatic way. A warrior might become a pacifist, a good man might turn evil, or the character could kill himself, having betrayed all his ideals. Interestingly, often these breakpoints have shifted the focus of play from Gamism to Narrativism.

Of course this is the extreme case of immersion for me, if I want to call it that, and why not. "Being the character" is quite important to me, and "hard questions" (N or G) really help me to get there. Oh, and the group needs to have a good shared understanding of our Creative Agenda (for the session) before the immersion can really happen.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 19, 2005, 05:19:08 AM
Justin, sounds like what you're talking about is similar to my experiences. What I'm not sure about is if this matches Frank's or not. Mikko's as well.

Try to keep on topic for the thread, however. The actual examples of conditions are good as they are part of what was asked for. But the details about the feeling that we're going into might not be germane. That is, the thread is not about cataloguing experiences like mine, but looking at the use of the term immersion, and whether there's a way to come up with a reasonable definition, or alternative terms that will do a better job.

I think. Frank will correct me if I'm wrong. I just don't want my example of a potentially alternate form (might not even really be alternate), to derail the thread.

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Frank T on May 19, 2005, 06:55:06 AM
Thanks all for the replies, especially Mike for getting this on track. I doubt we can come up with a reasonable definition of immersion here, but we might be able to near it by giving different examples. Hence I think we're still on topic. The real question, however, is not what immersion is. It's where immersion comes from.

Mike, I like your comparison with intoxication. I have never thought of it that way, but yes, it feels similar. I seem to have had smaller doses than some of you, but I have felt it for sure.

Mikko, your "hard questions" might just compare to my "intensity", in terms of that different styles of play can all lead to the result of immersion. I myself have had that feeling in games that were 100% Sim, but also in games that had a great deal of Gam in them. I haven't yet had it in Nar games, but then again, I haven't played nearly as many Nar games. Plus, I've only started recently, and I'm getting picky these days.

Which leads me back to oYo's idea of "purity" (see above). Would any of you agree that it was easier to reach the state of immersion when roleplaying was still new and you were not as familiar with its mechanisms and dynamics?

I have found that many things I used to like in the past have lost their appeal to me. Also, the more I have discussed roleplaying, the more I have come to understand roleplaying, the less tolerant I have become about contradictory and dysfunctional input by other players. I analyze the process of roleplaying much more than I used to. Knowing and understanding something very well tends to lessen your ability to still be fascinated with it. And my assumption is that fascination, a certain "sense of wonder", are the key to immersion.

[Clarification: I do not suggest that immersion is the same thing as fascination, at least not any more. I just think that fascination is an important stepstone on the way to immersion.]


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Frank T on May 19, 2005, 07:12:24 AM
One more: I find the subject of GM immersion very interesting. I can relate very well to what jdagna wrote on that point. As you can see from my examples above, I've had some immersive GM experiences, but those were also marked by the players really getting into it first, and me as the GM getting "drawn along". This might also be the key to immersion in games with high player empowerment. On the other hand, if everybody is empowered, then who gets to draw along whom?

An aspect of GM immersion less dependent on the players was, in my experiences, the background of an adventure. If I had real good NPCs and a great backstory I could identify with, I might dig that so much that it was sufficient to get me immersed.

As an afterthought, I may well have reached the state of immersion all by myself on several occasions, when making up the next adventure and speculating about how it might go. Same applies to making up a new character or coming up with a new campaign idea. I would pace around my flat, talk to myself and go all dizzy and lightheaded about all this cool stuff and how it might turn out in play. Can anybody relate to that?


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 19, 2005, 11:13:49 AM
I think I'm seeing something that's a thread here between some of the examples. I think that fascination is a somewhat correct term at least to the extent that it implies a surrender of control. A conscious decision to allow somebody else to have control over some part of your state. Even in the reported GM cases, it's when the GM gives control over to the other person that it starts.

I've never been hypnotized, but I'm wondering if Justin is more correct than we think. I wonder if the mental states are equivalent in some ways. Alexander, you reading? Know anything about this?

So, Frank, would it be safe to say that your statement might be something like: "Fascination is a pre-requisite for this sort of immersion?" The problem with this sort of thing is that, if you don't define Immersion, then it's impossible to say whether or not the statement has any merit. The pre-requisites then have to serve as the definition. It might be simpler to drop immersion from the conversation, and simply start talking about fascination. That's problematic, too, however, because of the common usage of the term fascination. Perhaps Immersive Fascination?

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: jdagna on May 19, 2005, 11:44:38 AM
Quote from: Frank T
Would any of you agree that it was easier to reach the state of immersion when roleplaying was still new and you were not as familiar with its mechanisms and dynamics?


I don't find that to be true.  My first case was about three years after I started playing and most of the experiences happened two or three years after that.  In fact, I think familiarity with the system helps.

I haven't had many of those immersive experiences in the last five or six years, but that's largely because I've shifted my gaming focus.  Now that I design games, I'm almost always more concerned with watching how the rules play out and the like and the SIS is less important.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mikko Lehtinen on May 19, 2005, 04:41:30 PM
Mike and Justin, I agree: I feel that this "hypnotic state" that at least some of us have been talking about has very much to do with the surrender of control.

My most hypnotizing roleplaying situation? It was Simulationist Call of Cthulhu. It was easy to give the control to the GM in that game, because we felt that it was impossible to "win" in CoC. We played because we wanted our characters to eventually lose sanity. There was no need to make up clever ways to combat the horrors, and we could just concentrate on being scared. I believe that the GM really hypnotized me in that session. I screamed when he told me about the horrors that my character saw. ;-)

This lack of control has been present in the Gamist or Narrativist games that I told you about, too. I may have used author stance to make decisions that get my character to the situation at hand, yes. But then something unexpected happens, boom!, and I feel that there's really nothing more that I can do about the situation. And for a while, I can just concentrate on being scared/sad/lost/confused/hopeless/crazy, whatever. I can allow the GM and the other players to hypnotize me.

Answering "hard questions" and other player choices help me to get in these dramatic situations, but if I want to get hypnotized, I need to give up the control at some point.

IMO "hypnotized" is a much better word for this particular state of mind than immersion. Immersion has a much wider meaning to me than hypnosis. I can be immersed even when I'm not hypnotized, but I can't be hypnotized (at least not in the roleplaying situation) if I'm not immersed first.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 20, 2005, 07:24:37 AM
Just quickly, I think that one of the reasons that there's an urge to use the term Immersion for this is that the feeling has some similarities to being underwater. That is, there's this almost tactile feeling that you're being surrounded by the world in question. Does that make sense?

Also, I note that mikko says that it's his ultimate goal in RPGs. I wouldn't go nearly that far. I'd say that I like it, but that I'm not willing to, say, switch modes of play in order to seek it out. That is, I personally find it a fun accident of play when it happens.

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: nilsderondeau on May 20, 2005, 08:05:08 AM
Hello all,
Interesting discussion.  As Mike knows, I tend to view RPGs as a literary/dramatic phenomenon.  Play is like reading and writing at the same time.  I would say that one is immersed, either as a player or GM, once actions and lines of dialogue (what I would call "gestures") are no longer about establishing narrative conditions but rather about advancing the conditions that have already been established.  You're in some underground complex.  Once everyone is on board with the situation you can beging to make gestures within the "underground complex" condition. Because this condition is so tired when it comes to RPGs, a clever GM will reference and bend tradition (such bending would also qualify as a gesture).

Gestures are things you do or say according to yet-unkown, but discoverable rules.  Another example.  When I teach English, I sometimes "build sentences in the air." That is I associate a certain (physical) gesture with nouns, verbs, pronouns, etc.  After less than half a minute, and with no explanation, I can usually direct the syntactical choices of my students by waving my hands around.  When it works it is because my students are immersed in my performance.  If you were to walk in half way into the class you would think everyone quite insane, in spite of the correct English being spoken.

The same, of course, is true of narrative and, I think, RPGs (although Mike's point about gamist immersion earlier on is well taken).  Gestures you make as a GM or a player are not necessarily understandable outside of the context of the game.  Here's a nice phrase I like to think about when writing or reading fiction.  It comes from Johan Huzigna's book HOMO LUDENS.  "Play is about creating infinity within a bounded space."

Okay, that's how immersion and fascination work for me, anyhow.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mikko Lehtinen on May 20, 2005, 10:04:42 AM
Quote
Also, I note that mikko says that it's his ultimate goal in RPGs. I wouldn't go nearly that far. I'd say that I like it, but that I'm not willing to, say, switch modes of play in order to seek it out. That is, I personally find it a fun accident of play when it happens.

Did I say that? Maybe I got a bit carried away when I recalled some of my mystical experiences... ;-) "Hypnosis" certainly feels very, very good, and it is one of my goals, but maybe not the ultimate one. It's more of an accident for me, too.

Note that above I was talking about "hypnosis", not Immersion. They may very well be quite different states of mind for all I know. I'd rather not complicate the discussion with my own definition of Immersion, English not being my first language and all...

But one possible definition of Immersion is "Being emotionally involved in the situation", right? And I'd like to talk about emotions.

What are emotions? Recently I've been reading about history of emotions. (William M. Reddy: The Navigation of Feeling.) If I recall correctly, Reddy defines emotions as goal oriented thoughts that often activate together, making them too complicated to fit in the awareness all at once. When people "feel emotions", their unconscious mind is working hard, trying to solve an important conflict between different values and goals that the person has.

IMO the whole point of Narrativism is to let the players simulate these very difficult goal conflicts! (I'm not sure about Gamism or Simulationism here.) This theory would explain very well why we sometimes feel that "our characters make their own decisions" without any conscious effort from us.

That's my ultimate goal in roleplaying: to feel emotionally involved in the story. Luckily it's already happening quite often.

This thread seems to a very good for brainstorming, but it is lacking direction... There are at least several different conversations going on here. Time for new threads, perhaps?


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mikko Lehtinen on May 20, 2005, 01:03:44 PM
I'm quite overwhelmed by the language barrier here, since this discussion has become very theoretic... I'm trying to organize my thoughts anyway. I considered starting a new thread, but I think that I'm actually very much on topic here.

What do we mean by Immersion? Possibly it isn't a very useful term. For me Immersion is at least two separate things. Probably they overlap somewhat.

a) Hypnotic trance. Possibly quite common mental state in Simulationist play. Listening to other players speak, surrendering control to someone else. "I can see the world right in front of me!"

b) A very strong emotional engagement to the story. Potentially a very active, even aggressive mental state, common in Narrativism (and Gamism?). "I am my character!" The decisions you make (either as your character or in the author stance, as a player) often surprise you, because you haven't made them very consciously. You feel strong emotions, because the story at hand activates many different goals and values in your mind; so many that you simply cannot make the decisions fully consciously. You have to tap on your unconscious, where your goals and values are fighting each other.

I have skills to reach b) quite reliably. I just need a Narrativist GM to help me. She needs to keep Banging me with difficult moral decisions until I can't handle it all with just conscious, logical thinking. If I want to keep the story running, to keep making decisions, I need to tap on my unconscious resources. (This kind of play is interesting, because it allows you to learn more about your deeper self.)

I have some experience with a), but no good ideas how to get there reliably. It might be very interesting to experiment with Simulationist Call of Cthulhu, since I have good (horrifying) experiences with that game.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: nilsderondeau on May 21, 2005, 07:35:17 AM
Hi Mikko,

I think sometimes the language barrier you complain of acts as a b.s. filter: your own thoughts are rather well expressed and on point.  Even if the thread wobbled a bit, it was certainly worth it to get to this:

Quote
What are emotions? Recently I've been reading about history of emotions. (William M. Reddy: The Navigation of Feeling.) If I recall correctly, Reddy defines emotions as goal oriented thoughts that often activate together, making them too complicated to fit in the awareness all at once. When people "feel emotions", their unconscious mind is working hard, trying to solve an important conflict between different values and goals that the person has.


Excellent.

Cheers,
N.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 21, 2005, 07:46:53 AM
Hello,

I agree with Nils, Mikko. This is the single most productive conversation about immersion (as a term) on the Forge to date. Part of its value comes from having started with a strong basis in actual play, so we can all understand what we're discussing, and a lot of it comes from your excellent management of the thread.

Best,
Ron


Title: A GM's experience of Immersion/Fascination
Post by: epweissengruber on May 21, 2005, 11:43:10 AM
If games are a kind of ritual or performative activity, participants may make physical and mental preparation to be able to enact their roles in the activity.

The game system that brings players to the table probably contributes to the psychological or physical states that a group and its members enter.  But the participants may also be working themselves up well before they meet up with other players.  The social ritual of gaming involves warm up, mid-performance, and post-performance alteration of physical and mental states.

Have any referees had expierience similar to mine in psyching themselves up for play?

I find that I semi-deliberately work myself up into a state where my inhibitions are lowered before can I begin a gaming session.  I simultaneously find ways to work myself up for an engaged, responsive physical/mental state.

I load up on many cups of coffee and smoke a couple of cigarettes -- and I am not normally a smoker.  I also eat a lot of sweet, sugary food before the session starts, i.e. doughnuts or candybars.

A little off balance, a little short of breath, a little elevation of the heart rate and the blood sugar, I find that the ideas start coming thick and fast and I am extra responsive to every incident at the table.  The clatter of the dice, a catastrophic critical result, a cool in-character rant, I find these more vivid and fascinating than I would in ordinary circumstances.

My gaming state is much different from the state I try to get myself into when I am acting.
I have to be responsive to the presence of other actors on stage -- which means being prepared to improvise -- but be ready to carry out precisely the actions that have been set in rehearsal.

I refrain from any stimulants or alcohol well before the show.  I try to eat well in advance so that my full stomach does not distract me or make me sleepy.  I do stretches and breathing exercises to release tensions acquired during the day and to prepare my breathing/speaking apparatus.

I followed a similar preparation when I did Karate and Fencing.  So it seems as if my gaming is enhanced by a very specific habitual preparation.  Does everyone have their own idiosyncratic method of preparation or are my techniques similar to those used by other players/GMs?  Is there any difference between the preparations GM's engage in and those used by players?  Would shared preparations, rituals, or warm ups, facilitate immersed/engaged/fascinated play by ALL the people gathered around the table?

What other kind of preparatory and post-game activities do players and GMs use to get themselves ready for a session and to leave behind the gaming session when they get ready to meet the real world again?


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Vaxalon on May 21, 2005, 02:00:06 PM
I find that the process of going over my notes, preparing the books, reading the logs of the previous session, perform that function for me.


Title: Collective reading, another good approach.
Post by: epweissengruber on May 21, 2005, 04:31:29 PM
Quote from: Vaxalon
I find that the process of going over my notes, preparing the books, reading the logs of the previous session, perform that function for me.


I've seen that approach work quite well.  And I have seen high-functioningl play groups do the same thing.  Everybody is browsing through the books, looking up spells, checking possible feats, re-checking rules, while they are waiting for everyone to show.  And once the last person shows up, they give him/her time to get into the common activity of studying up then boom, on the word of the GM, they swing into action likw clockwork.

That fits in with the common group dynamic of treating the GM as a combination coach and sensei.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mikko Lehtinen on May 23, 2005, 06:58:26 AM
I'm getting bored of immersion as a term.

For me the word has no natural meaning. (The nearest Finnish equivalent would be "uppoutuminen", but another word, "eläytyminen", seems to be more to the point and much more specific.) For me immersion is just a very confusing rpg-theory term. I don't really understand why you native English speakers love the word so much. Are there good reasons to keep using it?

I mean, clearly immersion captures something very special about the roleplaying experience, since so many people want to use the word. But at the same time, immersion doesn't really mean anything specific. Often "I'm immersed" seems to be just a fancy way of saying "I'm having fun".

I think many people are trying to talk about something else. Not just about having fun. They'd like to talk about their cool and mysterious mental states when they are playing, for example, but lack better words to describe them. When they say the word immersion, the conversation often ends. We need more specific terms for these people, so that we can really discuss these important matters. I think we should avoid too general words, like fascination.

I've suggested some terms and concepts. What do you think about "hypnotic trance" and "emotional engagement" as I've presented them earlier in this thread? (I know we need sexier names for them.) Useful or not? Do they seem to capture at least some of your "immersion experiences" in actual play? Have I missed some vitally important parts of what immersion means to you?

I can see using these terms myself. For example, I could be aiming for "hypnotizing the players" in my game, and in need of help. I'm thinking about creating a new thread in Actual Play: "Trancing in Call of Cthulhu". How should we prepare before play? What kind of an adventure would work best? How much author power should the players have? It's a whole new world for me. Somebody else might need tips on how to get the players more engaged emotionally. (My answers: Bang the players, not the characters; keep the stress level high.)

I suggest that we make up new terms that we can toy with!


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 23, 2005, 07:16:50 AM
Hi Mikko,

You are agreeing with a long-standing general conclusion at the Forge, beginning with a short paragraph in Part 3 of my GNS and other matters of role-playing theory (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/4/) and developed through many threads, especially Thoughts on why immersion is a tar baby (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=4640). All disagreements seem to reside in an emotional commitment to the term itself, which is often extremely defensive in nature, as if the person feels threatened merely by the point that different people use the term in different ways.

Best,
Ron


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 23, 2005, 07:57:46 AM
I agree with Ron's point about it having too many personal interpretations. That said, it's used for precisely the reason you propose, Mikko, it does have connotations in English that make it the most appropriate single term word for what's going on. Not having the experience to judge if the Finnish terms make sense, we want to rely on the best English term there is.

Immersion is that term. I wouldn't hesitate to use it at all, were it not for the fact that everyone wants to claim it for everything up to and including "just having fun." It's only the contentiousness of the definition that makes it problematic. Otherwise, it's obviously the best term for a wide range of things.

That said, if we can get past it by using other terms, I'm just fine with that.

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: nilsderondeau on May 23, 2005, 11:49:16 AM
Quote from: Mikko Lehtinen
I'm getting bored of immersion as a term.

For me immersion is just a very confusing rpg-theory term. I don't really understand why you native English speakers love the word so much. Are there good reasons to keep using it?


I think because it has become a term of art in video games it seems natural to apply it to RPGs.

Quote from: Mikko Lehtinen
I've suggested some terms and concepts. What do you think about "hypnotic trance" and "emotional engagement" as I've presented them earlier in this thread? (I know we need sexier names for them.) Useful or not? Do they seem to capture at least some of your "immersion experiences" in actual play? Have I missed some vitally important parts of what immersion means to you?


I like emotional engagement and hate hypnotic trance.  The latter seems needlessly complicating and in need of qualification.  Especially as I like your insight into what emotions are, psychologically speaking.  Sorry.  You asked, after all.  And I really don't think the answer lies in making up new terminology...


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 23, 2005, 12:14:08 PM
The problem that I have with "emotional engagement" is that, well, isn't all roleplaying emotionally engaging? I mean, if it isn't shouldn't you be doing something else?

We're talking here, I think, about a very specific sort of engagement with specific effects. And I don't think that it's just some superlative level of emotional engagement.

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: apparition13 on May 23, 2005, 12:48:51 PM
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Quote

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Psychology professor at the University of Chicago, is noted for his work in the study of happiness, subjective wellbeing, and fun.

In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060920432/qid=1116880110/sr=8-1/ref=pd_csp_1/102-7458762-4887342?v=glance&s=books&n=507846), Csikszentmihalyi outlines his theory that people are the most happy when they are in a state of flow'--a Zen-like state of total oneness with the activity at hand and the situation (see Flow (psychology)). The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at different times, characterized by a feeling of great freedom, enjoyment, fulfillment, and skill--and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are are typically ignored.

Quoted from [1] (http://www.brainchannels.com/thinker/mihaly.html): "Mr. Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee)... describes flow as 'being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.'"

To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task, and the skill of the performer. The task cannot be too easy or too difficult, or flow cannot occur.

Also, the flow state also implies a kind of focused attention, and indeed, it has been noted that mindfulness meditation, yoga, and martial arts seem to improve a person's capacity for flow. Among other benefits, all of these activities train and improve attention.

In short; flow could be described as a state where attention, motivation, and the situation meet, resulting in a kind of productive harmony or feedback.


Good book, and the first serious discussion of the subject I came across.  I've experienced it playing soccer and tennis, riding my bike, public speaking, writing, even playing RPGs.  The experience is similar, the details of that experience of course differ based on the activity.

In terms of achieving it more readily I'd say that techniques developed in sports psychology and acting may be of the most use.  I'd suggest visualisation and sense memory along with pre-game ritual.  As Vaxalon wrote:
Quote
I find that the process of going over my notes, preparing the books, reading the logs of the previous session, perform that function for me.

  For example, for awhile my pre-exam ritual was to study the night before, review notes the day of and then, 45 minutes or so before the exam play a half-hour game of Battlezone (an old arcade game) to clear my mind enter a kind of hyper-focused state.  Seemed to work pretty well.  I got to where I enjoyed finals week more than the rest of the term;  it's fun to be in the zone.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Frank T on May 23, 2005, 01:38:02 PM
Thanks everybody for the great contributions. I think the Csikszentmihalyi quote once again illustrates the problem of the different connotations the word "immersion" has. We use the term in German, too, but I have been in many a senseless debate because people were just refering to different things by that word. According to Csikszentmihalyi, you could get immersed in just about anything, as long as it's challenging enough.

The kind of state I am talking about is much more distinguished because it is bound to the imaginative process that is part of roleplaying. It is marked by the fictional stuff you make up suddenly becoming very intense. So yes, I agree, we are not just talking about fascinating and captivating play. We are talking about sense of wonder, about letting go, about being slightly removed from reality and loaded with the power of your own imagination. Well, at least that's what I'm talking about, and I think I am in good company.

"Immersion" hits it, but I would speak in favor of dropping the term nonetheless, simply because it hits so many other things as well and promotes too much confusion. "Hypnosis" also has some other, even negative connotations that would make me refrain from using the word. How about intoxication? Ok, forget about that. I don't know. Let's just be sure we are agreeing on what the baby is before we name it.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: apparition13 on May 23, 2005, 07:06:35 PM
Quote from: Frank T
Thanks everybody for the great contributions. I think the Csikszentmihalyi quote once again illustrates the problem of the different connotations the word "immersion" has. We use the term in German, too, but I have been in many a senseless debate because people were just refering to different things by that word. According to Csikszentmihalyi, you could get immersed in just about anything, as long as it's challenging enough.

Immersion is a word Csikszentmihalyi uses in his attempt to describe what he is discussing, but the word he uses to label this mental state is "flow".

Quote
"The kind of state I am talking about is much more distinguished because it is bound to the imaginative process that is part of roleplaying. It is marked by the fictional stuff you make up suddenly becoming very intense. So yes, I agree, we are not just talking about fascinating and captivating play. We are talking about sense of wonder, about letting go, about being slightly removed from reality and loaded with the power of your own imagination. Well, at least that's what I'm talking about, and I think I am in good company.


I googled "sports psychology" and got this (http://www.mindtools.com/flowintr.html):
Quote
Focus and Flow

Focus and Flow are at the heart of Sports Psychology:

    * Focus is complete attention to the execution of a skill
    * Flow is the state of being completely engrossed in the execution of a performance to the exclusion of everything else

When you are in a state of flow, focussing intensely on the execution of skills, you will give your best performances. You enter a state of almost Zen-like meditation in which mood, distraction and different stressors simply have no place in your consciousness. You are free to execute skills just as you have trained to execute them. This is an immensely satisfying state to achieve.

The qualities of flow are:

    * All your attention is focused either
          o on the skills or routine being performed
          o or on the input from your senses relevant to the sport
    * You are fully focused of the activities being performed, and are:
          o not aware of your own awareness, consciousness of self or ego
          o not evaluating the quality of execution of skills during performance
          o not concerned with distractions such as results, judges, audiences or other peoples expectations
          o not making any conscious decisions in your mind or reasoning with words - you are trusting your body to follow its training
    * You are in complete control of actions and reactions
    * You feel almost in an altered state of consciousness: achieving flow is exhilarating, and gives a powerful feeling of competence.

The sensation of effortless competence is the same for me when I am in a state of flow whether the task is mental or physical.  It's simply most obvious in sports.  When you see Maradona glide through the English defense in '86 you can see someone riding that wave.  When you hear surfers speak about surfing, it's in everything they are trying to say.  It isn't however limited to physical acts.  Listen to Donald Trump (or my Grandfather) talking about the art of the deal and making the sale and it's the same experience.  Watch Searching for Debra Winger (http://imdb.com/title/tt0318049/) and you'll hear Jane Fonda describing a handful of acting experiences that exemplify flow.  Musicians speaking about becoming "one" with the audience, writers (and painters) spending hours in a trance-like frenzy of inspiration etc. etc. I read descriptions in this thread of role-playing experiences that mirror these moments.  You're right that immersion is the wrong word and carries too many (loaded) meanings.  How about Flow?

Just be aware that though the sensation is the same the source can differ.  Competitive flow is similar but not identical to "immersion in character" flow or GM flow or what you read in half the actual play threads for DItV.  Different sources of flow for different folks.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 24, 2005, 07:33:23 AM
Id buy Flow as a term in general.

But I'd go further and point out that each Creative Agenda is going to have it's own form of flow. That is you're going to flow on the particular CA of the group. Given the sports connection, I'm sure it's no surprise that there's a Gamism Flow. But that's substantively different than a Simulationism Flow.

Rather, I've never had a Gamism flow, but I've had Sim Flow. So, for me, what I'm saying is that it's the pursuit of the sim CA that has lead to flow for me.

Does that make sense?

Mike


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mikko Lehtinen on May 24, 2005, 07:42:49 AM
Hey,

thanks for giving me some perspective, Ron. I think this has been a good conversation precisely because no one has insisted on any one meaning of immersion. Everybody has been quite clear on what they are really talking about.

This thread has exploded while I was away, and I don't have time right now to read everything carefully. I'll do it later, I promise. Thanks for all the comments, expecially for the critique!

I looked through some of the older immersion threads and noticed that hypnosis gets mentioned very often, and it is almost always linked to Simulationism. Just like we did in this thread. It can't be just coincidence, can it? (Even if hypnotism has negative connotations to some people, would it change the fact the some people sometimes seem to experience trance-like state when they are playing in Simulationist mode?)

Mike: I guess I was talking about a specific kind of emotional engagement that happens a lot in Narrativist play. I was talking about real goal and value conflicts that the player has. When I have time, I'm planning to write more about Narrativist roleplaying & William Reddy's theory of emotions. I'll probably start a new thread for it, here it would get lost in traffic.

I repeat that I have experienced two very different kinds of "immersion" states, and I'd like to have separate terms for them. Otherwise it's impossible to talk about them sensibly.


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 24, 2005, 09:06:42 AM
Hello,

This is sort of a moderator post, although more of a call for Frank to think about.

Frank, do you think we should close this? It's a great conversation, but I think it might stand best as a readable starting point for new discussions of related (sub) topics. If it goes off toward something else or fragments (like it threatened to briefly), its utility for the future might be diminished.

What do you think? Totally up to you - proceed as we're doing, or say, "Call it, time to digest, new threads later." Either way is OK by me.

Best,
Ron


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Frank T on May 24, 2005, 12:52:45 PM
Hey Ron,

good call. Me, I think I have to ponder this a while before I might propose my conclusions and perspectives on further discussion. Let's keep this as it now stands. Thanks again to everyone.

- Frank


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Mikko Lehtinen on May 25, 2005, 07:39:46 AM
Ron and especially Frank, I hate to step on your shoes, but while I was offline I wrote a long post that kind of summarizes my thoughts on this thread. I'd like to continue this discussion in a more focused form. I have a feeling that this post just might take the discussion back on the track... or maybe not. Frank or Ron, feel free to shut my mouth if you want, but I just have to open it this one more time.

Frank,

What drew me to this thread originally was your definition of immersion. I think Mike understood right from the start quite well what you were talking about, and Justin too. I jumped in because the discussion seemed very focused and interesting at that point, and I noticed many similarities with some of my own experiences. It's interesting that so many of us seem to understand what we were talking about. At the moment I'd label (at least most of) your immersion experiences "simulationist trance". It's just my label, you can call it whatever you want. I think I've experienced it too, and it's very cool when it happens.

I think this fine discussion broke down when we started to look for the "one and only" definition for immersion. Fuck, there are hundreds of definitions out there. And not only definitions: I believe that there really are at least several very different kinds of immersion states. I suggest that we go back to the roots, and talk about Frank's immersion! Let's see if we can agree about this one specific kind of immersion state.

I read your initial post again, and noticed that most of your "especially inspired and fulfilling, especially intense and captivating" moments were pure horror! I think you are talking about simulationist horror here, similar to my Call of Cthulhu experiences. I could be wrong. Am I right that the point of the game was to experience horror, and not the Gamist challenge? Can you say what was the group's dominant CA in the sessions you were talking about?

Here are some snippets from Frank's post (all italics are mine):

Quote
I tried to evoke an atmosphere of dark and danger while we were sitting in my parents' garden in the bright sun, and obviously succeeded. The process of sneaking up, killing guards, watching and taking care not to get discovered really delighted the players, and some guy even stopped on the street to listen for a while.

(snip)

The gaming was heavily GM-driven, spiced up with different aspects of challenge. The players used to say what they liked most about my GM'ing were my detailed and atmospheric descriptions. Then I tried to go a little further, starting off an adventure with a dreem sequence, foreshadowing the death of the player characters, and leading them onto a cursed battleship from the clone wars, haunted by the ghosts of a Sith witch and the lawful captain that had been seduced by her and had killed his own crew. The thing I myself remember most fondly about this session is how I actually got one female player to ask to please stop it because she was afraid, all players jumping like mad on the beating of a wall clock, and how all of them really feared for their characters. What the rest of the group remembers best is the indeed very funny joke of one player that finally cracked the horror atmosphere...

(snip)

They would be taken to Lord Vader, and I mean, you gotta play Lord Vader realistically, right? They really believed their characters to be in mortal danger, and all but one had already given up when that last player finally came up with an escape plan that worked.

(snip)

Most of the games I had there were not very good, but one was brilliant. It was a game of KULT. We played cramped in a very small room, with sunlight filtering through the window and birds singing outside, but it was horror all the way.
   The GM made us create our characters on the spot, and I chose an aggressive, cocain-addict NFL player. The adventure was simple as can be: The characters are spat out by an elevator on a floor that doesn't exist, see strange disturbing things and get attacked by zombie-like creatures. The GM did a very good job describing. All players really engaged in acting out the scenes, cursing, shouting, accusing each other, reasoning with themselves etc. In the end, the characters would turn against each other. I really got into it and had a great time.

(snip)

On a meeting with people from my German rpg forum, I had another experience with KULT that was just as good. We played in the middle of the night this time, with dark music and candles. The plot wasn't all that different, it was again about reality suddenly disintegrating. Yet this time it was more personal. I had given my character a dark secret, he had as a little kid watched his mother kill his father, who used to beat her badly and tried to rape her. She covered the whole thing up and never got arrested.
   The GM picked that up and took it much further: She had the mad ghost of my mother come back from the future and hint that my father had been a demon. I had a real good time acting out the impact this had on my character. He got totally fatalistic, wanting to find out the truth behind the veil that was reality at any cost. Again, the interaction between player characters was crucial.


Now I'm going to remind you all about some of the highlights of our discussion.

Mike said:

Quote
...there is a something that people get and want to call immersion that really is only delivered by a certain devotion to simulationism. In point of fact, there are things about gamism and narrativism that ruin this effect. Or so people (like myself) claim."

I agree with Mike here, as long as we are talking about simulationist trance, or something like that, and not just "immersion".

Mike continued:

Quote
I personally also have associated this feeling with something like being under the effect of some strange drug. That is I feel sorta "lightheaded" and giddy when it's happening.

I jumped in and told about my extreme experiences...

Quote
The creepiest special effect I sometimes get is that I lose the ability to judge distances and sizes. I look at the other players, and they seem to be very, very far away, they all look like giants, as big as the stars...

Later Frank said this:

Quote
Mike, I like your comparison with intoxication. I have never thought of it that way, but yes, it feels similar. I seem to have had smaller doses than some of you, but I have felt it for sure.

Justin suggested that we may be talking about self-hypnotic state, and told actual play examples of his own.

Quote
From what I've read here and my own experiences with whatever you're trying to nail, Frank, I'd say you're talking about a self-hypnotic state.
   If you look at stage hypnosis, you're dealing with people who report being aware and in control of their actions and environment, yet simultaneously influenced by what the hypnotist is telling them. If the hypnotist says "Look, you're naked!" they try to cover up, even though part of their brain is aware that they're still wearing clothes.

(snip)

Hopefully at this point, I don't even have to illustrate the similarities to RPGs and the feeling that the world is real. In both cases, you feel an altered sense of consciousness, but not a loss of awareness. Someone leads you through the experience but without taking away your control. Your imagination is unleashed in a sort of free-associating kind of way where your ideas seem to come out of their own accord.
   In my own experiences, the deep immersion kinds of feelings often happened in cases like hypnosis would - comfortable settings, no interruptions, people you trust and situations that demand your full attention (like a watch on a string, maybe). But the stage magician proves that it can happen any time you are willing to go along with the process.
   As a player, I've had this kind of thing happen many times.

Justin's third example is very similar to some of your experiences, Frank, isn't it?

Quote
In a third case, I managed to rig a scenario up so that it actually scared the players, not just their characters. And, in the way that you often feel afraid when other people are, I had a sympathetic reaction so that I very much felt afraid of my own creature.

Then Justin came up with a list that might help us to setup hypnotizing games:

Quote
Anyway, I think the sense of immersion partly requires surprise, so I don't think there's any way to plan for it. I've generally seen it happen when the following conditions happened:
1) I had character(s) and fellow gamers who were very familiar to me
2) Emotions were strong, in a sort of positive-stress way
3) The game sessions were not being disrupted by phones, wives, kids, parents, smoke breaks, etc.
4) Something unexpected happened (something that still fit perfectly into the game world, you just didn't see it coming)
   It might be very interesting to get a hypnotist to try running an RPG and see what comes out of that...

Mike analyzed our immersion experiences:

Quote
I think I'm seeing something that's a thread here between some of the examples. I think that fascination is a somewhat correct term at least to the extent that it implies a surrender of control. A conscious decision to allow somebody else to have control over some part of your state. Even in the reported GM cases, it's when the GM gives control over to the other person that it starts.
   I've never been hypnotized, but I'm wondering if Justin is more correct than we think. I wonder if the mental states are equivalent in some ways.

I fully agreed with Mike. My actual play experiences when I reached the "trance state" confirmed to me that he was right. Later I tried to come up with a definition for what we were talking about:

Quote
a) Hypnotic trance. Possibly quite common mental state in Simulationist play. Listening to other players speak, surrendering control to someone else. "I can see the world right in front of me!"

Now I'd name the term Simulationist trance. Hmm, how about Sim trance? Sounds cool to me.

I suggested that a term like this would be very helpful for people like me, to separate this (possibly common) kind of immersion from all the other kinds, so that we could talk about it sensibly. I believe this term would be useful for Frank, too.

I'll quote Frank one last time before I end this mega-sized post. (Again, italics are mine.)

Quote
The kind of state I am talking about is much more distinguished because it is bound to the imaginative process that is part of roleplaying. It is marked by the fictional stuff you make up suddenly becoming very intense. So yes, I agree, we are not just talking about fascinating and captivating play. We are talking about sense of wonder, about letting go, about being slightly removed from reality and loaded with the power of your own imagination. Well, at least that's what I'm talking about, and I think I am in good company.

"Immersion" hits it, but I would speak in favor of dropping the term nonetheless, simply because it hits so many other things as well and promotes too much confusion. "Hypnosis" also has some other, even negative connotations that would make me refrain from using the word. How about intoxication? Ok, forget about that. I don't know. Let's just be sure we are agreeing on what the baby is before we name it.

People, let's talk about Frank's immersion! That's the baby we should be naming here. My suggestion: Sim trance.

(I'll shut up now. You all: please wait for Frank to say whether or not he wants to continue this dicussion.)


Title: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 25, 2005, 08:17:26 AM
Hi,

Frank's post leads me to say that this thread is now closed.

New threads, folks. Mikko, you might consider that proposing a new term is never resolved by an immediate show of hands, but rather simply by waiting and seeing whether it gets adopted into use over time.

Best,
Ron