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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 150 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)  (Read 17055 times)
nilsderondeau
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Posts: 21


« Reply #15 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.
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Mikko Lehtinen
Member

Posts: 41


« Reply #16 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?
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Mikko
Mikko Lehtinen
Member

Posts: 41


« Reply #17 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.
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Mikko
nilsderondeau
Member

Posts: 21


« Reply #18 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.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #19 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
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epweissengruber
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Posts: 311

I like games! and theory! and The Forge!


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« Reply #20 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?
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Vaxalon
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Posts: 1619


« Reply #21 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.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
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epweissengruber
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I like games! and theory! and The Forge!


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« Reply #22 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.
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Mikko Lehtinen
Member

Posts: 41


« Reply #23 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!
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Mikko
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #24 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 and developed through many threads, especially Thoughts on why immersion is a tar baby. 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
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #25 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
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nilsderondeau
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Posts: 21


« Reply #26 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...
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #27 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
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apparition13
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #28 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, 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.
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apparition13
Frank T
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« Reply #29 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.
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