Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

On immersion, fascination, and precious moments (long)

Started by Frank T, May 17, 2005, 04:48:51 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


Quote from: Frank TThanks 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:
QuoteFocus 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 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.

Mike Holmes

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?

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Mikko Lehtinen


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.

Ron Edwards


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.


Frank T

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

Mikko Lehtinen

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.


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):

QuoteI 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.


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...


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.


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.


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:

QuoteI 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...

QuoteThe 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:

QuoteMike, 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.

QuoteFrom 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.


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?

QuoteIn 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:

QuoteAnyway, 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:

QuoteI 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:

Quotea) 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.)

QuoteThe 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.)

Ron Edwards


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.