On Character-Immersion

There are many ways to become immersed in a tabletop roleplaying game. Over the years I have experienced deep Rules-immersion, delving into the intricacies of the various and many roleplaying game rulesets that I own. I have also experienced Tactical-immersion, where I was enjoying making the most effective moves in a combat situation. I speak often of my desire for Otherworld-immersion. This idea of immersion is a many-faceted concept.

There is a growing realisation within me that the greatest and most precious gift I can give other people – the players at the table with me, whether I am a GM or a fellow player – is the gift of Character-immersion. This is the state of being in role, present, and experiencing the world of the game within the current situation through the imagined senses of the character.

To be character-immersed is rich for people. This truth hit me squarely while listening to one of my players – the prolific GMologist, Karl Rodriguez – talking about his role as Renaldo Rieks in our recent session of Serene Dawn as part of a recent episode of his podcast. Even after the fact, while recounting the tale of the session, Karl slips comfortably into role and speaks almost exclusively from the point of view of Renaldo. He even skips the parts where Renaldo was unconscious, even though he as a player was present in the session.

One of the challenges of roleplaying is to be able to persist in this character-immersed state for enough of the session to be able to enjoy the benefits.

If, like me, you are interested in the engagements of Fantasy and Self-Expression then you will enjoy being character-immersed during a roleplaying game. The aesthetic enjoyment – that is to say the emotions evoked by this play – and the dynamic sense of being able to create and realise a personalised, unique character is very rich as an experience.

Not all players seek this Character-immersion, that is true. I am coming to understand, however, that many more players are hungry for this experience than we commonly imagine.

Just because the regular kind of tabletop roleplaying game forces us to reduce the time we spend in this state – when we are required to repeatedly frame-shift out of Character-immersion into (say) tactical play or active use of the rules – this does not mean that we cannot deepen our experience in this direction.

The solution, of course, is to change our methodology at the gaming table with the goal of maximising the time a player can spend character-immersed. This is facilitated by reducing the amount of frame-shifting required from the character’s point of view toward some other aspect of play.

For example, if the GM is willing to handle all of the rules adjudication “behind the screen” then the player does not have to frame-switch out of character and into rules adjudication. Another option might be to move the tactical battle mat behind the screen so that only the GM has to deal with the tactical details of the situation. Both of these will increase the game time spent by players being immersed in character.

As a GM who enjoys Character-immersion while I play, the greatest gift I can offer my players is to facilitate a game in which they can inhabit and become more deeply character-immersed than when we play in the regular manner.

Of course, until you’ve begun to experience play in which you are more character-immersed, you may not be willing to give up the tried-and-tested ways of the typical roleplaying game. We are all resistant to change until we experience real benefit.

That said, I’m not going to let player resistance stop me from running games in a manner that seeks to – even if only slightly – increase the opportunities for play in a character-immersed manner. As a player, I am going to be mindful of behaviours that may cause others to frame-shift.

To me, this is the heart of what it means to be a role-player: being immersed enough in my role, as the character, to make decisions almost exclusively from their point of view. To imagine and bring to life, even to experience, in a way that this person becomes real to me within the context of the game’s world.

Game on!

4 comments

  1. *cough* *cough* FKR *cough*

    Seriously though, if you don’t already know it I think you’re going to find that “style” interesting. I know you enjoy GURPS, Mythras and the like, but when I fell in that rabbit hole I found what I didn’t know I needed.

    I could put an avalanche of links and write for hours about it, but I think that to get an idea the following are a good starting point:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4lvrC3ZBzM
    https://d66kobolds.blogspot.com/2020/09/free-kriegsspiel-worlds-not-rules-etc.html
    https://darkwormcolt.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/play-worlds-not-rules-juggling-ideas-for-stone-age-rpg-sessions/

    For me, it was almost a Zen-like moment when I “got it”. It was first and foremost a mindset adjustment, a change in perspective that unlocked literally worlds of fun and immersion. Also, after trying to play in this way I discovered that the pressure I was largely imposing myself, the anxiety, the self-doubt, the procrastination I was experiencing as a GM: they were greatly reduced and I enjoy my games more.

    Perhaps it won’t be your cup of tea, but for me it’s been that useful (I can safely say it reignited my passion for RPGs) and I’d love if it could give you something to enjoy our hobby more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this. I have been told before that I am really an FKR proponent. Perhaps that is true, I don’t know enough to be sure. I’ve read the two articles before but not seen the video (I don’t usually look at much on YouTube), so thanks for that link. My feeling up until now is that I am Freekriegspiel in as far as I want to play the characters and the world; my disagreement with FKR has been that I am not convinced removing the rules is the solution. For me, at least right now, bringing the rules behind the screen has been enough to allow the players to play their characters and the world in a more consistently-immersed manner. It’s an interesting question: how much do the rules help or hinder me, as GM, to adjudicate? Thank you for sharing your experience on this matter.

      Like

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