January 27, 2006

Found this while cleaning my flash drive, while packing, while moving, while going slowly nuts. I figure it’ll pass for content in the meantime:

Be suspicious of any statement reporting that XX% of roleplaying gamers think Z or do Y. Nobody knows anything about anything.

My personal experience has been that a great deal of prohibitive house rules (e.g., this kind of talk is forbidden, that narrative point-of-view is destructive) are gut-driven, unreasoned (but not necessarily unreasonable) attempts to make the RPG medium behave more like other mediums. While it’s possible to make RPG sessions feel more like novels, more like board games, more like CRPGs and more like movies, an RPG session never will be any of those things.

What does “immersive” really mean in an RPG anyway? Does it mean “mistaking yourself for actually being in the game world” or “investing yourself emotionally in the game world” or any of a dozen other things?

It’s been my experience that player involvement is more essential to a successful experience than player immersion, but that immersion is often a happy by-product of genuine involvement. Investment, too, is great, but involved players are sure to have a good time on their way toward a great one. Not every game session makes it all the way to the greatness of True Investment, so I think it’s a smart bet to take the road through “a good time” in case the trip stops short. Involvement without investment is fine — that’s beer-and-pretzel goblin slaying. Investment without involvement is a windmill for tilting, the high-falutin’ pomp of GMs performing scripted confrontations between passionate NPCs in front of a captive audience. The involved player may not care ten minutes from now whether or not he orphaned that orc’s children, but he’s having a good time swinging his sword and will probably come back to play again. That gives you another chance at investment later on.

In the past, I’ve had the most success getting players deeply involved (even invested) in the gameplay experience while running highly stylized game sessions — I hesitate to say “cinematic” in this context, but I was describing freaking steady-cam shots and dolly zooms to get my grip on minds’ eyes at the table, so there’s that. The players were certainly seeing things from outside their characters, so it may not be fair to say they were immersed, but they were rapt.

And isn’t that we want as GMs? For our players to be rapt? Then do what works, I say, and stop worrying about the Great American Novel of game sessions.


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