What even is Immersion?

In my #INDIEGAMEaDAY2016  post today and elseweb, I got thinking about this immersion thing again. It’s extra fraught! But I want to talk about it, hopefully in a way that isn’t about staking out territory or denigrating others’ experience. So if that happens, I’m shutting that down. Just saying. Read charitably, think before you react.

Given the limits of a single-reply survey, consider which of the following is the most true for you. I’ll have followups. Immersion is…

30 thoughts on “What even is Immersion?

  1. Immersion is just a fancy way of saying “the level of comfort I feel when playing a system I’m familiar with”

    Generally used to justify how other systems are badwrongfun.

    As in “That system breaks immersion”

    Translation “I’m not familiar enough with that system to play with it as smoothly as the system I’ve mastered, and have no interest in bothering to try”

    Subtext “but I’m scared that if enough people play that system instead of my preferred system, I might be forced to learn it, and I don’t want that to happen, so I’ll make sure to bash it every chance I get”

  2. < ![CDATA[Immersion is just a fancy way of saying "the level of comfort I feel when playing a system I'm familiar with" Generally used to justify how other systems are badwrongfun. As in "That system breaks immersion" Translation "I'm not familiar enough with that system to play with it as smoothly as the system I've mastered, and have no interest in bothering to try" Subtext "but I'm scared that if enough people play that system instead of my preferred system, I might be forced to learn it, and I don't want that to happen, so I'll make sure to bash it every chance I get"]]>

  3. I think it’s super easy to do like Jason Morningstar​ said, and use “immersion” as an alibi for bad behavior. It’s this mystical, mythic state of grace that’s heavily prized/privileged even while undefined. A weird cultural thing, I think.

    Now…I agree that you’re wrong, and it really is a thing. I think it can even be a different thing for different people. I’m actually okay with it being bad shorthand for “optimal play state.”

    But then if that’s the case, you’ve got folks out there basically going “my optimal play state is so important that I’ll do whatever I need to achieve that, at any other player’s expense.”

    I do think unexamined selfishness is just…basic human behavior, versus cultivated selfless behavior, which takes practice and sensitivity. So I’m not sure it’s “a problem with gamers” so much as a problem with humans.

    Just this morning I got nearly creamed on the road by a Beemer driver who was obviously pretty immersed in her driving experience (which required she ignore lanes, speed limits and physics).

  4. < ![CDATA[I think it's super easy to do like Jason Morningstar​ said, and use "immersion" as an alibi for bad behavior. It's this mystical, mythic state of grace that's heavily prized/privileged even while undefined. A weird cultural thing, I think. Now...I agree that you're wrong, and it really is a thing. I think it can even be a different thing for different people. I’m actually okay with it being bad shorthand for “optimal play state.”
    But then if that’s the case, you’ve got folks out there basically going “my optimal play state is so important that I’ll do whatever I need to achieve that, at any other player’s expense.”
    I do think unexamined selfishness is just…basic human behavior, versus cultivated selfless behavior, which takes practice and sensitivity. So I’m not sure it’s “a problem with gamers” so much as a problem with humans.
    Just this morning I got nearly creamed on the road by a Beemer driver who was obviously pretty immersed in her driving experience (which required she ignore lanes, speed limits and physics).]]>

  5. See, I see both sides. Because I have seem immersion as a mystical word to mean my fun trumps your fun.

    But I have also seen “immersion is bad/doesn’t exist” used to say “your playstyle is invalid, I don’t have to care what you want, and can ignore your appeal for support or understanding in game because fuck yourself for having different goals than me.”

    I’ve seen it so often that whenever I see someone shit talk immersion without being very specific about how a specific set of specific behaviours affects a specific type of play, I start feeling like the person talking is being a one true wayist asshole who is prioritizing their play state and method above everyone else’s unilaterally.

    So… Yea, I end up thinking almost everyone in the conversation is being stupid, because everyone is moralizing about absolutes to self justify. 

    Which is why those old Usenet discussions were so fruitless. Just frustrating.

  6. < ![CDATA[See, I see both sides. Because I have seem immersion as a mystical word to mean my fun trumps your fun. But I have also seen "immersion is bad/doesn't exist" used to say "your playstyle is invalid, I don't have to care what you want, and can ignore your appeal for support or understanding in game because fuck yourself for having different goals than me." I've seen it so often that whenever I see someone shit talk immersion without being very specific about how a specific set of specific behaviours affects a specific type of play, I start feeling like the person talking is being a one true wayist asshole who is prioritizing their play state and method above everyone else's unilaterally. So... Yea, I end up thinking almost everyone in the conversation is being stupid, because everyone is moralizing about absolutes to self justify.  Which is why those old Usenet discussions were so fruitless. Just frustrating.]]>

  7. I come somewhere between Ralph Mazza​’s idea of comfortable with play, and the much maligned “we didn’t even need to roll dice”. I think they’re actually the same – comfort with the system and the group may allow you to roleplay through conflicts in a way that makes everyone happy.

    Someone mentioned that this is “flow”, which I assume is similar to a flow state in any other walk of life. In which case, I agree.

  8. < ![CDATA[I come somewhere between Ralph Mazza​'s idea of comfortable with play, and the much maligned "we didn't even need to roll dice". I think they're actually the same - comfort with the system and the group may allow you to roleplay through conflicts in a way that makes everyone happy. Someone mentioned that this is "flow", which I assume is similar to a flow state in any other walk of life. In which case, I agree.]]>

  9. I tend to think that dice get rolled way more often than people who say “we didn’t even have to roll dice” think they do.

    IME “we barely touched the dice” often means “we never had to pause play to look up or discuss how to roll something because we always knew what to roll and when and what it meant…so even though it happened alot it was largely invisible to us”

    This is one of the strengths of Old School play where everything can be winged on the fly with a “Make an Intelligence Check” or “Roll a d6”. It’s such second nature that it doesn’t really seem like doing a thing.

  10. < ![CDATA[I tend to think that dice get rolled way more often than people who say "we didn't even have to roll dice" think they do. IME "we barely touched the dice" often means "we never had to pause play to look up or discuss how to roll something because we always knew what to roll and when and what it meant...so even though it happened alot it was largely invisible to us" This is one of the strengths of Old School play where everything can be winged on the fly with a "Make an Intelligence Check" or "Roll a d6". It's such second nature that it doesn't really seem like doing a thing.]]>

  11. Immersion, as a term, is is kinda fucked because it means so many different things to so many people. In the middle of a conversation, you either have to pause to get everyone’s definitions — and then hope the others will allow for the speaker’s definition so that the conversation can proceed — or you have to throw up your hands and realize that there are so many unstated assumptions about what immersion means that you’re never going to get everyone on the same page.

  12. < ![CDATA[Immersion, as a term, is is kinda fucked because it means so many different things to so many people. In the middle of a conversation, you either have to pause to get everyone's definitions -- and then hope the others will allow for the speaker's definition so that the conversation can proceed -- or you have to throw up your hands and realize that there are so many unstated assumptions about what immersion means that you're never going to get everyone on the same page.]]>

  13. By way of example, your first survey answer could be taken at least three ways. First, it could mean that I forget I’m playing a game because I literally forget who I am and believe instead that I’m my character (to varying degrees). Alternatively, it could mean that I forget I’m playing a game because the group as a whole has achieved such mastery over system that I lose track of the mechanical part of the game and remember only the narrative created (similar to what Ralph said above). Finally, it could mean something similar to the term “flow,” in that sure I know I’m using rules and rolling dice, but I’m so “in the zone” with everything that I lose track of time and don’t realize it is suddenly 2 a.m.

  14. < ![CDATA[By way of example, your first survey answer could be taken at least three ways. First, it could mean that I forget I'm playing a game because I literally forget who I am and believe instead that I'm my character (to varying degrees). Alternatively, it could mean that I forget I'm playing a game because the group as a whole has achieved such mastery over system that I lose track of the mechanical part of the game and remember only the narrative created (similar to what Ralph said above). Finally, it could mean something similar to the term "flow," in that sure I know I'm using rules and rolling dice, but I'm so "in the zone" with everything that I lose track of time and don't realize it is suddenly 2 a.m.]]>

  15. Mark Delsing, yeah pretty much. And it seems now more than ever with the new lines drawn between things like OSR, Story Games, etc., etc.

    But! — I think most people are at least (begrudgingly) willing to accept roleplaying as a sort of catch-all phrase. Best case scenario, the term survives as a meaningless, generic or nebulous term, sort of how like “boardgames” now means all sorts of things from card games to light story-telling games to wargames to abstract games to euro games, etc.

    I’m not sure immersion has the same cultural cache to be anything more than politically fraught, caught up in identity politics.

  16. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing, yeah pretty much. And it seems now more than ever with the new lines drawn between things like OSR, Story Games, etc., etc. But! -- I think most people are at least (begrudgingly) willing to accept roleplaying as a sort of catch-all phrase. Best case scenario, the term survives as a meaningless, generic or nebulous term, sort of how like "boardgames" now means all sorts of things from card games to light story-telling games to wargames to abstract games to euro games, etc. I'm not sure immersion has the same cultural cache to be anything more than politically fraught, caught up in identity politics.]]>

  17. I picked choice 4, so I feel obligated to explain:
    To my wife, who plays RPGs for a deeply immersive experience, “immersion” is like method acting. Feeling the genuine emotions of her character in the moment is her goal during play. Of course, she can “immerse” in a novel, if it’s told in a sufficiently non-omniscient-author fashion.

  18. < ![CDATA[I picked choice 4, so I feel obligated to explain: To my wife, who plays RPGs for a deeply immersive experience, "immersion" is like method acting. Feeling the genuine emotions of her character in the moment is her goal during play. Of course, she can "immerse" in a novel, if it’s told in a sufficiently non-omniscient-author fashion.]]>

  19. My wife is the same way about certain aspects of the game. It’s alot of fun watching her squirm in horror playing D&D because of a spider or beetle swarm.

    I wonder if it’s lack of immersion when the long-term players never react to any threat with anything other than bravado or whining no matter what character they’re playing.

  20. < ![CDATA[My wife is the same way about certain aspects of the game. It's alot of fun watching her squirm in horror playing D&D because of a spider or beetle swarm. I wonder if it's lack of immersion when the long-term players never react to any threat with anything other than bravado or whining no matter what character they're playing.]]>