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1. The Big Model is about what we do, not what it feels like to do it. So we should discuss that felt-stuff, and I'll start by distinguishing a little bit between an initiatory, input-oriented experience as well an outcome, consequential experience. Sort of like the difference between {"22! 8! Hike!" + rushing, blocking, passing} and {catch or not catch the ball, be tackled or not be tackled, make the first down or not make the first down}. They're both still play, but there's a shift in everyone's relationship with the process after the transition. I'll be talking a lot about what happens after that shift.

2. At least some of the time, people do not experience stimulus, when by "experience" I mean how they would describe what happened to them. A good example is what happens when I get angry with someone. My experience of the event is, "He made me mad," as if he actually opened the top of my head and poured anger into it. Whereas what really happened is that he did something, I felt something about that, and then I got mad about how I felt (and possibly also about what he did, not always). When I reflect on the event, in the past, I can usually understand the real process pretty easily, but at the time, in the moment, I felt it only as him making me mad, with the intermediate and internal process being completely non-experienced.

3. I think role-playing is often like that. We do X (or rather, a whole lot of X's), but what we experience is a response to seeing our X's in action, or seeing the X-action fail or otherwise only sort-of be in action.

4. What you're calling "immersion" is one of those responses. It's what role-playing (or one way that role-playing) feels like when a particular set of techniques (there are many) is put into action and works in that particular group/activity context. Unsurprisingly, the fact that it's worked strengthens the overall SIS and provides a richer context for the next application of whatever techniques are involved.

5. Let's talk about this in Creative Agenda terms, because (any) CA is definitely involved. To role-play at all, we travel on our CA arrow from Social Contract all the way down or into the model, to (at a given moment) a nitty-gritty bit of Techniques application. But we do not feel that very much; what we feel is best understood as traveling back up or out along the CA arrow, touching each level on the way, and culminating in the Social Contract (very simply: "that was fun!"). You're talking about feeling it especially strongly when the journey up the arrow passes through the SIS layer, with Character as the primary touchpoint for that particular person. That's how CA is often experienced: as the journey back up, not as the process on its way down. From the moment the quarterback passes, not the set-up and scuffle until he does. "He made me mad," instead of "I got mad when he did what he did."

6. All of the above should be understood as a unit of process, which doesn't take that long in real time (unless there is much maundering and puttering, but never mind that). Experiencing it and acknowledging it can be very diverse. For example, a number of people prefer for the journey "back up" to use reward mechanics and otherwise to touch System quite strongly as it passes through the SIS; whereas others prefer to avoid that precise thing and find it upsetting, so that the only thing that expresses that touchpoint is the passage of in-SIS time.

7. One much-repeated goal of role-playing is trying to become in Frobenius' sense, and the GM's singular job is to use the rules and the shared universe as a vehicle for encouraging that state in the players. This is frequently stated in game texts from White Wolf Publishing and is perhaps the ralling cry of the Role vs. Roll argument.This claim or ideology of play is fundamentally confused. Not because the phenomenon isn't real or enjoyable, but because it's like saying, "Sex leads to great orgasms, which is what I like a lot, so to have great sex, we must begin with a big ol' orgasm." It confuses experiential outcome with process and production. Hence all that emphasis at the outset on atmosphere and Method acting (literally "getting into character." I don't think it's panned out historically. I'm not trying to be deliberately crude or insulting, but I do think that trying it this way leads to plenty of the equivalents of premature ejaculation and faking it. In which case(s), the bulk of play itself is curiously unsatisfying.

8. To design a game to encourage a particular experience is easy: (i) design for Coherence in the first place, and (ii) do so in such a way that character identification is touched on often. The specific crucial "touches" are inspiration not to be but to play during character creation, consequential decisions on the part of the character, and some sort of reward mechanics which enrich the character's relationship to the overall setting.

9. You'll find examples of all of these across most of the overtly Narrativist-facilitating designs from Forge culture. Yes, My Life with Master is highly "immersive" by your definition, and so is Dust Devils, and so is HeroQuest, and so are many others. Modestly, I suggest that Sorcerer, Trollbabe, and It Was a Mutual Decision are very, very strong in this regard - for some, to a degree best described as "blazing." I have never seen men play in such unpremeditated, passionate, and unguarded fashion as in Trollbabe. There are Sorcerer games I've played that I cannot compose actual play posting for because I start shaking. Some posts about Mutual Decision characterize the interactions among everyone at the table as genuine love, a "moment of grace" based on their commitment to the characters' imagined identities and crisis. I think you can find the three "touches" for character as explicit rules in all three games. I think people fail to realize this specifically because the experiential element is left unremarked in the rules; the rules are about making it possible, and most importantly, sustainable.

10. Stance-shifts are found right at the "turnaround" point - when the quarterback commits to the pass, so to speak.

11. I want to make sure that people don't mix up what I'm talking about with reward cycles, or if there's any relationship, it's only at the smallest of the cycles. It's in the moment, not at the larger scale of reward that expresses CA. The key is that once the "feedback" or "up the arrow" experiential features occur, they then become the context in which the next trip down the arrow occurs ... so that instead of inward-outward in a cycle, you get kind of a vibration ... what I've called reverberation among the levels of the model, in the past. In this context, implementing the details of resolution is a joy - or to put it in terms of an actual person, when Emily Care Boss stared at Vincent with mingled pique and pleasure, saying, "So this is what the dice are for," in an early playtest of Dogs. Until that moment, she'd never managed to convince herself that they could be for anything. I had the pleasure of seeing/reading Vincent go through the exact same transition about a year before that, regarding my games.

12. But to get back to Creative Agenda, this reverberation is the ultimate expression of the arrow, in the model. The CA becomes the backbone of play, without any need to reflect upon it, remind people of it, remember it and try to accord with it, or anything else that is outside of the moments of play themselves. I also want to emphasize that what you're calling "immersion" is one kind of such up-the-arrow phenomenon, out of many. So the reverberation contributes to the CA, or if you like, the CA is the context in which the reverberation can occur.

13. Back to design: there are no guarantees. A book, or a set of rules, is not enough. The actual people have to be into playing this game, with one another, and with a certain degree of obligation to play well. They have to be be turned on by the complex of techniques in and of themselves, to like the system. They must be open to what emerges, out of rules-consequence and SIS consequences, not fearful of them. They must share these values ("we play on purpose") as a group. The rules-text, in my view, does not do well to try to tell people what play will be like, because (a) it's like giving away the Easter eggs instead of hunting them, and (b) none of this stuff about the people can be guaranteed. What the book can do is to inspire such interest and willingness, insofar as it's possible, and to be clear about the procedures.

[With Great Power ... Brief but strong play in Sweden] [Poison'd Trying to understand Currency and Reward Systems]


This term has no single definition. Some uses, among others, include:

  1. undivided attention to the Shared Imagined Space
  2. the absence of overtly stating features of Social Contract and Creative Agenda
  3. strong identification with one's imaginary character.

See Why immersion is a tar baby and Immersive Story by John Kim.