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Tales from a recovering I.C immersionist

Well only one tale and a small snippet (or two) of actual play. It happened about a year ago.

LukeA was GM, I (Alex) was the Inquisitor and Chris was the Lackey.

The Inquisitor approaches the temple steps with the Lackey beside him. He bows his head piously and out of the corner of his eye checks to see if the Lackey is doing the same. The Lackey notices that I’m checking him out and also bows his head.

After the game LukeA said ‘If I was Chris I would have not bowed my head.’

If I was drinking at the time I would have choked on it. My response was ‘well he was just playing his character.’

As I reflected on the moment a realisation came. That meant that when LukeA played, he wasn’t ‘just playing his character.’ So what was he doing?

 

In hindsight the answer is obvious. He chooses his character priorities to set up an unstable situation but, and this was the bit that confounded me, he was doing it in play. Like some kind of noob. Had he never heard of role-playing? I jest but it hit home why I had troubles with certain games and why I had troubles Gming certain characters. In some games with LukeA I’m looking at his character waiting for it to ‘do’ something and he’s looking at me waiting for the bare bones of a situation so that he can ‘do’ it. Leads to kind of dull games.

I had two really big practical take a way's from this.

The first is that, as a GM, I should probably just step forward with more cool shit so I can see what a character is all about. Other people might not build them like I do.

The second is that when I build a character, I need to get what they’re about out there very quickly so it enters the shared situation. (This is so obvious in hindsight that I’m amazed it took me so long to get it).

When I made Zebediah Infinity in Ron’s Cosmic zap game. I was thinking of this passage from Ghosts of my life by Mark Fisher

In England, working class escape is always haunted by the possibility that you will be found out, that your roots are showing. You won’t know some crucial rule of etiquette that  you should. You will pronounce something wrongly - mispronunciation is a constant source of anxiety for the autodidact, because books don’t  necessarily tell you how to say words. Is ‘Ghosts’ the moment when art pop confronts this fear - that class will out, that one’s background can never be transcended, that the rude spectres of Lewisham will return no 
matter how far East you travel?


Now a lot of good stuff happened in that game and Ron provided some really cool situation in response to what I was doing. Yet I would have been more satisfied if I either got across the whole class thing in the first scene or alternately (gulping in apprehension) didn’t go in with preconceived ideas in the first place.
Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Dreamofpeace's picture

I admit I don't understand the first half of what you wrote - perhaps I need more context? Was what Chris did problematic, or not? What about it was being a noob? 

I do understand that there's a balance between a character's motivations and the richness of the world; Ron mentioned something along those lines in the long-form play lab.

Dreamofpeace's picture

Also, by "I.C." do you mean "intuitive continuity"?

arakn_e's picture

Hi! I do not understand either, would you expand? @Dreamofpeace, I think he means "In Character"

Yeah, I.C means ‘in character’. Years back a lot of people made a big deal out of it. You’d commonly hear statements like ‘the reason I play is to immerse in character.’ Normally followed by a rant about how story games aren’t real role-playing and they break ‘immersion.’

 

Which were view that were close to my own heart.

 

What I’m finding now though, is that my dumb assumptions about ‘good roleplay’ are maybe not so good after all and in some cases are actively detrimental to getting what I want.

 

In the first case it was weird to me that LukeA doesn’t fully conceived of his character before play begins. The way I’d create a character is to kind of model their mind in my head and then inhabit them. So given a particular situation I’d always know what they would do.

 

So my ideal of role-playing was to begin play with a fully formed character and then go through the following cycle:

 

Character in a situation takes action that changes the situation. My character then changes as a person based on the results of the new situation.

 

The way a lot of people do it is actually a little bit different. They have a rough sketch of the character that they’ll fill in as needed after play begins. So they make decisions based not on ‘what their character would do’ but on what would make a good dramatic situation.

 

What always confused me is that this seemed lame as fuck. Like flat out stupid. If that’s Narrativism you can keep it. Fuck your story. What I was too dumb to understand though, is that these decisions about character are initial decisions. They then become binding. So people that do it this way are kind of feeling into the character. It just takes a session or two to get the character established.

 

Then what’s even more mind blowing to my poor IC brain. Is that from their point of view, I might as well be doing the same thing. BUT WORSE. Because what they see is me making all these really dull decisions. They don’t see the inner workings of the character that leads to the decisions. (and even if they did, so what)

 

So is what Chris did problematic? No, I mean its my default mode of play and irregardless it’s his creative decision to make. Is it potentially lame though? Yeah. To play in my default way you have to set up a lot of conflicts before play actually begins. Which has it’s own dangers.

 

Make any sense? Don’t worry if it doesn’t. I’m beginning to see I.C immersion as a mild cognitive disability.

Ron Edwards's picture

I am not trying to be difficult, and I am not trying to be an insightful mentor leading you to anything. I am merely baffled. The entire anecdote and specifically your perceptions or interpretations are do not seem to follow any step-by-step process to me.

First, how is it that you interpret(-ed) Chris' play of the Lackey (bowing his head) as "playing his character" in the sense of knowing what he would do ahead of time?

Second, how is it that you interpret(-ed) LukeA's statement, that he would not have bowed the Lackey's head, as meaning that he (LukeA) would not have been playing in that way?

I am not criticizing your insight of today that absolutely pre-knowing and pre-setting one's character before play is a topic of importance for you. That's fine, and interesting, and worthy of discussion. I've been addressing it at other topic-related posts which appeared fortuitously around the same time (direct links): Champions Now: New York City Tabloid, Getting our surf-boards under us at last, Action Adventure

Here, I want to focus on this one thing which I simply keep stumbling over, and probably it's because this whole thing is person A (you) interpreting what person B (LukeA) is saying about what person C (Chris) did in play.

Maybe that layering is making the whole thing impossible, not just because I'm dense but because it is impossible, composed of way too much projection and elaborate ideation? Or maybe I am missing critical knowledge of the game and people that you're talking about, which make your statements obvious and accurate at your end?

Please let me know because moving onto Zebediah Infinity with a more developed or understandable question seems like it would be fun.

Like a lot of my posts this suffers from the fact that my conceptions are changing. So there’s the remedial class segment where I explain my misconception and these bits sounds like gibberish to people who don’t have similar misconceptions (fuck maybe they sound like gibberish even then).

 

Then there’s the grown up bit where I try and apply my new correct conception.

 

Ignore all the stuff about I.C immersion and you could end up with some questions like:

 

How much of your character priorities should be fixed before play?

 

To what extent does that change on a game to game basis?

 

When do you dump a character priority that you envisioned being important but in play turns out not to be having much impact?

 

How quickly do you establish a character as having this particular priority?

 

What’s going on with moves like ‘seduce/manipulate’ in Apocalypse World?

 

I think these are all interesting questions you can chat about at the ‘grown up’ table. I’ve just tangled them up with stuff that’s irrelevant to most of the people reading.

 

So talking about Cosmic Zap in particular there’s a few things I have questions about. I mean questions in the sense of discussion points, not that I’m looking for the word of God on how the system should be played.

 

I remember you griping about how people in Europe wanted to set stuff in America. I began with Zeb being in L.A. If I was actually trying to communicate character priorities I could have said, to a certain type of working class English person, being in L.A is pretty much about nothing but England. Which would have been fun and cool but instead I was turtling away in the characters headspace. I think I downplayed the actual importance of chatting ‘about’ the game.

 

On the other hand. The character was fairly stuffed anyway, there was a lot on the sheet. Would it have been better for me to not have any preconceived notions and choose character priorities based on the emerging situation? I think in a game like Zap specifically, that might have actually been the better way to go. I think before my revelation I would never take this idea seriously, ‘of course you need a full character to begin play.’ It really does seem system dependant though.

Ron Edwards's picture

Partly inspired by the several posts and comments listed above, and moving directly into questions like the ones you've presented here, this week's Monday Lab will join the discussion with some points and shared experiences. I'm exporting the videos right now and will be posting it pretty soon.

Here's something about the questions you've just provided - and yes, they are good ones, well worth discussion, so I'm not deconstructing them or throwing them back at you -

The role of "should" and "when" in your phrasing makes discussing them more difficult. Rather than seeking an aesthetic standard, or pre-set instruction, I think it's more useful to say, well, when it definitely worked ("was fun," whatever adjective you want), what happened?

In our discussion, these variables turned out to be irrelevant or, when relevant, facilitating: who made up the character initially, how known or developed were the character's identity/goals (if at all), how named or quantified were the identity/goals (if at all), whether randomization was involved in the character's features including identity/goals, how detailed were the identity/goals inititally, and whether mechanics were involved in producing or addressing the identity/goals during play, and significantly, whether changing (or not changing! but you could have) the identity/goals occurred.

I'm not saying these variables were irrelevant to the enjoyment or conduct or procedures of play in each case, because they obviously are, but that they are non-deterministic to the quality of having character, as opposing to "being such a character" in an entertaining sense, or "nothing" which is to say pretty much filling space as assigned and required by others.

To take this to Zebediah, and to focus on something which to me seems to be crouching malevolently on your shoulders like the mythological Old Man of the Sea, is your ongoing focus on internal priorities which for some reason see no expression to others at the table, and are kept extremely private overall. In his case, it's the correspondence between working-class London and music-industry Los Angeles, his sense of escape and liberation at a class level, and whether that is a good thing or maybe misguided in the first place.

Such a priority or interest or (I guess) "theme" may appear in two ways:

  • Explicit in any fashion, e.g., via the sheet (hich is abundantly available as the player creates all the abilities in Cosmic Zap) or casually talking about it with anyone/everyone.
  • Not sharing anything or expressing it before play at all, but expressing it via the character in play, through dialogue and decisions for action - and in Cosmic Zap, the capacity to frame your character's location and activities at the start of your Featured turns.

I get why you might not be inclined toward the first, and I do not advocate doing it, if you didn't want to. So perhaps unexpectedly, no, I am not saying "just tell everyone beforehand, that solves everything."

Instead, I want to focus on the second. I hope this can be communicated gently, but maybe it can't: why didn't Zebediah say anything about this to anyone, or express it purposely or accidentally via his lyrics, or find himself in some situation that invoked it (as you had the authority to do), or otherwise display this outlook or "theme" in any way? Why did it stay entirely inside you, always?

Put most harshly: anyone can say that their character was "about" this or that, but if they don't play that thing or theme in any fashion, so what?

With Zeb it was a mixture of cognitive confusion but also just not playing the instrument well. I’m at a stage now where I’m confident in my ability to spot poor play after the fact and adjust. Getting past the whole ‘keeping shit internalised’ was part of that.

 

Which is exciting. I’m not anxiously gnawing at my nails and sobbing about lost opportunity. I mean I enjoyed Zap when we played it. Getting goods an iterative process that’s pretty fun. It’s fun playing and it’s fun reflecting on what I could have done better.

 

So yeah, specifically in zaps’ case I would probably lead with a scene where I laid shit out. I think I might have also been subtly investing in having certain situations arise. Which I now see is utter folly, and getting over that bullshit is vital to having fun with the activity.

To use a band analogy. I’m pretty sure I’ve stopped using the guitar as a hammer and expecting it to make music. I’m confident in the fact that I’m using it right. Although old habits die hard so I fully expect to find times where I am just doing something totally idiotic and borderline insane.

 

Such as complaining about the jam session and then realising that I have to actually play the notes, I can’t just think them.

Ron Edwards's picture

I appreciate you sticking with the conversation. It can't be easy, or if it's easy, it's certainly not casual.

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