Posted by: Jess Riley | January 4, 2009

The Matter of “Immersion”

One thing that a lot of roleplay blogs come back to – including this one from time to time – is the matter of ‘immersion’. Speaking out-of-character is immersion-breaking. People with silly names is immersion-breaking. Gratuitous pop culture references are immersion-breaking.

But here’s the thing that I keep coming back to when I think about immersion.

How much immersion do we really have, in the first place?

Of course, a lot of this depends on how you define ‘immersion’. But I’ll be honest – when it gets to the point of people complaining that the lovely little window in the bottom corner that contains your chat and how much money you’ve looted is ‘immersion-breaking’, I have to raise an eyebrow and lay down the one point that always lingers in the back of my mind.

Sometimes, you have to sacrifice immersion for playability. I know that true immersion would require giving up the chat window altogether, as well as OOC communication, the looting windows, the names and guilds above people’s heads, the speech bubbles, and introducing a gendered text-to-voice program so the only way you communicate is by typing in what your character wants to say and letting the game say it for you – in a character-appropriate voice. You’d probably also have to count out your gold by hand instead of having the game tell you how much you have, keep track of your quests in your head instead of in a log, and all kinds of other things.

I might be exaggerating a little bit, but what a better way to return from my holiday hiatus? I have a lot of built-up energy here, guys.

But let’s be honest. Who here actually wants to play the game that I’ve described above?

I’ll tell you what, I don’t. It would be a nightmare to code and it would be hellacious to actually play. It would be virtually unplayable, and the kinds of people who could keep track of a system like that aren’t necessarily the kind of people I’d like to roleplay with.

When it all comes down to it, we’re chasing down something that would be absurd if we actually got it. There’s a lot of people who really want the maximum amount of immersion, and I think that’s great – but I also think it’s a little absurd.

Recently, I was told that speech bubbles are an important part of the game because they “fit” the environment better than the “immersion-breaking window in the corner”. Well, I’ll be honest, maybe I just play the game weirdly, but my attention is drawn to the window in the corner all the time anyway. I can’t ignore it. It helps me keep track of what’s going on in combat, I can scroll back up to remind myself where a roleplay has been coming from, all sorts of other things. I can’t see the point in chastising other roleplayers for emoting too much and making me look at it. I look at it all the time anyway – it’s an immersion-breaker that I welcome for ease of play.

Not to mention, I’ve gone on record before saying that I think emoting is great, so of course I’m going to defend my position. But even regardless of this, my point remains.

I’m not trying to say you should give up on the idea of maximum-immersion, but I think that too many people take it too far, particularly in their expectations of what they want other people to do. Yesterday, I was roleplaying when a human jumped in and started dancing in the middle of our group and shouting in incomprehensible Common, and I’d high-five anyone who smacked him over the head for being an immersion-breaking idiot. It’s just that in my opinion, there’s a point at which you just have to accept that it is a game, and it’s a game designed for functionality as well as immersion into a universe. Give a little, guys.

(Speaking of which, however, if anyone does manage to track down that human, smack him a second time from me. I ignored him at the time, but gee I hate it when people do that to me.)


  1. Immersion is – and I’m sorry to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t been there yet – Brann Bronzebeard yelling at a Titan computer system in the Halls of Stone. For me, at least, it’s not about the interface, or even the other players, half the time. It’s the environment. The NPCs. With rare exception, neither respond to your emotes or speech, but if it’s done well enough, they don’t have to.

    What can I say? On a non-RP server, you get it where you can.

  2. This is so interesting. Recently I had to “give” a little on my own immersion standards. I met a PHENOMENAL roleplayer – but found his use of real world references too disconcerting. For example, citing realworld books during roleplay. It was offensive to my “elitest” attitude, haha.

    In the end I decided just to give, in order to continue this fantastic roleplay, and now I’m really glad I did. It no longer bothers me as much, and the overall storyline just more than makes up for it.

    So yeh… definitely, immersion doesn’t have to be this unbending rule. The rest of his lore checkso out as accurate enough, so who cares, right?

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