[MUD-Dev] Levels of immersion

Paul Schwanz - Enterprise Services Paul.Schwanz at east.sun.com
Wed Dec 13 14:38:22 New Zealand Daylight Time 2000


<EdNote: Reformatted to fit reasonable margins (72 is good)>

> From: Tess Snider <malkin at Radix.Net>

> 
> On Tue, 12 Dec 2000, Travis Casey wrote:
> 
>> To me, to say that "you are your character" implies that you are no
>> > longer conscious of the distinction between yourself and your
>> character.  I think that what you really mean is something more
>> like what I've said above, and "you are your character" is just a
>> shorthand way of expressing it.  Am I right?

[snip] 

> For example, I recall a player who made an attempt to have another
> player assaulted in the real world, because his character killed a
> character of hers with whom her psyche had become far too
> intertwined.  No player who was immersed at strictly the "character"
> level would even dream of doing something like that.  No matter how
> much a "character" immersed player might love his characters -- no
> matter how much passion and fervour he may have invested in their
> stories -- there is a certain healthy distance he maintains.  At the
> "persona" level, that distance is lost, and a great deal of one's
> perspective can be lost in the bargain.
 
What the heck, I'll throw in my two cents.

It seems to me that there might be some conflating of immersion and
identification in this discussion.  While I think that there is some
sense of *temporarily* losing touch with reality in any type of
immersive experience, I think that this is very different from the
unhealthy loss of identity that is being described.  Perhaps a few
examples will help explain the distinction.

When I am reading a good book, I can have a tendancy to become very
focused.  When my imagination is captured, I am no longer sitting in a
chair, reading a book.  The letters in the book are no longer letters.
The words are not words.  I've skipped past all of the *mechanics* to
the *ideas* or *meanings* that are being conveyed.  But I never
actually believe that the chair, book, words, etc. are NOT there.  I
am in a place where these things are irrelevant.  And to even address
the question of whether the chair exists requires me to leave that
place.  As long as I am capable of doing this (in fact, it is quite
easy to be pulled from this "zone"), I don't see this as being
unhealthy in the least.  Physical reality has temporarily become
irrelevant, but that doesn't mean that I'm actually losing my grip on
that reality.  This is what I *want* from a good book.

I remember watching a particular episode of ER.  The story was so
engaging, the suspense so palpable, that I actually experienced a sort
of jarring effect when the network broke for a commercial.  The
episode did not *warp* my reality.  I did not think that what I was
seeing was *real*.  I did not think that it was NOT *real*.  I didn't
think about the question at all, since to even do so would be to take
a step back from the *idea* of the story in order to examine the
*mechanics*.  This is exactly what I *want* from TV drama.

Of course, it can be argued that RPGs or virtual worlds are different,
since you are not an observer, but a participant.  But I see no reason
that players can not experience the same sort of healthy suspension of
reality.  Anecdotes about players who are not able to deal with the
temporary nature of that suspension or who allow the experience to
warp their perceptions about personal identity are frightening, but I
would venture that these players struggled with identity long before
coming to persistent virtual environments.  From my perspective, I
agree with Richard that a desireable level of immersion includes
forgetting all of the mechanics, including the fact that one is
playing a role.  This is simply a temporary suspension of reality,
similar to forgetting you are reading a book or forgetting that you
are watching TV.  For these few brief moments, the ideas and meanings
of the fantasy are primary.  This is what I *want* from persistent
virtual worlds.

Perhaps "persona" isn't the best way to describe this state, since it
seems to raise personal identity questions, but I think that I
understand what Richard is driving at nonetheless.


--Phinehas

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