[MUD-Dev] Re: Roleplaying and Immersion (was: PermaDeath)

Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no> Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no>
Thu Mar 4 18:47:43 CET 1999

J C Lawrence wrote:
> This ignores the differentiation between classical roleplaying and
> functional roleplaying.  Writing specifically as a non-roleplayer, I
> would define the lines as:

What is _classical_ roleplaying? The classical would probably be DnD like
roleplay, which by nature is more tweaked towards rollplaying than

>   Identity Roleplayer: I am this character and this character is me.

I think that approaches an online personae.

Online personae: I am have this personality in this particular context,
and it is interesting to explore this side of myself. It is me to some
extent, but not completely, it is at least not my regular presentation of

Pure roleacting is more like this: I am now putting my regular identity
to rest, and focus solely on this fictive identity in this fictive world
as if this is all there is. This character is NOT me, but the character's
identity and psychology has temporarily occupied my brain (and body).

In an online personae the distinction between me and role is not as
clear. The difference between a personae and a roleacted character is
most visible when you consider moral.  

Roleacting: I am not responsible for the actions of my character, I am
responsible for spontaneously acting within the "nature" of my
character's framework, experience, reasoning and moral. 

Online personae: Other people are likely to hold me responsible for my
actions and attribute what I do to the moral of my regular self.

Thus roleacting allows the otherwise responsible user to fully immerse
himself into the psychological identity, ignoring moral and
consequences.  The construction of an online personae allows the
responsible user to immerse himself into a situation, taking on a new
personality, but limited by his regular moral standards.

This suggests that a pure roleacting environment affords deeper
immersion, simply because you can fully concentrate on the fictional
world as you experience it. What you don't see does not exist. You don't
have to pay attention to how other people feel, or if they get too
seriously emotionally attached to your gender switched manipulative
character. You are not dealing with human beings, you are dealing with
collaborative fiction (although you interpret that fiction as real in the
sense of having emotional significance). I see this as a very important
aspect, because it allows for less external distraction and *more

>   Functional Roleplayer: I am me, and I have a character in that
>   world over there, who needs to act as follows...

This sounds like either rollplaying or playing "mindgames" (what should I
do in order to get an interesting response from the other players).  I
personally believe the latter is more tied to roleacting than the former
as it involves interaction on the psychological level.

What you call a "functional roleplayer" seems to denote someone who isn't
fully immersed into the world (possibly immersed into the activity of
using the computer). If you are immersed into the world, then you don't
pay any attention to anything outside the world, thus the screen and the
computer has little relevance to your experience. The world is in the
foreground.  You cannot be fully immersed into the world thinking "I have
a character in that world over there". If you are immersed then "the
world is all that matters".

Now, nobody starts out being fully immersed (into the world), so even
when roleacting I doubt that one can avoid thinking stuff like "now, what
would this character I am controlling with this keyboard do in this
situation".  For me the key aspect with roleacting is the goal of deep
immersion into a personality with an emotional impact which is remote to
what one could otherwise experience. So really, it might start with "me,
my character, the world there", but as I make an effort towards being
immersed it slowly moves towards "act, feel". The focus becomes ideally
emotion (personality and desire) and experienced surface, not polygons,
numbers, correctness, users and their characters.

So basically, your "functional roleplayer" seems to be either
rollplaying, mindgames, or not-yet-immersed roleacting. Or?


To make this even more complicated... By ?definition? you need other
people in order to take a role, which in turn suggests that a role isn't
something you create, but something you are given by other people. 
Strictly speaking, all you can do is to project an identity, hoping that
this leads to other people treating you in a way which reinforces the
role you want: you are then playing a role for these people.

So actually, there is a difference between the initial effort of
constructing an identity and immersing oneself into it, and playing the
role. For instance: I construct the identity "I am popular and hate
women". This won't make me popular with the women. The identity I
eventually play might be "I am bitter, lonely and hate women" or "I live
in my own world, believe I am popular and hate women" as the original
identity didn't find support in the roles I could play for other

I would argue that the role only exists in the interaction between

The term "roleplaying" is therefore perhaps unfortunate and misleading.
In a play (in the theatre) it makes sense to use the term "role", but it
is a role in relation to the needs of the _drama_. Furthermore, in the
theatre, the audience is the target for the emotional impact. When
roleacting in a MUD, you are "acting a drama" in which you yourself is
the prime audience, you are the only one who gets to follow the whole
drama your character participates in.  A more descriptive term would
probably be something like "fictional identity immersion"...

Yes, it is possible to only play with the aim of having an emotional
impact on other players, but then I think it involves "mindgames".  I
experience less immersion in such constructs.  Although it may be
perceived as the same as roleacting by other players (if you are good at
it) I don't think it qualifies as immersed roleplaying as it is more
focused on control and construction than experience and acting out.


Roleplaying mechanics however, is a construct which aims at guiding those
who fail to immerse themselves into an identity. Unfortunately this only
works on a very shallow level, that is, in relation to the "physical
world".  Take the stat "wisdom" for instance. The stat wisdom cannot work
between characters, it can only work in relation to the environment. For
instance, if a stupid player tells his wise character to run inside a
dark room with a pit then the system can modify this behaviour to "you
make an effort to move as quickly you can without endangering your own
life". If the wise character insults powerful characters then the stat
won't work. In DnD you solve this with the Game Master who says "oh no,
that is out of character", but then the stupid player is likely to
respond "no it isn't, this is how I feel the character should act". Then
the Game Master tells the stupid player to pay more attention to his
stats.  Of course, by paying attention to the stats you end up with the
identity as a mechanical construct.  The more you focus on the
possibilities in this mechanical domain the more you ROLLplay, and the
more your rollplay the more you approach "Monopoly".

Are non-physical stats evil?
Ola Fosheim Groestad,Norway

MUD-Dev maillist  -  MUD-Dev at kanga.nu

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