[MUD-Dev] Levels of immersion

Richard A. Bartle richard at mud.co.uk
Fri Dec 8 16:22:35 CET 2000

	Knowing how much the readers of this list love to squabble over
terminology, here's the text of a too-brief article I wrote for
one of my players' sites.
	Have fun...



Avatar, Character, Persona.
Immerse yourself...

	Some people just don't get it.
	In my quest to archive all the writings about MUDs and their
descendents that I can possibly find, I come across many articles
concerning identity issues. Some of these are heavyweight academic
papers in keynote books on cyberculture, others are pieces from the
heart by players on their personal web sites. The academics have the
weight of formal paradigm on their side, but they don't always
understand the true nature of what they're describing; the players
know in their souls what they want to say, but often lack the means to
express themselves in terms that allow their views to be taken
	This article addresses one such point of friction that I find
particularly annoying because there is a growing corpus of research
based upon it that completely misses the point about playing online
games like MUDs. It concerns "immersion".
	First, we have "players". Players are real-world people who are
sitting at a computer connected to some virtual world (usually a game,
hence the term "player").
	An "avatar" is a player's representative in a world. It's really just
a puppet. It does as it's told, it reports what happens to it, and it acts
as a general conduit for the player and the world to interact. It may or
may not have some graphical representation, it may or may not have
a name. It refers to itself as a separate entity and communicates with
the player as such: "I can't open the door". It's a mere convenience, a
	Contrast this with a "character". A character is a player's
representation in a world. It's a whole level of immersion deeper. Your
character is an extension of yourself, a personality that you don when
entering the world. The game reports things that happen to the
character as if they were happening to you: "you can't open the door".
You can feel quite upset if one of your characters dies. "Aw no, they
killed Huey! Poor little guy...".
	Many of the people who write about avatars actually mean
characters, but they don't understand there's a difference. Avatars are
dolls, characters are simulacra.
	Neither avatars nor characters, though, are people. Neither are
anything to do with what makes online worlds so completely
absorbing. There's a level of immersion beyond that of the character:
the "persona".
	A persona is a player, in a world. Any separate distinction of
character has gone -- the player IS the character. You're not role-
playing a being, you ARE that being; you're not assuming an identity,
you ARE that identity. If you lose a fight, you don't feel that your
character has died, you feel that YOU have died. There's no level of
indirection: YOU are THERE.
	This is what so many people looking at online games from the
outside fail to understand, and what so many people on the inside
know instinctively but can't explain. Avatars and characters are just
steps to immersion, they're not really immersion themselves at all.
When player and persona merge as one, THAT'S immersion, THAT'S
what people can get from these games that they can't get anywhere
	That's when people stop playing a MUD and start living it.

[Original text at http://www.mud2.co.uk/Articles/richard_article.htm]

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