In fact, it is kind of a lie.
First, there is the problem of definition. Gamers use it to mean different things. Two people using the same words with different meanings causes inevitable confusion.
Second, there is the problem of culture. Different gaming groups place different values on immersion. To some it is a goal, to others it is not.
Third, there is the problem that it generally describes a personal state, a subjective one, not an objective one, meaning that the process for achieving it is a highly personal one.
Personally, I suggest you play with people who are your friends.
That's not what I'm actually talking about today, I'm going to talk about Immersion in Social Interaction.
If we add mechanical resolution to social mechanics, does it reduce immersion?
If you are rolling or mechanically resolving things, does this cause you to be removed from the experience of play? After all, if you stop to roll dice, don't you feel like you're pulled out of the conversation? It's best if you're handling social conflicts freeform with the Dungeon Master taking your social statistics into account, correct?
There is a slight disconnect here that is pretty subtle. It is certainly true that the experience of having to stop talking and resolve actions does require some adjustment. However, when engaging with the world in order to resolve conflict, what is actually occurring is the exact opposite of the stated desire to immerse yourself in a fantasy world.
Some of the following seems obvious. The conclusion is not.
- If you the player, want the goblin to open the door, then you talk as your character to convince the goblin to open the door.
- The Dungeon Master takes the role of the goblin.
- Then you, as the player, seek a convincing, in-game reason that the goblin might want to meet your request (threat, bribe, manipulation).
- Then the Dungeon Master either A) by fiat decides that the goblin is convinced or B) By fiat adds a modifier based on your argument to the roll that he uses to determine if the goblin meets your request.
But wasn't this an immersive scene?
Only if you wanted to be immersed in the player persuading the Dungeon Master, not the character persuading the goblin.
It appears as if they are actors talking to each other, but the reality is whether the result is effective is either based on A) personal social ability or B) personal social ability modifying character skill.
A Social Problem?
The above is fine. I do not find it particularly immersive. I believe I have a better solution coming soon.
I use a lot of negotiated actions in my game, so I'm not opposed to players and the Dungeon Master reaching an agreement on the fictional positioning or outcome of events. I do believe it's pretty inaccurate to describe that interface as immersive, even if we negotiate those actions while talking in-character.
There are many. . . unintentional misunderstandings of things I say.
Last week, I talked about how stopping play to force someone to describe the action of the game was disruptive to play. Some people noted that for them, the game was in the description! Of course it is! However, the game is not in shutting everything down while someone is put on the spot - if you're going to have a game focused on fictional descriptions, then you should work towards minimizing all the times that isn't happening because nothing is happening while waiting for people to jump through subjective hoops.
Similarly to this week, this isn't an injunction against negotiated social encounters based on character skill or personal social skill. I have played and run many games that use exactly that system. But to portray them as something else then they are is dishonest and worse, counterproductive and not useful from a design standpoint.
Also, it is possible to have actually broken or bad design. Pointing out the objective characteristics of that design is not one-right-waysim. It is a discussion about what the nature of something is, drawbacks and advantages to it, and how to improve upon it.
This is best portrayed by extreme examples: A magic card costing one colorless that does 12 damage to any creature or player that is uncounterable. A first level fighter with a +12 sword. Teleporting your second level group from their beds in town into a sealed chamber with 2 ancient red dragons.
These are design decisions that are not used for clear objective reasons. Can you make them work? Possibly. But you'd begin by immediately altering the design.