Story Telling Games Break Immersion?

I am in a low key Role Playing Game group on facebook.  They post a lot of stuff about games and game theory and I normally like the noise.  It is good to get this exposure though there are often times I do not agree.  Recently a link to a blog post was shared.  The poster had written about how story games break immersion.  Reading it a bit further there were specifics about FATE and Cypher system as direct examples and I was a little mystified so I read the blog post and was even more mystified.  The writer of the blog claims that players hate this style of game because it breaks immersion and I am thoroughly confused.

The initial post on facebook

This is an interesting article on story games vs TTRPGs.

It covers a few topics, but boils down to how story games, like Fate and the Cypher System, break immersion by allowing *players* to change the world around their character…

My response on the facebook post

I have played Fate and Cypher extensively and have to say I think this is not true.  There is no immersion break, all players are doing is enriching the scene by perhaps adding elements the GM did not describe.  Cypher breaks the immersion by having to step out on every roll (e.g. I add in effort and I have this device which lowers difficulty) but on the whole I think these two systems do a great job of increasing immersion and player buy in.

This has been followed up by a comment from the original poster and others, for and against the point of view.  Here is the link to the original blog that sparked this discussion over at Deathtrap Games blog.

My point of view on story telling games

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Story telling games are a different kettle of fish to play from your traditional Table Top Role Playing Game (TTRPG) in that they do give the power to players to influence the game environment.  But do they give the player the power to change the game world?  Not really, they give the player the ability to influence the world from their character perspective.  This, to me, is what immersion is all about.

Many of these games will tell you that the importance in this game is the narrative.  It is the story that the group combined is telling.  As a player in these types of games your focus is still wholly on your character and what would your character do in this situation.  The power in this is that you can build extra scenes that assist you in the current one if it matches your view of the character.  Let me give you an example.

The example

The players are trying to get information out of Spindle the Quick, a low life ruffian in a backwater planet.  They have just gone through a chase scene and caused Spindle to break his leg after a fall.  Spindle is against giving up the information and it will take a heroic effort to get him to talk.  The space marine player is a charismatic leader and says to the GM that he sees a lot of himself in Spindle. The space marine remembers the time when he was a rogue on a planet much like this one.  He remembers being laid low in the dirt when a space marine then reached out to him, lifted him up from the dirt and started his journey on a path of honour.  He wants to draw on that moment to lift Spindle up, show him compassion and gain his trust.

The GM asks who the marine was that lifted him from the dirt (giving the GM some ability to build them into the ongoing narrative)? The GM then agrees to give a +2 bonus to the roll (if it were FATE this would create an aspect they could spend FATE points on) and the game continues, much richer in narrative than before.

My opinion of the original blog

I liked the original blog, but it did make me wonder about a few things.  My first experience of a story telling game was FATE (I blogged about it here).  It threw me a curve ball because I had never experienced anything like it and I literally felt like a cornered animal the entire time playing it.  I was given no warning as to how it all worked, just thrown in the deep end.  Because of that I always give a spiel to new players to story telling games to give them the heads up.  I will illustrate how things are meant to go with examples like the above, so they can see that the game is about the narrative.  This narrative must be from the perspective of their character.  I wonder how much preparation of this type was done with the blog writers’ player group.

The perspective given is this player power of “manipulating” things makes the player suddenly think “Oh I am playing a game?”.  How does traditional games not do that when the player thinks, “If I charge here I get a bonus on my attack roll, and I know goblins are smaller than me so that improves the roll…”.  Is that not more of an indicator that you are playing a game.  Plus you are sitting at a table, with some dice, paper and pencil utilising mechanics of a game?

Too Much Power Captain!

I hear this a lot about story telling games.  The players have too much power to influence things.  In my experience this is just not the truth.  The Games Master/Referee etc. is still there as an arbiter.  They still have control of the world but they do not narrate every inch of a scene.  They are there to learn about the story just as much as the players are.  But if John says his character reaches down to grab sand and throw it in the guards face to escape it is the GM’s role to say; “Hey John, I just described a busy starport with numerous robots whizzing around the smooth ceramic floor in between people cleaning it.  There is no sand on the ground.”

It is the role of the GM to question things at the character level.  If a player advises that in retrospect they bought a magnetic lock pick because of a conversation he had at a Electronics R Us outlet the GM should come back at them if required; “Hey Biyu, you have been playing your character so the only time they speak is just before they execute someone?  You want me to buy the fact you had a casual conversation in an Electronics R Us to bring a Magpick?”

Overall

I am still a bit mystified about people who feels adding to the story breaks immersion.  I read the full blog and it is too vague to explain exactly what situations made them feel uncomfortable.  But if enriching the story around your character breaks immersion I do not know what immersion is.  I will go forward and say that some storytelling games insert way too many mechanics into the game to be able to influence things.  I can see that breaking the rhythm.  But the notion that the storytelling nature of it breaks immersion is just not true to me.  So much so I had to write a blog about it to investigate my feelings about it!  Disagree or agree with me – let me know in the comments.  Keep on rolling!

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2 Comments


  1. Great response, Mark! Thanks for taking the time to investigate your thoughts. They are very similar to mine.

    Reply

    1. To be honest Dan, I formed a lot of these opinions in your Roman game. Good times.

      Reply

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