Immersion is boring for GMs

In a more or less recent post on Tobias’ blog, Tobias details some of his thoughts about gamemastering Baby Steps, Tobias’ most recent scenario.

Somewhere here, I also found time to game master Baby Steps together with Frederik with a journalist and Lordi biographer. The game was good, but IMHO a bit too immersed and thus a tad boring to game master. If I had realised the game was heading there earlier, I would have broken up the immersion and forced the players to rely more on the techniques toolbox (sitting/standing play, monologues, and insides and outsides) for immersion in the story rather than the characters.

And he is spot on. It was boring. I even had difficulty concentrating on what the players said (I was playing the therapist, so I had to focus on what was said). As we all know, immersion i s the holy grail of roleplaying – how do we handle it as game masters? I have seen (and experienced) this boredom before. The gamemaster is just watching the players unfold their intrigues, plotting and talking to each other. And what of the Forge-scene – is gamemastering boring here, also? Power to the players?Your thoughts, please.

4 thoughts on “Immersion is boring for GMs”

  1. Since you asked, here’s a couple of thoughts, albeit from a non-immersionist so handle with care.

    I think I understand what you mean generally, even if I have only a tiny clue what a game being “too immersed” or “broken up the immersion” means. Immersion doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid, so WHY this game was boring I can follow. Why you thought it was boring as well that’s another matter. But interesting.

    The major problem with “immersion” (whatever that means) IMO is that it tends to be un-shared by the participants, to be on a personal level for the individual participant. Which is a huge problem in a shared environment like roleplaying or whatever we like to call it. It’s as simple as that. Things not shared in a shared experience are not really there, and if large parts of the experience is like this, well, how can it not be boring? Is that what you are trying to say with “immersion is the holy grail of roleplaying” – that it is something false or not obtainable? Or have I misunderstood?

    But I am curious. Why exactly was it boring? Why did you feel bored, f.ex.? Can you give us an example from play to illustrate perhaps?

    I also don’t get why it should be only boring for the player dealing with GM responsibilities – and you say that yourself, or? You were a player and you were bored, right? Makes sense to me.

    But it’s without doubt even more unsatisfying for a player if he has been allocated a role to effectually sit by and watch things unfold. I would not recommend that by any means. I can’t speak for the “Forge scene” as such, but game designers and players in and around the Forge have long ago adapted that the GM is not a person. It’s a bunch of responsibilities, which may or may not be allocated to only one player. In many games these responsibilities are shared or even rotating.

    Does it help at all or am I only shouting into the wind?

  2. It was boring because as therapist and GM, there was little you could do to change the game. I think for the players, the game was OK to good. For me and Frederik, the problem was that they were approaching the game more as a mini-larp than as a freeform game (OK, so not really true but close enough) and since the goal of the game was for the players to come to terms with each other, there was little for the therapist or GM to do. Unless we wanted to disrupt the game and disrupt the players. That’s my recollection anyway.

    Really, the therapist is the GM and my role as GM is unnecessary. I knew that from before, but I wanted to be in the room to watch, and I also knew that it would be hard for me to keep my fingers out of the pie. So I pitched myself as a GM for clarity. If the players would have choosen a different way of playing the game, I’m sure the experience would have been completely different for me and Frederik as well. Now, Frederik and I was the audience of people larping, and we all know how fun that is. Maybe Frederik restrained himself from executing GM power because of the second GM (me) in the room. Did you? We never talked about that.

    Anyway, the players were aligning their feelings with their characters (let that be immersion for now) and focussed on that. The game let them. The game would also have let them walk through the events leading up to the current situation, using the provided toolbox, etc. in which case the therapist character could have made himself useful as an in-game GM more or less. I am NOT saying that the players failed. They just choose to play the game in a way that was not so fun for the people whose characters were not investing in the story, or had no characters for that matter.

    I don’t think immersion is the holy grail of role-playing. Or maybe it is, but certainly not character immersion—but immersion into the story. Which I guess is much like what Per describes.

    It is important for the GM to have fun as well. The GM is not the guy (or gal for that matter) who is supposed to sacrifice his fun for the sake of the players. In this case we did because we didn’t see the problem coming fast enough to steer clear of it before the game had become too focussed on the character immersion of the three players.

    I completely agree that the GM is not necessarily a person, but a set of responsibilities, as Per says. Generally, in freeform, a lot of those responsibilities are shared. Like what is the outcome of actions, etc., where is the story headed. It if often convenient to have a GM person, IMHO, to deal with some of those responsibilities. But far from necessary.

  3. Hi, it’s me – the Lordi biographer.

    I completely see what you mean. It was immersion to the character, not to the story.
    Sorry it was boring for you. I had a great time – feeling miserable for an hour.

    Looking at it now, after reading what you and Tobias wrote on the game, it is obvious what we did wrong. Or at least I did. I just didn’t have a proper understanding of the style of play you wanted the game to have.

    Now that I’ve been reading up more on the Jeepform gamestyle I see clearly the function of the meta-game techniques and how they serve to immerse the players to the story.

    I enjoyed watching Travellers been played at Ropecon. Even though the two guys running the game fumbled a bit here and there, I think I got the idea, and really liked the style of running a game that was presented. Somewhere between larp and tabletop with nice little tricks of it’s own.
    I am looking forward to running the game myself in the near future and getting to try the freeform approach as a GM. Hope I won’t fail miserably.

    Lady and Otto was my crashcourse into Jeepform, just out of the blue and I have to say I was a bit confused.
    I kept trying to figure out what it was that you wanted and yes, did feel frustrated and wanted to “get to the next level”.
    Looking back at it now, it was an interesting experience. But a bit like the abstract painting that needs a little text next to it to explain what it was all about. I am sure this was entirely due to my ignorance.

    All in all, I got a very positive impression of what you guys do, felt inspired by it, and am trying to prepare myself for running some of the games you kindly handed out there.

    Thank you!

  4. Oooh, finally someone discussing gm’ing.
    I’m a long-time GM, especially at Fastaval, for nearly two decades, and I’ve been ollowing the trends in roleplaying ever since I discovered that there were actually trends. I’ll also freely admit I’ve laughed at some of them, and changed my mind when I found that those crazy ideas actually worked.

    Now, I’ve tried various types of games that simply weren’t fun to run, and a lot that were great.
    In my opinion, inactivity as a gm is a killer for the gm, if not the players, but even a high degree of activity can make the experience dull.
    Consider these opposites: A fairly standard intrigue scenario, where you, the gm, spends some time setting the scene, but then has nothing to do because all the intrigue is within the group of player characters.Thus, once the scene is set, it’s completely up to the players to resolve the conflict. It’s basically a locked room with the gm on the outside. I’ve tried this in practice and actually left the room for six hours. The players had a great time, and only came to find me to have me make up a solution to the murder that was the basis of the conflict, and nowhere in the scenario had the author given any hints as to whom the culprit might be.
    My opposite example was a horror/investigation scenario that had so many clues to reveal and npc’s to play that keeping track of them all was a full-time job, leaving no time to actually focus on the story being told or enjoying interacting with the player characters as an npc because of constantly having to consider the next three moves in advance.

    In the first example, the trouble could have been avoided by having a gm-controlled character who could directly influence the game and the player’s characters. Even though this would have “reduced” the gm to the status of the player, the gm would easily have been able to drop in and out of the role.

    In the second example, the KISS principle would have solved everything.

    I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that playing a game is basically meant to be entertaining, for all involved parties. That doesn’t mean it can’t be educational, deep or complex, but no participant should ever be uninvolved.

    Now, I know that this is about immersion, and whether or not it can be damaging for the gm’ing experience. It can, if the scenario does not include a way for the gm to be immersed in the game along with the players. The author needs to make those tools available, and they’re often absent.

    The absense of tools for the gm to be an active part of the game is almost a trend these days.
    To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if the absense of these tools is a bad thing in itself. What I do know for certain is that not warning the gm before he or she volunteers to run a game is very bad. It leads to a bad experienc for the gm, and greatly lowers the chance for said gm to volunteer again.

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