Inspired by http://larp-musing.livejournal.com/7649.html, I was thinking about different 'levels' of immersion in LARP.

I find that degree of immersion varies quite widely, and I wanted to expand on my comment there and give some examples of different levels.

At the top end of immersion, there's the place where all that's left of my headspace is a 'background process' checking that the OOC situation is still okay and I don't need to step and re-assert control. The dominant train of thought is the character's thoughts and even several levels of background thoughts are mostly attributable to the character.

Other symptoms of high levels of immersion include revised body image (Tourmaline was especially 'different' like this, but Jessily has ears, tail and fur, Talishae was distinctly wooden, and most of my characters have slightly different balance points and gait / general bearing which I no longer have to impose consciously at this stage) and pretty much direct experience of emotion.

This only seems to work for characters I have spent some time establishing 'common reference points' with - states of mind I can put myself into which slip onwards into states of mind the character is capable of. With characters that are too different from me to do this with, or characters I've just been assigned or otherwise don't have time to establish them with, I get a slightly different form of immersion.

In the second form of immersion, I remain distinctly aware of myself as a seperate person in ultimate control, but can observe the mental state of the character in detail and generally 'pass through' control of the body fluently (but can trivially interrupt any action at any time without actually breaking out of this state). There are two dominant trains of thought, mine and the character's.

Basically all NPCs that I've achieved any form of immersion with have been run in this form with only very occasional dips into the deeper form, and it's the mode that I switch back up into when I need to override a deep-immersion character's actions for OOC reasons (there's been an OOC safety call / someone's OOC injured, I really need to slip on the OOC armband and go to the loo, someone else is asking me something important out of character, we need to 'fade to black' the current scene, I need to react to an OOC system call and need to search my actual OOC memory for how to react properly to it before feeding that back into the character, etc etc).

Levels of playing a character further out than this I generally count as 'not immersed'. This normally occurs when I have lots of OOC concerns to deal with - if I'm hungry, cold and tired, if I'm playing an NPC who needs to deliver plot in exactly the right way, if I'm expected to be using the game system in a tactically competent fashion.

If it's a long-term character I'm dealing with, this is the point they reside at when they bother me during my everyday life, as well. They stand around in my head as a distinct entity whose mental state I can't percieve other than through the usual visual and audio cues that other people give out and talk me through what they want me to be doing. I don't tend to get this with short-term characters because they don't have enough of an independant existance to do this with. This is also the deepest mode I tend to run tabletop characters in, although sometimes I get glimpses of their internal mental model and get to drop down into 'observe their full mental state and pass actions through fluently' for a bit, especially during conversation.

Short-term characters at this point become entirely 'non-interactive' simulations of people, like the mental models I might use to extrapolate what other actual people might do in a certain situation. They aren't running a stream of consciousness and have no meaningful awareness of anything but 'if thing Y is happening, what things a,b,c... would it be reasonable for me to do, considering everything which is known about me?'. This is also the mode I generally run tabletop NPCs in - I can't think of one which has progressed to be enough of an independant entity to run in any other mode. Sometimes I find myself with no mental contact with a long-term character and have to resort to running them in this mode too.

There's a level even further out than that, which generally only happens when I'm 'just monstering' (playing short, woefully underbriefed combat roles) or when I've seriously had enough OOC (i.e. I need food/water/the loo/sleep *now* and for some reason can't actually drop fully OOC to do it by the rules of the game). In this mode I'm actually really only thinking of OOC concerns - I might throw in a couple of characterful noises or ways of moving, but those are only there to serve the OOC goal of maintaining peer respect, not really anything to do with the character I'm meant to be. If I have a pressing OOC goal I'm heading for it as directly as possible; if I'm a fighty encounter I'm treating my role and the system as basically a combat sport / tactical skirmish wargame that I'm playing, rather than a roleplaying opportunity. I run most of my tabletop D&D monsters in this mode :).

I don't know if anyone but me found that interesting, but oh well. If you've done LARP or some other form of roleplaying, do these sound familiar to you? Do you have your own, different 'levels' of immersion which you experience? Or do you just not play for immersion and therefore don't define your roleplaying experiences in these kinds of terms?
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Michelle Taylor

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