Does having to separate player knowledge from PC knowledge affect immersion for you? If so, how?

edited February 2014 in Story Games
I've heard many an experienced roleplayer talk about how it's important to keep player knowledge separate from PC knowledge. Some even seem to go as far as holding the opinion that it is part of what distinguishes a great roleplayer.

This basically boils down to pretending you don't know something, which in my mind seems somewhat at odds with 'immersion' as I understand it. So, the way I see it either the technique has some effect on immersion, or my understanding of immersion is wrong-- so I'm asking for your thoughts.

Does having to separate player knowledge from PC knowledge affect immersion for you? If so, how?

Comments

  • I prefer it. For me, looking over all the facts we as players have, and being able to go "Aha! But Sara doesn't know that yet..." helps me decide how to act and immerse.

    But this only works when I can trust people at the table to do the same thing. It completely breaks things down if I have to stop and worry "Wait, did Dave forget that Sara doesn't know that? Is he playing with me or do we misunderstand each other here..."

    Just my two cents.
  • edited February 2014
    The answer to that will vary greatly from table to table and from play style to play style. I'm not qualified to comment on OSR, so you can more or less assume that I'm talking from a Trad/Indie/Story game perspective.

    Firstly, people are generally talking about either one or both of two things when they talk about separating player knowledge from character knowledge.

    In the first scenario the Character makes use of information revealed at the table, but that his Character could not know. The classic example is Character A suddenly finding the secret door after Character B ferretted the information out of a contact across town.

    In the second scenario the Character makes use of information known to the Player, but not the Character. The classic example would be the Player who has memorized the Monster Manual and knows the weaknesses to every monster, or the Player who uses her out of game physics degree to invent a hot air balloon that solves problems for her 13th century peasant character.

    Does either of these things matter? As usual it depends on the social contract at the table. Many Story and Indie games get around these problems by distributing narrative authority and diminishing or eliminating secret knowledge. My understanding is that typically OSR doesn't even bother with the distinction. Under the wrong circumstances they can be troubling in different ways.

    From an Immersion stand point they can result in some pretty jarring moments.

    The first scenario is more problematic in a situation where a Character skill system is important to the game. If Susy the fighter suddenly knows everything that Maigret the Scholar's knowledge skills discover, then it's harder for Maigret to get those spotlight moments where he gets to shine. Unless it's been discussed at the table this sort of thing can be a serious cause of thunder stealing and result in hard feelings.

    The second scenario is most troublesome when the other players at the table are trying to immerse themselves in a style of play or setting. It's especially troubling in games where the source material is public knowledge (like historically accurate games, or liscenced games). In the wrong circumstances this can be immersion poison as it introduces jarring non-sequitirs, or short circuits elements of the setting that the players found valuable.

    Edited for spelling.
  • Exactly, it's all about table manners, about everyone's immersion, not about your own immersion. Since it's an attitude that affects other people, it's no wonder that those people consider it something that distinguishes great roleplayers.
  • There are many versions of immersion, but my favorite goes like this:

    Pretend you are your character, seeing what they see, knowing what they know.

    Having out-of-character knowledge to ignore makes that harder. How much harder? Depends on how relevant the knowledge is to my character's decisions. If, for example, my job is to solve problems from character POV while excluding my own relevant knowledge from the solving, then that utterly destroys my identification with my character. I can still find their struggle totally engaging, but I sure as hell don't have any sense that I am them.

    Some people use "immersion" to mean "engagement", though, so don't expect any consensus on this issue. :)
  • edited February 2014
    Since I tend to play ignoramuses, assholes and people who just plain have the wrong idea about what's happening around them, it is just almost impossible to play when I, the player, don't have information my character either doesn't know, doesn't understand, refuses to believe or can't grasp the significance of.
  • ... when I, the player, don't have information my character either doesn't know, doesn't understand, refuses to believe or can't grasp the significance of.
    It is a fun space to play inside, no?

  • I'd say immersion occurs when it's natural to speak and act as my character would, not as I would. If I have information my character doesn't, that makes it easier to separate my own persona from his, which makes immersion easier to achieve, not harder.
  • Does having to separate player knowledge from PC knowledge affect immersion for you? If so, how?
    Nope; most of the time it makes it easier (and more fun), for a lot of the reasons already mentioned above.

    What does tend to wreck things for me is having to invent knowledge my PC doesn't have -- like when my PC tries to open a safe and suddenly I'm asked as a player to say what's inside it. Not only does something like that undermine what I wanted as a player (I'm opening the safe because I want to discover what's inside, not because I want to tell you what's inside), generating information about the world is an entirely different headspace for me than figuring out what my player sees in that world. So whenever possible, I like to keep those activities entirely separate: if I'm playing a character, I want to play the character and not the world; if I'm playing the world, I don't want to play a character.
  • edited February 2014
    Metagame info is generally a very good element of play that can help do truly amazing things.

    The problem doen't come from metagame itself, but by the surrounging system in use.
    For example, in OSR games (and many styles of "traditional" play) the table activity mainly boils down to an ongoing challange between Players vs Master and sometimes even Players vs Players.

    Usually metagame does no harm.
    Knowing that yesterday Sir Roland left a pair of boots at the shoemaker shop to be repaired is just color, and everybody is happy to know that because it better portrais that character.

    The problem arises when that information becomes relevant to the interests of someone.
    Let's say Sir Tordos wants to ambush Sir Roland and lays a trap on the road to the shoemaker shop, anticipating that his target will go back there to fetch his repaired boots.

    In a non-competitive game this situation bears no problems and can be solved in thousands of interesting ways.
    Having Sir Roland go toward the trap could actually be an interesting and desired choice, so Players are happy to know all the info, so they can be more effective "agents" in the game.

    But in a competitive game this out-of-game knowledge poses a very aggravating conflict of interests.
    Reasonably Sir Roland could have gone to the shop, or could have sent a servant, for whatever reasons.
    If his armorer ass is saved by pure luck, it feels "fair" and no one compleins.
    But now the Players know, and "nature" can no longer make its course... whatever happens is no longer "fair".
    If I send a servant it could look and feel like I'm cheating, as I'm benefiting from intel Sir Roland does not have.
    If I send Sir Roland toward an obvious trap I'm hurting my interests in the game, in the name of sheer peer pressure and some idea of supposed "good roleplay".


    In my experience, nine times out of ten this conflict of interest is what breaks the game, and breaks the so called "immersion".
  • It is a fun space to play inside, no?
    You might even convince me it is the One True Way of roleplaying, but most of those "oh my guy is right about this thing he thinks and it isn't just by chance" losers/weirdos would probably complain.
  • Thanks for all the answers folks. I didn't realize that immersion was so widely defined in so many ways. My conception of it prior to the answers here and elsewhere was very narrow and basically limited itself to "Character Immersion" in that very strict sense where you want as little OOC knowledge as possible.

    Interestingly, the peeps in this forum slant heavily towards liking or not minding OOC knowledge as far as their immersion goes. Whereas in RPGNet, I got a little slant towards this, but the results so far are much more mixed. It's very informative, and I think my horizons have been expanded. Thank you all.

    I don't want to muddy the waters more, but the matter of immersion might be closely related to stances. I just happened to be reading http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/stances-101/ and the descriptions sort of match some of the different preferences that have been expressed.

    As for my own preference, I don't know that I have one, but my only, and perhaps best RPG experience so far was with a GM who strictly kept OOC knowledge from us by physically separating the group when someone was having a separate scene. It did lead to a bit of boredom during, but having stuff revealed to you later in game was kind of nice.

    On the other hand, I know I would get a lot of enjoyment out of having certain OOC knowledge and enjoy putting the character in certain situations based on that. I suspect that it would make me see the character in a bit of a detached way, though. A bit like how I see a character in a CRPG in that 2/3 view mode. :)
  • ... when I, the player, don't have information my character either doesn't know, doesn't understand, refuses to believe or can't grasp the significance of.
    It is a fun space to play inside, no?

    In the same way that playing Pin the Tail On The Donkey or Blind Man's Buff is a fun game to play. It cuts down what I can know about the world to a very narrow channel (in the equivalent thread on RPG.net I compared it to dungeon crawling where you are blindfolded and playing a total amnesiac and all the information you have is what is relayed to you by that hireling.

    It's a fun game. But it means that I am only able to immerse as a character with no context within the world they are in and with a few missing senses. This isn't what I normally want to immerse.


  • As for my own preference, I don't know that I have one, but my only, and perhaps best RPG experience so far was with a GM who strictly kept OOC knowledge from us by physically separating the group when someone was having a separate scene. It did lead to a bit of boredom during, but having stuff revealed to you later in game was kind of nice.

    I've played it both ways as both a player and a GM. The seperate sessions help preserve the potential for surprise, but they can generate problems with pacing and the appearance of favoritism.

    I've seen note cards used to good effect to preserve some of that secrecy without taking the time for a side session, and I imagine text messages could have the same effect. I've also experimented with prelude sessions in some games where the side sessions were taken care of before the main game. In one extreme case (a 20 player Vampire semi-LARP with a lot of political maneuvering) I've even experimented with a secondary GM/NPC specialist who had the authority to take players aside while the main session continued.

    At this point my general preference is just to trust my players to deal with information well. I've got one player particularly that is very good at using the line between OOC/IC knowledge to enhance her roleplaying. She's created some really special ironic and angsty moments that centered on her character not knowing things she was aware of OOC.
  • I've got one player particularly that is very good at using the line between OOC/IC knowledge to enhance her roleplaying. She's created some really special ironic and angsty moments that centered on her character not knowing things she was aware of OOC.
    Aw, what? We only, only use that for comedy.
  • ... I've got one player particularly that is very good at using the line between OOC/IC knowledge to enhance her roleplaying. She's created some really special ironic and angsty moments that centered on her character not knowing things she was aware of OOC.
    Step 1) Getting in to a game that has shared scene-framing responsibilities
    Step 2) Creating characters with blind spots, opening up dramatic irony as an option
    Step 3) Watching as other players/characters frame events that highlight that blind spot

    ... is one of my favorite ways to play. It's not something I shoot for all the time, or even something I would do in every game (given the chance) but it's super fun for me. Especially when it happens without a lot of meta-game discussion. (i.e. I build a character that loves Jeff and doesn't know that Jeff is already married to Samantha. Then my character gets pushed into a scene where I make a really positive connection/relationship with Samantha.)

    It usually leads to some great stuff.

  • At this point my general preference is just to trust my players to deal with information well. I've got one player particularly that is very good at using the line between OOC/IC knowledge to enhance her roleplaying. She's created some really special ironic and angsty moments that centered on her character not knowing things she was aware of OOC.
    I usually hate it when this device is used in TV shows, especially where dramatic irony is the driving force of an entire episode and a secret or misunderstanding can be strung out for half an hour before the characters realise what the audience knew all along. It can be done well but it generally isn't, and when the writers of a show start to rely on this story structure again and again, I stop watching.

    It's a totally different thing around the gaming table, though. With players I trust, I'll actively help set up this kind of situation, because unlike it being lazy writing to set up tortured interactions and an agonising reveal later on, I know it's going to pay off in a way that adds something to the game and the characters' lives.

    Having some information there out of reach helps set 'minigoals' for a game, pointing out possible directions for the group to take the narrative. If my character doesn't know something and really needs to in order to get to the spice of the story, how could he find that out? Scene framed. If my character doesn't know something and it's more satisfying not to rectify that ignorance immediately, how could it put him in a situation where it creates drama, complications or other juicy ways to make the game more interesting. It can help pace the game, especially if you're playing in a system without an inherent structure that its stories tend towards.
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