I’ve read about people roleplaying in video games and I could never quite grasp how one would manage that. The idea of wilfully suspending disbelief and pretending to be a character just doesn’t really work for my adult self. I’m not trying to pass negative judgement on the concept, it’s just not something I’m easily able to do any more.
The times this seems to appear mostly is in reviews. I remember a PC Gamer reviewer talking about killing people in Payday: The Heist. They were getting carried away and accidentally killing civilians. I rarely get caught up in any game, sadly.
In this sort of context “emergent narratives” usually get a mention – stories that end up coming out of freeform gameplay. Unfortunately I end up not being able to immerse myself in the environments fully because I have so few actions available as a player. For example in a GTA game there’s shooting controls, vehicle controls, and, well, that’s about it. Sometimes there’s a few more options but really that’s the only way one can relate to the world of the game.
One can pretend to do things but at what point does that just go into pure imagination? What’s the point in creating an interactive world if it only has marginally more depth than a movie?
This contrasts fiercely with tabletop wargames I play. Gorkamorka, Necromunda, Mordheim, etc. – these games provide much greater player agency. Stories emerge but there are tools to build them into the game’s established narrative. It’s a combination of game and tools seamlessly merged.
In fact, when I think about playing games as a child I remember my friends and me creating new rules and mechanics to mix things up. Games evolved as they were played, they weren’t just static rule sets with fixed levels of player agency.
So trying to play a game as an adult and not having even that level of control over the game world rather kills immersion for me. I don’t like it when a videogame tries to tell me I’m playing it wrong. I’m the one playing and I’m the one who ultimately defines what fun is to me. Lead me to try new things rather than telling me off for trying to look behind the curtain.