Musings on the Craft of Writing

►Role Playing

Immersive-Relevant Realism

Hi all.

So life (and writing) have kept me from writing here for a good long time, as you can see.  Anyway, I haven’t died, and I’m still hammering away at the keys.

Here I am posting an old (old) essay I wrote when I was developing my own Role Playing Game System.  It has some applicability to writing, so… here we go.

The quotes herein are from Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories.


(Part I)

“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.” p.54

People have asked me countless times over the years of my system’s development, “why bother making a system with a strong emphasis on realism?”  Those who comprehend the issue the least will say “It’s fantasy!  Why are you even discussing “realism”?  These people believe that the phrase “realistic fantasy” is a contradiction in terms.  This comes from a misunderstanding of what we mean by ‘fantasy.’  ‘Fantasy’ here does not mean unrealistic or unreasonable, rather “different” or “alternate.”


To others more versed in current role playing trends, however, the issue is not that confused.  Various RPG creators have made systems with realism in mind.  The trend is even extending itself into computer RPGs (consumers seeking physics engines, character necessities like eating and sleeping, and psychologically “real” people).

However, a realistic system is not justifiable just for realism’s sake.  Who really cares about the minutia of average running speeds, the actual time required to reload a crossbow, or that a shield is a far better defense than mere parrying when the participants want to role play epic heroes?  Rather, it’s what (properly applied) realism facilitates that makes it worthwhile—Immersion.  A gaming world closely aligned to the real one (in relevant categories and methods) strengthens the potential relational depth between the players and their characters, and the world that those characters inhabit.

I do not assert (necessarily) that the more closely aligned the game world is to the real one the deeper the immersion.  It is not a 1:1 correlation.  It’s quite possible to have a realistic gaming world (where a wealth of research has produced perfect harmony with the facts of our world) with no deeper immersion than in a wildly uninformed one.   A world with accurate details does not by itself draw in an audience into the tale inside that world.  Only a quality tale (with mature participants allowing that tale to flourish) can generate immersion.  But even a great tale with excellent participants (more…)