I was reminded last night that there is a difference in how I play in different campaigns. When there is a deeply detailed fantasy world that I can buy into, I emphasize role-playing over social gaming. That means I enjoy most the immersion into the fantasy world and the development of a character. What happens to that character matters a lot to me and I take very seriously the decisions he/she makes. Middle-Earth Roleplaying (MERP) is like that for me, as the world is one that is very familiar and beloved to me. Stars Wars is another. Runequest’s Glorantha is detailed but it is often too silly for me to take seriously. Harn, C&S, and EPT are very detailed worlds, but I find it much harder to immerse myself in those. For me, those are just kind of boring, though that might change if I found a DM who could overcome those issues. Then there are the other types of games, the ones where I really don’t care about the characters so much, but instead enjoy the social aspects of the game. Let’s call these pizza and pretzels games, for lack of a better term. Gamma World, Savage Worlds, D&D, Pathfinder, and others are like this, where it is the fun one has with one’s friends that is most important. Unrealistic elements like 18 pound swords or gaining wings as a result of radiation poisoning don’t bother me in these, because it is a game, first and foremost. My characters become more flamboyant and extravagant.
As an example, Call of Cthulhu is a pizza and pretzels game for me, but I know others for whom it is an immersion game. Part of that choice lays in one’s preferences as a player, and part is the DM’s ability to run the world. Running an immersion game often takes a lot more preparation time, but there are of course DMs who are wonderful at improvisation and can go pretty deep without a lot of preparation.
The interesting thing to me is that I used to really dislike the folks who emphasized the role-playing over the gaming. They were taking the whole thing much too seriously, as far as I was concerned. And now I’m one of “those people” and encountering the issue from the other side. Most disconcerting! I feel myself moving to a more literary bent, and perhaps writing novels will be the next step.
For now, I have to remind myself why I’m playing a certain game, so I don’t invest so much into the roleplaying that I ruin the fun for myself and the other gamers. My current character in Savage Worlds is Jimbo of the Highfolk, and he is pizza and pretzels kind of guy, an overblown heroic warrior of little brains and mighty thews. But I find myself slipping into immersion even with him, which is a mistake. I have to keep reminding myself what type of game it is, and remember to have fun. After all, I still love games like that!