Today’s thought, running in parallel with the theory that, as social animals, humans naturally seek narrative…

Today’s thought, running in parallel with the theory that, as social animals, humans naturally seek narrative meaning (

Anyway: RPGs are a method of achieving an altered state of consciousness, which is another thing humans naturally seek out. Probably comparable to meditation, ritual, and repetition.

I’m not sure what to do with that, but it’s been tickling the back of my brain for weeks now. I think it’s one reason why I’ve done so poorly trying to mix an RPG’s ASC and chemically induced ASCs ie alcohol and recreational drugs (although I know plenty of folks for whom they are entirely compatible, even synergistic).

I know larp puts ritual and repetition to good use. Some bleeding-edge RPGs do too. I’ll bet if you look at it the right way, nearly the entire gamut of focused multi-hour make-believe activities fit neatly alongside those activities, if not directly invoking them.

“The situation is X, what do you do?” sure feels call-and-response-ish, yeah?

I think if we treat the act of roleplaying this way, the debrief period after (regardless of intensity, bleed, drama, etc.) takes on a different meaning. A method of returning one’s consciousness to baseline, maybe.

Yes yes, all speculation. I’m not drawing lines in the sand or planting flags. Just thinking out loud.

NB: What’s the over/under on how many posts it’ll take before this devolves into an argument about definitions? I’ll set it at 3 and then I’m shutting down comments.

Bonus points if we keep the morality of drugs and alcohol out of the comments. This is 100% not about that.

0 thoughts on “Today’s thought, running in parallel with the theory that, as social animals, humans naturally seek narrative…”

  1. Oh for sure. All the flavors of it. And there are, I’m sure, a non-trivial number of folks who question the very existence of that state.

    I’ve also known atheists who happily attended church because they liked the social aspects, and never really sought out a spiritual experience. Cheetoism by another name, maybe.

  2. Cool idea. I particularly like the thought of priming/ritual/debrief as a potential parallel between larp and ASC experiences.

    (I wrote and deleted a joke about anticipating the research on playing RPGs while on psychedelic drugs, especially given the recent success with use of psychedelics on treating PTSD and other disorders, but it was probably in poor taste and mostly a setup for a terrible zinger about Rifts being hard to play.)

  3. Many of the debates about immersion I’ve seen have aspects of this around them, if not central to them.

    Between flow, groove, story, character sockets, etc., there is a way to read “getting to a mental space” and that being hard to talk about as “that space” is often different, and even similar spaces are often reached in different ways.

    For me, this is certainly part of gaming – a state of focussed, connected flow. I have, in the past, tinkered with the idea that it’s one of the big gaps in play with many friends who I don’t RPG well with. They either want a different space or do not narrativize / alter as part of RPGs.

    Which doesn’t mean we can’t play together, but it does make it tricky. And it makes talking about it just really fucking hard.

  4. Brand Robins and I have discussed these kinds of thoughts pretty extensively over the years, and have ritual procedures that are built in to our one one one games in the neat half through intention and half through comfort repetition, the way that rituals most often get made in the world.

    This is pretty important to our style of play, which in our communal sweet spot naturally dives deep in meaning making specifically about people and their connections and their ideas – even our “for fun” games are concerned investigative, strive for nuance, are meant to challenge our ideas about things.

    I think that there are a lot of different kinds of priorities for play and that altering the state of mind is more and less important depending on what kinds of sweet spot a player is seeking. Catharsis is an important space in my personal play, and is an important component of many narrative arts, and it is in itself an altered state – where by plugging into a narrative space we transfer and transmute and purgate our internal emotional state. There are a lot of other paralells out there like this.

    Plus altered state is a fascinating concept when we think about it – asking what quality is altered in the state. Altered perceptions such as under the influence of drugs, altered emotions such as working through the mental model of a character (and the alibi they give) altered ethics, altered moral frameworks, altered experiences, altered worlds. There’s a fruitful shittton of stuff to talk about in there.

    And as per everything I still think that it starts with sockets, but only +Brand will get that joke.

  5. Brand Robins it for sure makes talking about it hard. Kind of alienating to everyone outside of the experience. Easy to feel defensive (or evangelical!) toward the folks outside the experience.

  6. Mo Jave​ awesome question re what specific elements of one’s consciousness are being altered. Probably an important bit of work to be done if I wanted to pull that apart in a more thorough way.

  7. There’s a dude doing that Paul Beakley not just EEG rigs, but sweat monitors, pulsometers, etc. He gave a great talk at Solmukohta a couple of years back.

  8. Yeah! He’s a neuroscientist nordic larper, but also keeps his academic/work lifevery distinct from his larp life, and so therefore have no awesome links to share (sad trumpet)

  9. Well I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s asking these questions.

    Although I’d be kind of spooked out by a game designed around producing specific scientifically tested altered states.

    Although a religion that’s done that would be an excellent Unknown Armies thing.

  10. What I mean is, that if ASC pursuit is why (some) people game, can that not also be a reason why people consume books/movies? And how does this coincide/clash with the idea of “escapism” then?

  11. Paul Beakley My “interested” comment above was simply the best language I had at he time to describe how I feel when I’m enjoying an RPG session. I would never have used the phrase “altered state of consciousness”, but I don’t know if that’s just because it’s not common parlance for me.

    I’ll also admit to being someone who has pooh-poohed “immersion” in the past.

    Which is to say, if “pursuing an altered state of consciousness” is what it means to enjoy the effects RPG have on my brain — namely the mental exercise they provide that I feel like I don’t really get in day-to-day life — then I guess that’s what I am doing.

    I dunno. This is all new to me.

  12. Mark Delsing​ reflecting on the death of whatshisnose and throwing the burning brand into the pyre at the start of Inheritance, maybe. It’s repetitive and low stakes and gets everyone moving the same direction.

    I want to say before this thread goes much further, because I can feel the seething hatred burning just below the surface, that everything I’m talking about is purely descriptive. I’m prescribing nothing at all.

  13. Mo Jave someday I’d love to read a more thorough description of you and Brand’s one-on-one methodology. I’ve talked with my wife about starting such a thing, and even while recognizing that your needs are almost definitely different than our needs, you two have by far the deepest experience of anyone I know.

  14. Mark Delsing it feels like these ideas(“altered states of consciousness”, being interested, immersion) are all close to each other. Close enough to probably just be different people’s ways of explaining the same thing, if I had to guess.

  15. Paul Beakley yea. I feel we may need to write some things down at some point. Mark Diaz Truman and James Stuart have both tried to get me — through different means — to do a “little black book of playing one on one games” thing.

    Maybe someday I’ll actually do it. But only if Mo will do it with me. When she isn’t busy going to IndieCade to get awards and shit.

  16. I guess I’ll go a little bit out on a limb here for a second, Mark Delsing.

    Let’s say that, for the sake of talking a little more, that “being interested” isn’t itself an especially meaningful altered state. It’s probably one of the human resting states. I think one could argue that we are primally sensitive to novelty, and that “being interested” is a survival trait.

    BUT! I’m not an anthropologist or scientist of any kind. I’m strictly spitballing. So with my very clear, let us not start a giant war disclaimer that I’m not any kind of scientist:

    I’d say that the kinds of “altered states” I’m thinking about here, and that the wikipedia entry talks about, are states that we don’t normally find ourselves in. So: a runner’s high, an acid trip, religious ecstasy, meditation, drunkenness, a near-death experience.

    I’d totally agree that deep concentration, engagement, and practice (along with the other ones I mentioned earlier: ritual and repetition) are tools by which these states can be achieved.

    Aaaaand that’s as far out on this limb as I’m gonna go, because I’m sure Actual Brain Scientists have a whole lot more to say about this than me. This is all strictly conjecture.

  17. Although I’d be kind of spooked out by a game designed around producing specific scientifically tested altered states. Although a religion that’s done that would be an excellent Unknown Armies thing.
    Scientology comes to mind.

    I have feels about sharing feelings of engagement and wonder and awe and fear. Ritual theatre of sorts?

    Why regarding this only Gonzo fantasy OSR examples come to my mind? 😀

  18. I have a much easier time grokking this when I think about making music (maybe that’s why drugs n’ rock n’ roll are often so deeply associated with each other).

    Which also maybe says something about my gaming experiences.

  19. I’ll do it with you, Brand Robins but it seems like a giant task in my mind – so hard to explain something grown up over twenty years and so personal. But I also want other people to be able to do it too. At least some kind of it.

Leave a Reply