The Loh Down On Science

Maintaining the Fantasy

I'm not a warlock, but I play one online.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Online role-playing games are huge these days. Think Skyrim, World of Warcraft.

In these games, players interact in elaborate storylines. They assume online personas, fully immersing themselves in fantasy worlds. Or do they?

How do players reconcile fantasy with reality? Like when "killed" enemies reappear? Or when a player reports taking a real-life potty break? Does it ruin the sense of immersion?

Gaming researcher Jonas Linderoth says it's pretty mentally challenging. To see just how successfully players sustain fantasy, he interviewed experienced gamers. And he played World of Warcraft with them for ten months.

He says players developed complicated, in-character workarounds to sustain the fantasy: Enemies weren’t killed, just "temporarily defeated." Potty breaks? Players typed, in character, that they had to--quote-unquote--"strap their armor upside-down."

For better or worse, the sense of deep immersion was still only sustainable for short periods.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to see a man about a unicorn.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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