Narrated vs. Immersive preferences
A recent invitation to play Dungeon World, Land of Nod's post about Quests of the Mind, and recent Hack & Slash pieces on "Design Demons" have gotten me trying to sort out my own preferences with regard to externally narrated vs. immersive styles of play. These terms may not be a great fit, but what I'm trying to get across is:
The more "immersive" a game is, the more the mechanics and style of play are trying to put you in the character's viewpoint, trying to use their limitations and abilities to make choices and overcome problems.
The more "narrated" a game is, the more the mechanics and style of play allow you to step outside the charater's viewpoint, and allow you to make decisions about the character and possibly even setting elements and events beyond the character's control.
Reviewing my experiences as a player, there are elements of both I like, but I find myself gravitating more and more toward the immersive.
I do like the freedom that narrated styles give me to just take any crazy idea and run with it to see how inventive I can get. But often enough I don't happen to have a new crazy idea on tap, and just want to get on with exploring and investigating a world.
But the thing with narrated styles is that they tend to reward you as much or more for inventing the world as they do for just poking around with the limitations of it.
This is one reason I liked Mage: the Ascension, it kind of had the best of both worlds: There was a narrated-like magic system that allowed you to hijack the norms of the story to some degree. But the system was justified within the setting itself, and possibly even within the character's own viewpoint. Also it was not an always go-to thing since the cost and consequences could be pretty extreme, so no infinite one-upsmanship between rivals.
Exalted: Fair Folk on the other hand also has an intriguing narrated-magic system, even well justified from the point of view of the characters. But if played in the Wyld subsetting, it seems like it could easily lead to infinite one-upsmanship scenarios, with opponents mashing the A-button of their narrated power and immersion taking a prolonged back seat.
Some games give you tokens or other rewards based on good narrated style play. These tokens may then be cashed back in to enhance the character's interactions in some way or dictate events beyond the character's control. And while I'm not strictly opposed to spendable commodities, I'd rather they be justified from the character's perspective in some way.
Narrated tokens grate slightly in two ways:
1) I feel like a good narration is it's own reward. If you come up with a clever idea and it's funny or awesome or otherwise moving, that's great. But it's like doing good works to be seen as good: You've already got your reward.
2) A part of me feels that it shouldn't really give your character a token unless it actually gives something to the character from an in-game perspective. Refreshes character mentally and physically? Health token or determination token. Ritual to draw more mystical power? Magic token. Successfully started a new business? Wealth tokens (i.e. money). Is fortune a well-established presence in the setting? Luck or karma tokens might refresh over time or in certain circumstances.
To sum up:
It's not that I completely reject all play in the narrated style. I do have fun with it. When I play in a narrated style I might feel that I had a good time and maybe that I entertained fellow players to some degree. And I might feel the same way when I play in a more immersive style game as well. However, the major difference is that with more immersive games I, through my character, am also more likely to feel like I've accomplished something in play as well.