Just the other day, while watching Shakespeare Do The Thing He Does in Two Gentleman of Verona, I suddenly realised that my two favourite genres, farce and caper, are really very similar. Farce at its best works on the audience knowing more than the characters (Bob is hidden behind the screen THE WHOLE TIME) and Caper works on the audience knowing explicitly less than the characters (Bob switched the suitcases before the whole thing began).
It’s no wonder I love those genres, being a roleplayer, because the main reason I like roleplaying is it causes an interesting interface to occur between character, author and audience. That’s also why I like breaking the fourth wall, too. But the interesting thing about both farce and caper is you can’t actually every really roleplay them successfully, because they both depend on the audience having different information from the characters, and the fundamental principle of roleplaying is the audience are the characters at the same time.
Now sure, you can separate them in your head, but it’s not quite the same thing. It can never be. And some narrative/authorial-focussed rpgs have worked well to keep them separate, which is awesome. Again, this is one reason I adore Smallville: not only can you have “I have no idea my brother is trying to betray me, so I trust him completely” written on your actual character sheet, but the system heavily rewards you putting yourself in a situation where your complete trust is totally reversed – that reversal powers you up immensely. If there was ever a system built for farce, it is Smallville.
And of course, my love of those two genres is why I find it silly when hard-core immersionists insist that authorial mechanics totally destroy all sense of immersion. I can watch a stage and feel everything the characters experience as acutely as if I was them – yet also see the stage and the actors on it. I can see a simple cloak and know it makes a man invisible to all the other characters on stage, even though real people can see him clearly – because we can. I know stage left is a distant island while five feet from stage right which is Venice. And I know the author has set up a familiar, well-structured farcical device while at the same time feeling every ache of character embarrassment and shock as they feel nothing but chaos swim between their feet.
It’s not quite the same thing, maybe. They do say that if you see the author, it always pulls you out of the story. Unless you’re a writer, of course, because then you can never stop seeing the story. And if you’re like me, someone who you can shift back and forth between the fourth wall as if on a bungee cord. For those of us like that, authorial mechanics can only improve immersion, not destroy it.
If anything a lack of authorial control makes things more like real life – and I can’t believe in that, it’s far too facile.