Epic Life: Immersion and Identification in Papo & Yo redux

In an intensely personal game like Papo & Yo, I think the connection between immersion and identification becomes more obvious than it is anywhere else. To play Papo & Yo is to identify with the game’s designer, Vander Caballero, because the player-character of the game, Quico, is a metaphor for Caballero himself, and Quico’s journey, which becomes the player’s journey, through the possibility-space created by the game’s ruleset, is an allegory of Caballero’s relationship with his abusive father.

To the extent that we enter the possibility-space at all, then, we allow Quico’s journey to become our own, and our reality becomes secondary to Quico’s “reality.” We are immersed in Papo & Yo.

What’s the point of saying so, though? How does it help to describe immersion as identification?

Two answers spring to mind:

The first answer is academic, and comes from my training as a humanities scholar. As such, the only faith I have in this answer is that it might help persuade my fellow humanists that my argument in Epic Life is worth citing, but here goes nothing:

To describe our characteristic feeling of having a fictive reality replace our own lived reality in terms of identification allows us to describe games, in which that immersive feeling takes center stage as a medium-defining element, in a secure relationship to other works of fiction, across media, both seeing essential analogies (characters, basic textuality, certain compositional techniques) and seeing essential discontinuities (the placement of the moment of performance in relationship to the text, the fluidity of the relationship between fixed and player-influenced elements of the ruleset of the performance).

Based on this understanding of immersion, I can reasonably argue that Papo & Yo, like the greatest Greek tragedies, identifies its players as participants in a ritual that re-civilizes them. Just as a for-instance.

So, answer one can be boiled down to “Hey look! I found an interesting way to study games humanistically!”

My second answer pleases me much more, and comes from my will to self-help (the part of Epic Life where I tell you to play more digital games so that you can live more epically).

To describe this thing that makes us love games–the way they take us to other places and other realities even more thrillingly than the best sci-fi movie or Jane Austen novel, even though their graphics are still kind of clunky, and they have nothing yet really to compare to the psychological depth of a good short story, let alone a novel–to describe that thing, immersion, as an identification with the ruleset of the game lets us see ourselves, immersed in our own realities (career, family) that seem so much less fictive and malleable, as possessing a creative power over those realities. Papo & Yo did just that, I think, for Vander Caballero–and now it is for us, the game’s players, to go and do likewise.

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