Enabling the suspension of disbelief
As I’ve stated, for an experience to be more enjoyable you need to enable the suspension of disbelief in your players. And we’ve seen some requirements for this enablement to work effectively, such as that the majority of the experience needs to be plausible in some shape or form within the reality that we all inhabit. In broad terms, it needs to make sense in some form; scientifically, historically and technologically. This does not mean that if your experience involves dragons and wizards that you need to find some real historic reason for it, but make sure that the historic mythos around dragons and wizards is understandable to the players. This is relevant for any audience and age, dragons breath out fire, they do not breath out woodchips.
Ensuring that the believability and consistency of the world you create is maintained in relation to reality is especially important if you allow some access to the internet during your experience. As people in general are and can be far more informed than ever before. In a world where an individual’s average IQ is defined by how quickly they can google the knowledge, they need then and there; you need to bring your A-game if you do not want to break their suspension of disbelief.
To enable and continue the suspension of disbelief, therefore, is to make sure that the narrative, the game-mechanics and any additional aspects such as aesthetics, props, and so on, all remain consistent and authentic to the chosen theme. This will also aid you in avoiding the “plot-snob” from appearing as they will hopefully be too engaged in the holistic world that you’ve provided. For example, if you are playing a game about battling a viral outbreak, and you are using plastic tokens to determine the progress of research towards a cure, it is far more acceptable and believable if everything about the story’s exposition, the materials, the game-experience area and the characters all reflect and are coherent with a medical/disease-quarantine aesthetic and situational atmosphere.
At times this piece may have come across as antagonistic, but it is in part meant as a letter to invite those who view themselves as experts to try and enjoy a story rather than try to disprove it – a voluntary willingness to suspend disbelief for your own and others benefit. Despite having some degrees in film analysis, I do try to close off that part of my brain so that I can simply enjoy a good action-packed film, regardless of all gravity-defying stunts that may occur in it.
This piece is actually more directed at game-based learning experiences. Specifically, those that are focused on improving soft-skills and teambuilding through a form of role-playing, as the participants in those will likely have varying interests, skills and knowledge. And not everyone has specific knowledge or interest in a fully fictional universe. However, it probably needs to be said, that if the experience is aimed at training a very specific skillset – such as being a cybersecurity agent – then the level of realism really does need to be perfectly aligned to and accurate to real-world equivalents.
And the article is also in part aimed at educational institutions where individuals have varying degrees of interest in a particular subject matter. Many people are not fans of math in school but creating a game-based experience where the narrative is about a historical battle (history lessons) and the solution can only be achieved by using the correct placement of catapults (math lessons) then the suspension of disbelief inherent to the experience will allow a larger group of people to be interested in it, not just the math or history buffs in the class.
In essence, for suspension of disbelief to work the narrative must be holistic and incorporate a large amount of different facets, and must reflect reality enough that it is believable but still work from the perspective of a metaphor for the suspension not to break – it is like walking a tight rope between skyscrapers, it’s difficult but it’s possible.