Every week before our Saturday night Stargate SG-4 game, my group eats dinner while watching Battlestar Galactica. Lately we’ve mostly been making fun of it, although up until midway through the second season it was un-freaking-believably good.
Dwindling quality notwithstanding, there’s one element of the show that we always get a chuckle out of. In BSG, the corners of every square or rectangular 2-D object are cut off — sheets of paper, viewscreens, clipboards, you name it.
Older stuff (pre War on Corners, presumably) has corners, but apart from that this relatively minor detail is everywhere on BSG. And as funny as this can sometimes be, it’s a great device for subtly encouraging immersion.
As I see it, there are two upsides and one downside to using a device like this in your game. All of them stem from the fact that cut-off corners in BSG are small, unimportant and omnipresent.
The first upside is that every time you see something with the corners cut off, it reminds you that you’re watching BSG. That might sound funny, but it goes a surprisingly long way towards immersing you in the BSG universe — and for most RPGs, that’s an excellent goal.
The second positive is that because it’s small and irrelevant to the actual story, it does its job as a reinforcing/immersion device without being too distracting. If everyone were painted blue, for example — even if nothing else about the show were changed — that would be so jarring as to have the opposite effect.
The downside, at least for my group, is that there’s something about this device that we find kind of funny. Of the four of us, only one person is really bothered by it. The rest of us get a giggle out of it too, though — and in those moments we’re less immersed in the BSG world.
I’m not sure where the balance is, but this seems like a good lesson using small details in the game world to foster immersion. It’s a great trick, but even when you’re being careful not to take it too far, it can still backfire.