For the longest time, this word struck me as jargon. (Here is Emmy Allen’s article, “Diagetic vs. Non Diagetic,” for reference.) I tended to always translate this word to “in-fiction” or “from the fiction,” as a way of speaking plainly. Recently it’s been popping in my head as a more natural feeling. I think the test, though, will be: Does it have much value at the table?
I am imagining an “average table” for this question. Not that this really exists, per se – but just as a way to focus on communicating with folks who aren’t as immersed in design-speak as we are.
How many of you have explained “diagesis” to your table? What was their reaction, and was it helpful to their play experience?
I don’t really use the term often at tables, but I find it handy in discussion occasionally. One that was common for us in the 80s was “in play” or “in character” versus “out of play/out of character” or sometimes “in the story/in game” (we didn’t really use the term fiction for the imaginative space that was being generated).
These days, I do stress that sometimes it’s more important to think about or envision the situation “in play” than the numbers on the character sheet, especially for newcomers that may be used to more mechanically oriented things. Should they grouse at something like low, randomly generated Ability Scores, I’ll reassure them that there are ways in the game to improve those… usually tied to adventure and this stuff that happens when we start playing. Arm Wrestle a Hill Giant for an increase in STR and so forth. I think once it clicks that the stuff they do in the game can have this effect, it’s pretty useful for helping them think in those terms. That’s probably the closest I come to explaining the term really
I think diegetic is more useful in theory and design discussions. In general though that’s the way of terms of art, jargon or what not. We can talk about “in game” or “in character” and usually it’s fine but with diegetic one gets a little tighter a definition.
The first discussion I remember of diegesis was Necropraxis’s posts on diegetic advancement back in 2012 – that is advancement and skill acquisition through character actions in play. A somewhat different meaning then either “in-game” or “in-character” and one that largely deals with mechanics and design. I don’t really explain these things at the table though unless we happen to get into a theory discussion.
I haven’t tried to explain the terminology, but we definitely have a relationship with the concept.
One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s easier to play with games that rely entirely on diagetic character description OR entirely on mechanical stats.
For example we can easily play Fiasco, Follow, Microscope etc where there are no stats, or we can jump right into Delta Green or Alien where stats provide a pretty full list of what’s possible and how good you are at it.
Some players start to struggle, though, when the game has concrete stats on a sheet, but the GM asks them to think and play diagetically - For example, you have some advanced skills in Troika! but those are only icing on cake, stop looking at your character sheet and tell me what Hobart The Monkey Monger would DO!
Totally reasonable. I like the way you worded this.