Following Walton’s analogy to children’s games of make-believe, we place our (emotional) involvement with representations in the imagination instead of emphasizing on seeing in and seeing as. We can thus counter immediacy or unconscious illusion as a necessary condition for immersion, as our relation to representations takes place within the imagination. By changing belief as the necessary condition for immersion into imagination, we can understand why the willing suspension of disbelief is not sufficient as an explanation of how we deal with representations. Instead of suspending disbelief, we rather bracket our belief in imagination. We do not believe in the fictional propositions offered to us by representations, we ‘merely’ imagine accepting these propositions, making them truths in our imagination. Our relation to representations then becomes one of fictionality and imagination, rather than one of truth and belief.
We use the reality principle and the mutual belief principle to link what is represented to our own experience of reality and to recenter ourselves to be able to fictionally believe what we see, read or hear. Because of this, a representation does not need to be perfect (Murray 1999), strictly mimetic (Ryan 2001) or hermetic (Grau 2003) in order to stimulate immersion, as it stimulates the game of make-believe we play in our imagination. Just as we bracket or embed our belief in fictional propositions in our imagination, we also bracket our emotions towards fictional characters in our imagination. Because of this, it does not matter whether or not a fictional character has really existed. We use empathy to relate to fictional characters. We do not become a fictional character, we feel emotions through imagining how it would feel to be the fictional character, just as we empathize with real people. We imagine fictional characters to be real, and in this imagination, our emotional involvement takes place. This emotional involvement is colored by the extra-propositional properties of a representation, such as style, tone or narrative structures. Our stance towards the fictional world that is built up of fictional propositions is thus influenced by the representation itself. This role of representations accounts for differences in emotional involvement that are not directly related to the contents of representations and their (authorized) games of make-believe.
Although I still question the whole ‘recentering belief and emotions in imagination’-theory (and therefore the notion of ‘quasi-emotion’), in the next posts I will test Walton’s view on our emotional involvement with representations and thus immersion on a presumption underlying his framework: the ever-present ability to distinguish representation from reality.
Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art: from Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003.
Murray, Janet Horowitz. Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.