Disruptive Emergence & the Impassioned Character Socket

**Warning** This post will contain a spoiler about season 3 of The Wire. You’ve been warned. Also, if you’re responding, please don’t spoil seasons 4 or 5 of The Wire for me. K?Thx. **Warning**

So last night, Brand and I are watching the last three episodes of Season 3 of the Wire, and along comes the scene where Pryzbylewski is standing, gun in hand, looking at the dead body of the cop he’s just shot. (For those who don’t know and didn’t care if they were spoiled, Pryz is a misfit wildcard inept cop that got through the Academy on nepotism, who early in Season 1 nearly beat an innocent kid blind for sassing him, and ended up behind a desk. His becomes a real redemption story when turns out, despite everyone’s best guesses (including Pryzbylewski’s) that he’s actually “real po-leece” when it comes to the analytical trace work involved in Major Crimes. The first time he’s out of the office in like two and a half seasons, he gets involved in a random chase and ends up mistaking a cop for a perp and shooting him dead.)

At this point, I hit pause on the g-d-clickybox and turn to Brand. “That there is what Vincent’s looking for when he talks about mechanics that bring on undesirable emergent story.” There wasn’t really any lead up to the scene, just a few quick shots interspersed with the other scenes: McNulty and Pryz eating Chinese food and getting the call, McNulty running through a back ally while Pryz round out in the car to head him off. Then there’s McNulty on the walkie, and he hears the shot fired, and finally there’s Pryz standing there with his gun out, looking freaked out of his mind. The killing is out of the blue, and all the lead up and shooting itself don’t even happen on screen. It’s obviously the work of disruptive mechanics.

Brand loved it. I didn’t. …. Shocking, I know.

But it did make for this great two hour conversation before we ended up getting back to the show. There’s a lot from that conversation I won’t get to in this post, might get into later if I’m up to it.

There ensues this real clear articulation that happens over how we interact (differently) with media – mainly movies and TV, but touching on print stuff too. He likes this scene with Pryz because it’s dramatic, because it moves the story, and because it lends a kind of realistic satisfaction to the series. In real life, our shortcomings come out to haunt us in the moments we think we’ve overcome them. When life is at its most brutal it often is over before you know what’s happening. It’s swift and explosive and afterwards nothing is the same. The Wire also (mostly) strives to provide a sense of real-lifeness as cop dramas go, so this makes the presence of this kind of event even more satisfying, in his eyes. He feels this turn of events is full because it’s a value add. It provides another kind of drama that enriches the story overall.

Brand, through his story socket, connects with the event and appreciates it cognitively. It’s intellectually fulfilling.

While I totally get why he likes what he likes there (and see it as valid) I don’t like it because it feels empty. It feels like the show has witheld. I’m engaged with the show, and I’m very much enjoying it because it does a very good job of creating complex characters in all shades of grey, and then all of a sudden, it changes the rules on me and I’m not allowed access to the character experience. On a dime, the character’s life is changed forever, I have no access to understand what really happened, nor to make the transition with the character (because I have been sharply and emotionally decontextualized from him). All of a sudden Pryz feels foreign to me and I can’t empathize with him properly. Sure, I can step away from it and type now: It is an interesting narrative device. I can cognitively appreciate what they were trying to do, and even how they succeeded in doing it. I even mean it when I type that, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was unfufilling to me in the moment of engagement.

I, through my character socket, became unconnected to the event which prevented me from appreciating it in the impassioned moment. It’s emotionally unfufilling.

7 thoughts on “Disruptive Emergence & the Impassioned Character Socket”

  1. I’ve had that experience before, but sometimes it has definitely been from a story socket–not a break in empathy, but a sense of discontinuity in the narrative as I have seen it. “Wait, this is a redemption story, that can’t happen…” I wonder if the socket may have less to do with this than with some reaction to dissonance?

    On some level, that disconnect seems like one way of still being connected to the character, a result of plugging into them. Maybe I’m just sensitized right now, but in the sort of moment Pryz is in, is he really connected to himself? Or, more likely, is he suddenly coldly distanced from his own sense of self?

    In that moment, can Pryz empathize with (his idea of) himself?

    When we experience those events, it’s simply awful–the sort of thing that makes you want to die, go mad, pretend it never happened, etc. As empathizing audience of a fictional story, we have an easier out, which is to redirect our attention to the fictionality of the setting, to focus on its unreality, treat the development as a narrative device…but it’s the same sort of reaction.

    1. I don’t think that the disconnect is a result of the character’s disconnect… that situation feels differently. It’s as if I were still plugged in and getting nothing but static or a blank screen. Interestingly I had exactly that kind of response in game recently, where under severe duress and a loss of self (quite literally, as the game in question is Unknown Armies) the character went offline suddenly and drastically. For me there’s still an emotional satisfaction in the near tangible sense of that *absence* – it’s powerful. The conduit to character goes quiet, but it’s still there. The situation with Pryz was radically different. I disengaged wholly from him, and while watching the aftermath I was interested, but cognitively, not there with him.

      I’m think you’re on that it’s a dissonance issue, but I still think it’s socket related. Certainly dissonance on any level (mode, method, technique), can cause disconnection and can probably cause disconnection on a number of levels. In this one, the place where I experienced the disconnection was at socket level.

      1. There wasn’t really any lead up to the scene, just a few quick shots interspersed with the other scenes…The killing is out of the blue, and all the lead up and shooting itself don’t even happen on screen.

        Is it how they present the scene (quick shots, jump to the aftermath; quite literally the mechanical elements of the scene) that cuts you off from the socket or is it the event itself?

        If there had been more lead up to the shooting itself, and if it had occurred on-screen instead of off-screen, do you think that would have changed your reaction? Is that what felt withheld? Or is it something else or something more?

        For example: Say they had followed Pryz from the beginning of the chase right through to when he pulled the trigger, letting you watch the chase and discover, with him, the person he had just shot, let you watch his face change from grim success to mute horror?

        1. It would have totally changed my reaction. What’s withheld is my ability to be with (in?) Pryz during the event. They cut me off from the character, changed his whole life and then dropped him back in front of me. Put another way, normally I would observe Pryz in a state of empathy, afterwards in a state of pity.

  2. Old post, I know, but I couldn’t help myself from commenting.

    I did in fact very much like this particular instance. It was emotionally disturbing, but the fact that found it intellectually fulfilling won this time (also, when the fourth season is taken into account it will also be emotionally fulfilling). I actually found to fit very well with the story of Prez that they were telling, but only if you look back to the first season, perhaps not if the third season would be judged on its own.

    A somewhat similar example is the whole movie Requiem for a dream. I liked everything in that movie, acting, directing, script. The story I found smart and intellectually fulfilling. I liked everything except the movie itself.

    In fact I resented it, because the smart heaping of unhappy resolutions of stories made it impossible for me to find any emotional connection to the characters.

    Actually, this is a problem that might be hard to solve during actual play, I believe. I have never before thought about it in roleplaying terms, only about movies. This is interesting.

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