After a game recently one of the players recommended another player use "I do X" or "I try Y" when declaring their actions instead of referring to the character in the third person. The suggestion was made as advice to help improve their role playing and bring the character more to the fore. It got me to thinking, and today I want to talk about that and the distance you have between you and your character and how to manipulate that.
1st Person, 2nd Person, 3rd Person
RPGs are an interesting venue of story telling because they use all the perspectives quite regularly. Players frequently use the 1st or 3rd person perspective for their play, and GMs use 2nd person quite frequently when narrating what player characters are doing and what the results of their actions are.
This is the basic tool you have for distance between you and your character. As the number for the perspective goes lower, you are closer to the character. As you insist on making that number higher, the distance increases.
2nd Person Narration
When the GM refers to you, the player, as you the character it is - consciously or not - an attempt to put you into the character. Consider what is being said. Grax the Barbarian does not go down the stairs, you do. Grax the Barbarian does not attack the orcs, you do. If you let this push your imagination, it can help get into the character's headspace. This can be further helped if your GM remembers to give sensory information alongside whatever actions are happening. The feel of a wall, the temperature in the air, the smell of a forest, and so forth.
Thinking In 3rd Person
In contrast, if you constantly think of your character in the third person you are keeping yourself at a distance from your character. The character is not something you experience, but more something you watch. The distance isn't bad. For some people it is easier to think of the characters this way and thus prevent their reactions from being their character's reactions. However, that distance can also prevent other people from seeing the character and what is going on.
Thinking in 1st Person
On the other hand, if you think in first person for the character you can let yourself be immersed in the character. You take ownership of the character and what is going on. However, this also means bad things that happen to the character can feel like they're happening to you, which can prompt some unwanted reactions in some people.
Thinking Not Saying
Remember with either attempt it is more about if you think about the character in 1st person or 3rd person than what you say. You can always say for clarity "Character Name" does blah, but if you are thinking that you are your character for play that ownership can still be there.
When You May Want To Close The Distance
If you are able to change how you think regarding the character, to be inside and own the character one moment, but be an outside observer the next, then you may want to consider closing the distance to your character during any time where the Role Play is heavy. This can be with NPCs, or with other PCs. If you are role playing, the closer to your character you can get yourself, the more that will be conveyed to the other players.
These RP moments are, generally, character moments. Anything can be a character moment, but RP focused scenes are particularly good at it. And so it's best to be as invested as you can at that time.
When You May Want To Increase The Distance
On the other hand, there are two big times when you may want to increase the distance from your character. The first is any time the system mechanics are coming up a lot. Combat, for instance, can be good - depending on the group - to have that distance if only to keep track of mechanics and character in a proper way. It is always awesome to see roleplay in combat, but even then the bit of distance to keep track of the real world is good.
The other time is, effectively, when really bad things are happening. Obviously you know you better than anyone. But if bad things happening to you - or your character - brings about unwanted reactions or makes you uncomfortable, than having distance at those times can be a god send. It is just easier to deal with really bad stuff happening to a fictional character when you aren't tethered to the character in some way.