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1999 - Through The Looking Glass: An Exploration of the Interplay between Player and Character Selves in Role-Playing Games

by Hawke Robinson published Jan 13, 2016 03:50 PM, last modified Aug 22, 2017 04:34 PM
Author: Nicholas Yee. My main interest in RPG’s is in its interface with our individual personalities. I am interested in finding out how our personalities influence how we shape our characters or what we are trying to get out of the game.

Nicholas Yee

11/7/99

 

Through The Looking Glass:

An Exploration of the Interplay

between Player and Character Selves

in Role-Playing Games

 

The Game Master stares at you with a crooked smile on his face, waiting for your reaction. Your dice roll has made you the person to act next. You consider what the intimidating beast has offered the group. Although in your real life you may decide that the offer is not worth the risk, your character is much more brave than you are. You stand up tall and confront the centaur, 'We accept your offer, and have faith that we can solve the riddle! Speak.'

 

- excerpted from Role-Playing Characters and the Self, Jennifer Mulcahy

 

Introduction

 

Show someone a ten-sided die, and you will either get an acknowledging smile or a confused frown. Along with MOO’s, Magic: The Gathering and EverQuest, Role-Playing Games seem to be almost unheard of outside certain circles. It is hard for role-players to explain what RPG’s are to non-gamers; and it is even harder for non-gamers to understand what the appeal of RPG’s are. Like many other things in life, it is hard to understand RPG’s without ever participating in them. In my opinion, this is because RPG’s are not just a game; they are an experience. And the ten-sided die, among other things, has come to be symbolic of this collective experience.

My main interest in RPG’s is in its interface with our individual personalities. I am interested in finding out how our personalities influence how we shape our characters or what we are trying to get out of the game. Too often we project our own rationale for enjoying RPG’s onto others, and we are unaware that other reasons abound. Why do some players consistently choose the same character classes while others never choose the same one twice? Why do some players like to role-play reflections of themselves while others prefer to role-play opposites? Are women attracted to RPG’s for the same reasons that men are? My main concerns lie in isolating the personality traits that separate one kind of behavior or preference from another. For example, in seeing the differences between player-character resemblance, I am interested in finding out what personality factors are influencing the difference.

Past studies on RPG’s have mostly focused on identifying how gamers differ from non-gamers on certain personality scales. Most of these studies have yielded very few differences. It has been shown in at least two studies that role-players score higher in factor Q1 (Experimenting; liberal; freethinking) on the Cattell 16 personality scale than non-gamers (Simo’n, 1987; Carroll, Carolin, 1989). No other deviations were found in any other factor when compared to an average sample. Another study where gamers were analyzed in terms of feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness and isolation found no significant deviation from a non-gaming sample, except in the area of “cultural estrangement”. Cultural estrangement in the study was defined as awareness and interest in popular entertainment, and gamers were found to score lower than non-gamers. On the other hand, they also found that non-gamers reported a higher sense of “meaninglessness” than gamers (DeRenard, Manik, 1990). Abeyta and Forest (1991) used a questionnaire on gamers and non-gamers measuring self-reported criminal behavior. Again, no differences were found except that non-gamers were found to score higher on “Psychoticism”, which however was not a reliably measured factor. Gamers or scholars familiar with why RPG’s gained a negative image in the media in the past 20 years will probably understand what the motivation behind these studies were. (A good historical account can be found here – The Attack on Role-Playing Games)

Douse and McDougal (1993) performed a study on a fantasy Play-by-Mail game where the gamers were compare to non-gamers and gamers were found to score higher in introversion, lower in emphatic concern, and were less feminine and androgynous on the BEM Sex-Role scale. But because the sample of gamers in the study were all chosen from such a peculiar subset, I do not feel the study is representative of RPG gamers in general. I also think that the sample is biased in several other ways because computer/email preference is confounded with role-playing. For example, people who prefer to socialize over email are probably more introverted than an average sample regardless of whether they are role-players. Furthermore, Play-by-Mail RPG’s are very different from the traditional table-top face-to-face RPG’s.

The study that motivated mine was one done by Jennifer Mulcahy (Role Playing Characters and the Self). Although her paper seems to have been written for a Brandeis College Psychology class, never published professionally, and is not written in formal APA style, the data that Mulcahy found and the ideas she expressed were intriguing and refreshing. This was mainly because she was trying to understand differences within gamers rather than differences between gamers and non-gamers.

Mulcahy’s study consisted mainly of a two-part email survey, where her second survey followed up on the most detailed and elaborate responses from the first survey. She divided her respondents into male/female and introverted/extroverted. Altogether she chose 8 final respondents with 2 in each combination. Mulcahy in her analysis did not use any statistical tool and used quotes as her main support.

Before going on to what she found, here is how she defined Introversion and Extroversion in her study: “I would define an introvert to exist primarily within themselves, while an extrovert exists more within the realm of the outside, with interactions with other people being a main focus in their life.” Here are the main differences she found:

 

Introverts:

 

- Use RPG space as a safe lab to try out things they would otherwise not do in real life, both physically and emotionally. They are expanding who they are.

- The character is an extension of the self, or an improvement of the self.

- Empathy with their characters, shown through alignment. Introverts would not play alignments that differ from their own

Extroverts:

 

- Empathize less with their characters

- See the character as different from their own personalities, which is what makes the characters exciting for them.

- Are more akin to actors and their characters their masks.

- Do not care if character alignment is different from their own moral outlook

 

Although based on a very small sample and no statistical tests could be used, Mulcahy’s ideas provided one set of correlations which could be tested out with a larger sample. Along with Introversion and Extroversion, I was interested in several other factors that might affect game play behavior and preferences. The main ones include: gender, age, self-image, other personality factors as well as the sense of personal growth and the character as self-idealization which carry over from Mulcahy’s study.

 

 

Method and Procedure of Preliminary Survey (link to survey)

 

My study consisted of two phases: a preliminary online survey, consisting mainly free-form questions, and a more crystallized questionnaire, consisting of multiple-choice questions.

 

The preliminary survey was used to get a rudimentary understanding for what factors seemed to separate gamers from one another. Using text-fields to encourage more personal and in depth responses, questions probed the following areas:

 

  1. Appeal: Why do RPG’s appeal to the respondent?

  2. Character Choice Consistency: Does the respondent consistently choose certain character classes or types?

  3. Character Creation Influence: What influences the character creation process?

  4. Character Empathy: Does the respondent empathize with the created characters?

  5. Player-Character Comparison: In what ways are the respondent and characters created similar and different?

  6. Alignment Comparison: Does the respondent choose character alignments that reflect his/her own?

  7. Gender Switching: Has the respondent ever played a character of the opposite gender?

  8. Hobby Crossover: Does the respondent participate in MOO’s, MUD’s, Magic: The Gathering or computer games?

 

Apart from the free-form questions, 9 multiple choice questions were used to get an approximation of 3 Big-5 Factors – Extroversion, Agreeableness and Openness (explanation of these factors can be found here). 3 multiple choice questions were used for each factor. The questions were taken from Goldberg’s online inventory.

The survey was publicized in two ways. I emailed some gamers I knew and asked them to fill out the survey as well as tell their gamer friends about it. I also posted a note on about 10-12 RPG message boards and forums on the Internet inviting people to fill out a copy of the survey. Over a 7 day period (10/17/99-10/24/99), I received 100 responses back, excluding repeated submissions.

What amazed me most was not the sheer amount of respondents, but the fact that most respondents seemed genuinely interested in filling out the survey and most answers were at least 3 sentences long. There were no bogus or joke replies as far as I could tell.

 

Results

 

The average age of my sample was 22.9. Out of the 100 respondents, 14 were female. 60% of all respondents used to play or still play Magic: The Gathering. 75% regularly play some kind of computer game. 52% have participated in MOO’s or MUD’s. 60% have played a character of the opposite gender.

As for the 3 Big-5 Factors. I compared the average from the survey to the averages I had gotten from a general undergraduate sample in a past study. Each question’s answers were ranked from 5 to 1. Thus, the range of each factor’s sum ranges from 3-15. The undergrad sample was recalibrated for the scaling difference.

 

 

Survey Sample

Undergrad Sample

Extraversion

9.61

9.78

Agreeableness

12.25

12.28

Openness

12.99

11.84

 

The difference in Openness between the samples is significant (p=0.000).

 

Discussion of Preliminary Survey

 

The significant difference in Openness between samples was reaffirming because this is what Simo’n (1987) and Carroll and Carolin (1989) found. The Openness factor probably correlates highly with the Cattell Q1 factor (experimenting; liberal; freethinking) because some of the descriptors overlap.

The traditional problem with data as rich as the kind I got from the survey is that it is exceedingly difficult to code and analyze statistically. The advantage is that it allowed me to see the whole situation more objectively because I wasn’t forcefully pigeon-holing my respondents into multiple-choice answers. I also became aware of certain differences and factors I had not thought of before.

I did not expect to get so many replies back and as I waded through them, I realized that it would be very difficult to codify the data into numbers that were statistically measurable. I also noticed that while some replies agreed with what Mulcahy suggested, there seemed to be many deviations. I also started to notice differences related to other factors such as age and gender.

After reading all the replies, I singled out the core factors I wanted to explore and extracted statements from the replies that I thought would dichotomize gamers on those factors. I also found the Openness and Agreeableness factors to be weak in that no respondents scored below the average and most were between a 3 number range. Taking from these lessons, I wrote up a questionnaire that consisted almost completely of multiple choice questions.

I will postpone the other results I found into the results section of the questionnaire because the results are much clearer there, and it makes no sense to write out a set of weak results for this section when the latter one is available.

 

Method and Procedure of the Questionnaire (link to questionnaire)

 

The first part of the questionnaire was a series of statements where each had 5 buttons the respondents could choose: ranking from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. The following factors were included:

 

  1. Age

  2. Gender

  3. Length of time role-playing

  4. Character as Reflection of Self

  5. Character as Ideal Self

  6. Character as Learning tool

  7. Empathy with character

  8. Character Creation Influence

  9. Gaming Style Preference: social / deep

  10. Gender Switching

  11. Gaming Systems Preference: dice / hack-and-slash

  12. Self-Image

  13. RPG Appeal

 

Instead of using the Big-5 Factors, I used the Myer-Briggs Scales instead. There are four factors and each was measured with 5 statements. (Here is a good brief introduction to the MBTI Scales)

The questionnaire was publicized in 2 ways. I emailed all the survey respondents who did not mind being followed-up upon to fill out a copy of the questionnaire. I also posted another message on about 14-16 RPG message boards and forums on the Internet. Over a period of 6 days (10/25/99-10/31/99), I received 225 responses back.

 

Results of Questionnaire

 

A summary of the 4 personality scales and the statements they were measured by is listed here:

Factor Name

Statements measuring Factor

Introversion/

Extroversion

1) Being in a crowded or busy place, like a mall or party, makes me feel drained and tired.

2) I tend to keep to myself

3) I think of myself as being sociable and outgoing

4) In social situations, I am usually shy and reserved.

5) I find it easier to think in groups than alone.

Sensing/Intuitive

1) I prefer to think of possibilities instead of realities.

2) I like authors who use very figurative and fanciful language.

3) I am a very down-to-earth person.

4) I trust my intuitions when making decisions.

5) I have difficulty understanding abstract ideas and concepts.

Thinking/Feeling

1) People should place more emphasis on reason and less on emotion.

2) In making decisions, seeking harmony is more important than seeking objective clarity.

3) Cold, rational objectivity appeals to me.

4) I am a soft-hearted person.

5) I am a very romantic person.

Judging/Perceiving

1) I like to keep my life organized and planned.

2) I am always prepared.

3) I usually leave things till the last minute.

4) I have a very spontaneous personality.

5) It usually takes me a long time to make up my mind.

 

And now I will list what each of the 4 personality scales correlate significantly to in terms of the game preference statements. Significant correlations below +.15 will not be listed. All correlations greater than +.19 have p=0.000

 

Personality Factor

Correlated statements

Introversion/

Extroversion

 

Introversion was rated lower than Extroversion. So if something correlates positively with this scale, then Extroverts are more likely to agree with it.

And Introverts would agree more with statements that are negatively correlated. Negatively correlated statements have been italicized for easier distinction.

(-.16) My real life personality is a façade, and my characters are closer to who I really am.

(.27) It is easy for me to role-play very different kinds of characters or personalities.

(-.24) When I have role-played a character for a while, I begin to think and talk like them in real life sometimes.

(-.15) I always choose certain types or kinds of characters over others, whether it be with occupation or personality.  

(.27) Appeal to RPG’s: Social

(.20) I prefer RPG sessions to be fun and light-hearted, providing a good atmosphere for socializing.  

(.15) RPG’s are really about personal growth.  

(.15) I dislike the hack-and-slash aspect of RPG’s.  

(.15) I would rather participate in a system that does not base characters on numbers and fixed classes.

(-.35) Most people don’t really understand me because I often hide my real self in day-to-day interactions.

(.19) I am completely comfortable with my physical appearance.

Sensing/Intuitive

 

Sensing was rated lower than Intuitive. So if something correlates positively with this scale, then Intuitives are more likely to agree with it.

And Sensors would agree more with statements that are negatively correlated.

(.17) My characters are built upon my own quirks and motivations.

(.20) I learn a lot about myself in RPG’s.

(.20) It is easy for me to role-play very different kinds of characters or personalities.

(.15) When I have role-played a character for a while, I begin to think and talk like them in real life sometimes.

(.27) Appeal to RPG’s: Perspectives

(.27) Appeal to RPG’s: Intellectual

(.16) Through my characters, I am able to better understand and resolve some of the problems that I have in real life.  

(.25) RPG’s are really about personal growth.  

(.18) I prefer RPG sessions that are intense and deep in nature.

(.20) Most gamers do not put enough emphasis on character and plot development.  

(.18) Most people don’t really understand me because I often hide my real self in day-to-day interactions.

Thinking/Feeling

Thinking was rated lower than Feeling. So if something correlates positively with this scale, then Feelers are more likely to agree with it.

And Thinkers would agree more with statements that are negatively correlated.

(.16) My characters tend to be an idealized version of myself.

(.22) I learn a lot about myself in RPG’s.

(.23) I am very attached and somewhat emotional about my characters.

(.18) Appeal to RPG’s: Perspectives

(.19) Through my characters, I am able to better understand and resolve some of the problems that I have in real life.  

(.15) I vent my pent-up emotions through my characters.  

(.26) RPG’s are really about personal growth.  

(.25) I prefer RPG sessions that are intense and deep in nature.

Judging/Perceiving

 

Judging was rated lower than Perceiving. So if something correlates positively with this scale, then Perceiving are more likely to agree with it.

And Judging would agree more with statements that are negatively correlated.

(.17) My characters are built upon my own quirks and motivations.

(.20) My characters usually have traits that I would want to have in real life.

(.15) After role-playing a character for a while, I find that the character becomes more and more like me.

(.16) I am very attached and somewhat emotional about my characters.

(-.16) When creating a character, I tend to wait and fill in for whatever class or skill is lacking from the group.

(.16) Appeal to RPG’s: Escapism

(-.17) Appeal to RPG’s: Logistics

(.17) I vent my pent-up emotions through my characters.  

(-.21) It would be easy for me to role-play a character of the opposite gender.

(.15) I would rather participate in a system that does not base characters on numbers and fixed classes.

(.16) Most people don’t really understand me because I often hide my real self in day-to-day interactions.

(-.16) I am completely comfortable with my physical appearance.

(.20) I often find myself wishing that I were more physically attractive.

 

 

And now I will do the same with age, gender, and number of years playing RPG’s:

 

 

Factor

Correlating Statements

Age

(.-15) My characters are built upon my own quirks and motivations.

(-.20) My real life personality is a façade, and my characters are closer to who I really am.

(-.15) I prefer to play characters who have moral perspectives that are different from mine.

(-.21) I always choose certain types or kinds of characters over others, whether it be with occupation or personality.  

(-.15) Appeal to RPG’s: Escapism

(.15) Appeal to RPG’s: Social Aspect

(-.17) Appeal to RPG’s: Fantasy

(-.19) Judging/Perceiving

Gender

 

Females were rated lower than males. So if something correlates negatively, then it means that women are more likely to agree with it.

(.32) Number of years role-playing

(-.17) I am very attached and somewhat emotional about my characters.

(-.16) Appeal to RPG’s: Perspectives

(.17) I prefer RPG sessions to be fun and light-hearted, providing a good atmosphere for socializing.  

(-.15) I prefer RPG sessions that are intense and deep in nature.

(.23) I feel that dice are an integral part of gaming.  

(-.16) Thinking/Feeling

Years Playing RPG’s

(.32) Gender

(-.15) My characters are built upon my own quirks and motivations.

(-.28) My real life personality is a façade, and my characters are closer to who I really am.

(-.16) After role-playing a character for a while, I find that the character becomes more and more like me.

(-.18) I am very attached and somewhat emotional about my characters.

(-.22) I always choose certain types or kinds of characters over others, whether it be with occupation or personality.  

(-.21) Appeal to RPG’s: Escapism

(-.18) My characters look almost exactly like me.

(.15) It would be easy for me to role-play a character of the opposite gender.

(-.22) Judging/Perceiving

 

 

Discussion of Questionnaire

 

To summarize the results in a more coherent manner, each extreme of the 4 personality scales and age, gender and length scales will be described. Because my sample came from role-players, the factors here are relative to the gaming population. So the introvert mentioned below is more accurately the gaming introvert instead of introverts in general. Also remember that very few people are extremes and the accuracy of the following statements depends on how high or low someone scores on the personality scales. I will also draw quotes from my original survey to illustrate what I’m describing. These quotes are drawn from people who responded to both the survey and questionnaire.

 

The Introvert: Introverts are people who appear reserved and shy in social situations. They are taxed by interactions and thus prefer to be alone or with a small group of friends. They put aside time for reflection and introspection. Introverts often hide their real personality in real life and put up a façade for the world. In role-playing, they allow their real identities to be expressed in their characters. Because of this, they often choose the same kinds of character classes or character types to role-play. Role-playing their real selves in a character allows them to feel more secure in the hidden self, and they might begin to think and talk like their character in real life. To others, it might seem that the introvert is becoming someone else. To introverts, it will feel like they are becoming their real selves. They would find it hard to role-play characters that are too different from who they really are. They dislike the hack-and-slash aspect of role-playing games, but systems of classes and types appeal to them. They probably tend to drift towards the rogue and mage classes.

 

IE 1/20: In AD&D I used to play only thieves at the beginning because I wanted my characters to be cunning and not just do the hack and slash thing. Then eventually I had one warrior as well just to see if it could be fun too and finally I stuck with mages. I like the idea of a basically very weak character in physical terms who then has magic to defend him/herself. Especially when they are still at a low level they are a challenge to play because they are so weak.

 

IE 5/20: Yes, I usually choose the magician (or shaman). Generally very intelligent, but fairly weak. He usually is withdrawn and afraid of opening up to other people. Usually his family and friends are all dead or gone.

 

The Extrovert: Extroverts are people who are energized by social interactions. They are active and feel at home in crowds or busy places. There are usually many people who they can call friends. In role-playing, extroverts find it easy to role-play characters with very different personalities and experiences. Thus, they do not have a preference for one character class over another. They enjoy the hack-and-slash aspect of role-playing, but they would rather be playing in a system that does not base characters on numbers and fixed classes. The main appeal of RPG’s for extroverts is the social aspect. They like the opportunity to be able to interact with other people.

 

IE: 17/20: I actually try to vary my character types. I try to challenge myself with different roles, as opposed to pigeon-holing one type.

 

IE: 17/20: Not at all. I choose my character based on the mood I'm in at the time of the game. I'll play any class or archetype or style of character if it means a good story.

 

IE 17/20: [On what similarities there are between the character and himself] There usually are none. I try to play a different personality, sense of humor, moods, actions than what I would in real life! That is the fun of role playing.

 

The Sensor: Sensors are people who like to learn through their five senses. They want to be able to feel and touch what they are working on. They prefer to be realistic and to think about what is factual. They are down-to-earth and practical. Sensors find it hard to role-play different kinds of characters. They would probably find it hard to connect and immerse themselves in the role-playing world because it is ungrounded and fantastical. In the sample of 225 people, only 10 people scored below the average. Again, this relates to the other findings of gamers being more open, imaginative etc. Because of this, I feel that sensors would probably not enjoy RPG’s which is why so few of them were in the sample.

 

The Intuitive: Intuitives enjoy thinking about what is possible. They enjoy exercising their imaginations and coming up with creative solutions. They prefer to think abstractly and consider a problem conceptually. Intuitives find it easy to be in the shoes of very different characters. They are attracted to RPG’s because it allows them to take different perspectives and they find it to be an intellectual challenge. They prefer RPG sessions to be deep and intense and they add emphasis on character and plot development. In taking these developed perspectives, they are able to learn a lot about themselves and they find that they grow as a person through participating in RPG’s. Through their characters, they are able to better understand and resolve some of the problems they have in real life.

 

SN 18/20: yes, I know I learned a lot because I started playing when I was four years old … and most importantly the importance of all perspectives in life. I saw why it was important to have respect because I may start a fight with a friend or get in trouble with my mother and she may "drop a slug on my head".

 

SN 18/20: [On RPG Appeal] The role-playing, the fantasy of taking on a persona, developing a history, learning the character inside and out.

 

SN 18/20: Physically they often look a bit like me because that's the way I imagine them in my mind. Their personality often varies tremendously from mine. The setting is a big factor in the personality type … I think of my characters as a creative outlet for me. I do empathize with my creations a little.

 

The Thinker: Thinkers are objective and cool-headed. They often pride themselves on being logical, firm-minded and being fair. They believe in standards and almost universal laws or rules. Thinkers are somewhat detached from the emotional and subtle aspects of the role-playing game. This is because of their objective analytical nature. In a game setting, they are probably the ones who know all the rules and are able to set things straight when the players are not clear on the rules.

 

TF 5/20: [On Whether People Learn Anything in RPG’s] Not really. A lot of Fantasy stuff has very real historical references though.

 

TF 6/20: [On Character Empathy] Not really. They are interesting constructs, in the same way that a favorite character from a book or movie would be, but my own emotional state is not tied to them or their fate. I've done quite a bit of acting, so I guess I'm just used to the idea of playing a role, but still keeping it separate from yourself.

 

The Feeler: Feelers believe that emotions and personal feelings should be accounted for when making decisions. They are soft-hearted and prefer to find common grounds between opposing ideas so that harmony can be achieved. They believe that mercy is far more important then justice. Feelers are able to immerse themselves in their characters. Feelers build characters who are idealized versions of themselves. Because of this, they often find that they become easily attached to their characters and are able to feel their character’s pain and joy. They too are attracted to RPG’s because of this perspective power but probably more in the emotional aspects. This intense interplay of emotions and personal interactions allows them to learn about themselves in RPG’s. They too find that RPG’s help them grow and understand their real life problems. Furthermore, they are able to vent their pent-up emotions through their characters. While both intuitives and feelers learn about themselves, they are probably learning different kinds of things. Feeler learn about their own emotions and resolve problems that are emotionally related. Intuitives are probably less specific in this context, and simply enjoy being in someone else’s shoes.

 

TF 19/20: My characters are always smart, beautiful, assertive, independent, and their weapon of choice is always knives. My characters tend to be what I WISH I was in real life... Each of my characters is a different aspect of myself. I have an assassin character, who is very quiet and forceful. I have a shaman character who is flamboyant, fun-loving, and loyal. I have an elf character who is the woman of many faces, and beneath her masks is really, really insecure. Each of those characters is very like some things I see within myself.

 

TF 18/20: Hmmm...this one's tough. I feel that I maintain a good, healthy separation between myself and my characters. I don't get mad at a player if their character has just landed mine in jail. Or at the DM if he's ruled against something my character was trying. However, I am a very emotional person … So I do have a tendency to empathize with my characters (and other people's characters as well.) I can usually recognize my tendency to become maudlin during a gaming session and I'll usually excuse myself to use the restroom or get a snack or drink from the kitchen and take those couple of minutes to calm down a bit (choke back the tears) and return to the table.

 

The Judger: Judgers are planners and superb project managers. They have an internal clock that allows them to organize their duties and finish them in time. They like things finalized and set, and are not afraid to make decisions. Judgers are often comfortable with their physical appearance. They are attracted to role-playing because of the logistical aspect. They love the elaborate tables and charts and how the game system is built up. They are less likely to be very attached and emotional with their characters, and they have very little trouble with playing a character with the opposite gender. They usually wait and fill in for a missing character class or skill area in the character creation process.

 

JP 4/20: I've always been attracted to the systems. I know real life isn't something that can be defined by odds so simple that they can be rolled out on d20s or percentiles, but I'm always fond of the attempts to do so. I'm pretty sure I'm the only idiot attracted to quantification of the universe, though.

 

JP 4/20: [On character empathy] No. Some of them are physically like me but most are not. I try to play many different races and classes. I even play female characters from time to time. None of my characters are even close to me in personality. They all have some of my traits but I try to be inventive in not being like me.

 

The Perceiver: Perceivers are spontaneous. They want to let life live and prefer to leave things flexible and open-ended. They are adaptable and go with the flow. Perceivers usually are less comfortable with their physical appearance and would like to be more physically attractive. In role-playing, they create characters who have the physical traits that they would want in real life. They play RPG’s because it lets them escape from mundane reality. They tend to be attached to their characters and empathize with them. Part of this comes from venting their pent-up emotions through their characters.

 

JP 18/20: [On RPG Appeal] The fantasy. I enjoy being able to leave the everyday hum drum stuff behind and participate in something that I'd never really be able to do in real life. [On character-player comparison] Physically very similar. Personality... I guess about the same. They tend to be either very head strong, sarcastic, or depressed. I guess that's like me. [On character empathy] Not really an extension, just a possibility of what I could have been if I truly lived in that world. Something that I can be for a few hours, but that inevitably returns back to me in real life.

 

JP 17/20: [On RPG Appeal] I like the freedom involved... I can do whatever I want, and be whatever I want. To get away from reality every once in a while is a great thing. [On player-character comparison] Physically, I try to make my characters what I hope to look like later in life. They resemble me, but are more muscular, and generally two to four inches taller than I am (I am 6'2", and I like a 6'4-6" character). I, admittedly, give my characters more facial hair as both a way to assuage my feelings of inferiority in the facial hair area, and an homage to Kevin Nash and many of my role models (My cousin Matt is one of these).

 

Age: Young role-players are more likely to feel that their characters are closer to who they really are. They are more likely to prefer one kind of character class or type over others, and often base their characters on their own quirks and motivations. They tend to choose character alignments that are different from their own, perhaps both as an act of safe rebellion and trying out different moral perspectives. Young role-players see the RPG as a way to escape from reality and to be immersed in fantasy. Older role-players are usually less consistent in character choice and prefer not to role-play characters that are based on themselves. They are not as drawn to RPG’s because of the escapist and fantastical aspects. Instead, they find that RPG’s provide a good atmosphere for socializing.

 

Age 14: I figure anything that can get you away from reality is probably good. Reality tries to crawl up behind you and bite you in the ass. It's nice to have a whole different environment where you can just be whoever you want, and say, "Well, my character would do that." When anyone gives you crap. It's having the freedom of life without any of the responsibilities.

 

Age 14: [On RPG Appeal] The ability to escape into another world where I can be whatever or whoever I want. I can relieve everyday stress with becoming someone else who's stress is not only completely different but interesting. [On player-character comparison] They usually are a lot like me. As I stated above I like quick and intelligent characters. The personality is usually what I always would think of saying or doing but never do in reality. My characters are closer to my real personality than what most people see in my facade.

 

Age 36: [On Appeal] I enjoy the exercise of my imagination and interaction with friends. [On character choice] No. I try to play a variety. I try to make my characters as unlike myself as I can. I've often played males (I'm female) and they look totally unlike me. I find it easier to stay in character if I'm imagining someone unlike myself.

 

Age 45: [On Character Choice] No, I have a variety of classes and genre. [On alignment comparison] Oh, yes...in AD&D term I consider myself Chaotic Good and I find it easier to portray my own morality. I put a high price on personal freedom but not to the detriment of others.

 

Gender: Men in general have role-played for a longer period of time than women. Women tend to be score closer to the Feeler side of the Feeler/Thinker spectrum and usually find themselves more attached to their characters than men do. Women also tend to enjoy the perspective taking aspect of RPG’s more than men do. While men prefer RPG sessions to be fun and light-hearted, women prefer them to be deep and intense. Men are more likely to see dice as an integral part of gaming.

 

Number of Years Playing RPG’s: Beginners, like young role-players, tend to base their characters on themselves and have a character class preference. A beginner’s character often looks physically similar to the player. As a beginner role-plays for longer, their characters often look less and less like them physically. And as time goes on, players find it easier and easier to play a character of the opposite gender. Moreover, beginners are more attached to their characters than RPG veterans. Also, the escapism appeal tends to decrease for veterans. The appeal probably shifts to other areas.

 

Years 2: [On character choice] Yes; usually a character to do with knowledge. I think it's because it's a personality that I'm most familiar with and approve most of. Sage, teacher, bard, singer, student, etc. usually involves a very analytical, keen mind and an organized way about them, which is, to my opinion, the best anyone can be. [On player-character comparison] personality-wise, it basically the same version of myself with a few twists (such as being a witch = knowledge of lore and herbs, being a singer, etc.). Usually I have a high charisma and beauty, which I think leans more towards my "ideal" self. I think that generally speaking, the physical aspects tends to be more "ideal", and the personality aspects tends to be more similar to reality.

 

Years 20: I do not stick to any archetypes, enjoying more the attempt to role-play or act different types of characters. Some games I have requested a character created exclusively by the Game Master to stretch my role-playing abilities. However it is true that common themes run through all my characters, and that the characters all contain tiny fragments of myself. I amplify and expand upon little parts of myself with my characters. [On player-character comparison] Extremely variant ... too many different characters with too many different morphologies to be very helpful on this question. [On alignment comparison] Of course I align my characters based on my own personal ethical compass . . though I hadn't realized it until just now. Thank you for the question. As these beliefs are so core to myself, I think my ethical structures would be the hardest to go against. I am a good enough role-player that I could "act" in a way contrary to my own ethics and might even be able to do it convincingly. But I would not be comfortable and it would certainly be the exception rather than the rule.

 

Mulcahy’s original dichotomy and classification were too simplistic in hindsight. By taking more factors into account, we are better able to see how game and character preferences falls over a broader spectrum of personality, gender and age factors. Furthermore, we begin to see how complex the issue is because gender, age and the other personality factors are combined together in every person. It is useless to use only an individual’s score on Introversion/Extroversion to predict gaming behavior. Every factor adds another thread in this tapestry.

Before I move on to the extended discussion, I want to describe one group of dangling preference statements. In Mulcahy’s original classification and my own gaming intuition, it was felt that some kind of personality factor influenced whether the character was physically, mentally, and morally close to the player. This was not borne out in my sample. The three statements that measured these 3 kinds of similarity did not correlate with any of the personality factors.

 

Extended Discussion (aka How Deep Does The Rabbit-Hole Go?)

 

Clearly the 7 player factors (4 personality and gender, age, and length of role-playing) have to interact with each other because some of the gaming preference statements appear in several of these factors. Let’s take the example of Introversion/Extroversion and Age. We notice that several gaming and characters preferences overlap. A natural question to ask is how these traits might change in introverted players as they get older.

 

 

 

My characters tend to be an idealized version of myself

My real life is a façade and my characters are closer to who I really am

It is easy for me to role-play very different kinds of characters or personalities

After role-playing a character for a while, I find that the character becomes more and more like me

When I have role-played a character for a while, I begin to think and talk like them in real life sometimes

Age (<=17)

IE Scale

.40

-.23

.02

.37

-.17

Age (>=30)

IE Scale

.13

.13

-.03

.12

-.20

Age (all)

IE Scale

-.01

-.14

.28

-.06

-.22

 

Taking the leftmost statement. We would interpret this to mean that extroverted players tend to idealize their characters, but only if they’re relatively young role-players. This correlation weakens as role-players get older and there actually is no general trend when all ages are taken into account. The next leftmost statement is even stranger. Introverted players are more likely to agree with it when they are young, but will tend to disagree with It when they get old, and yet the overall trend favors the former.

As we delve deeper and deeper into the data, we begin to feel how complex these interactions are. But then, no serious personality psychologist would claim that personality was simple and easily categorized and described.

 

References:

 

Abeyata, Suzanne; Forest, James (1991). Relationship of Role-Playing Games to Self-Reported Criminal Behavior. Psychological Reports, December 1991, 69, pp. 1187-1192.

Carroll, James; Carolin, Paul (1989). Relationship between Game Playing and Personality. Psychological Reports, June 1989, pp. 705-706.

DeRenard, Lisa; Maink Kline, Linda (1990). Alienation and the Game Dungeons & Dragons. Psychological Reports, 1990, 66, pp. 1219-1222.

Douse, Neil; McManus, Ian (1993). The Personality of Fantasy Game Players. British Journal of Psychology (1993), 84 (4), 505-509

Mulcahy, Jennifer. Role Playing Characters and the Self.

Simo’n, Armando (1987). Emotional stability Pertaining to the Game of Dungeons & Dragons. Psychology in the Schools, October 1987, p. 329-332.

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