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2012 RPGR-A00008 - Why People Like to Participate in Role-playing gaming activities.

by Hawke Robinson published Oct 24, 2012 12:00 AM, last modified Nov 14, 2022 06:12 AM
By W. A. Hawkes-Robinson - October 24th, 2012

Why People Like to Participate

in Role-playing gaming activities.

By W. A. Hawkes-Robinson

October 24th, 2012

Why People Like to Participate in Role-playing gaming activities

by W.A. Hawkes-Robinson is licensed under a

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This is not exactly a standard paper (and definitely not following MLA, APA, or other standards), it really just a collection of quotes from Stuart M. Brown, Gary Gygax, Sarah Lynne Bowman, and others, simply strung together as a narrative answering in the words of others, the question posed. The quotes are cited (almost all of the content).

This was originally just a forum posting, then a webpage posting, and then additionally put into this PDF form in 2014 (September 22nd). This paper was triggered by a commonly asked question in a forum on the website. A forum member posted that they were a frequent board game player, but did not understand what it was that people enjoyed about role-playing games, and asked for someone to clarify.

I briefly rounded up a number of the quotes on the website, and using a combination of the quotes and sometimes a smattering of paraphrasing, I tried to put into words this complex subject fitting roughly onto just one page. I hope it sufficiently lays out the fundamentals of this interesting and intricate topic.

Just participating in play in general, significantly "shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul" (Brown) Typical advantages to improvisational play such as participating in role-playing games include:

  • Expanding interpersonal trust

  • Accessing playfulness

  • Experiencing spontaneity

  • Opening to creativity

  • Broadening sensory, emotive, and movement, expressiveness (even more so with LARP)

  • Co-creating new realities with others

Role-playing games (RPGs) are generally contests in which the players usually cooperate as a group to achieve common goals rather than compete to eliminate one another from play (Mastery). They bring players together in a mutual effort. RPGs tap both into the fundamental need for humans to enact narratives but also into important threads emerging from Western (or other) cultural identity (Bowman). When you master role-playing gaming, you become immersed in an activity that is peerless among leisure-time pursuits (Mastery). The practice of role-playing gaming provides a much needed outlet for shared, "performative" exploration and lends to the potential for enhanced communal cohesion (Bowman).

For some, the pleasure of role-playing gaming (RPGing) lies primarily in the development of story and character. For others, the strategic elements of problem solving, scenario building, and skill acquisition provide a challenge and subsequent sense of accomplishment upon success. (Bowman) Others primarily value "in character" (IC) and "out of character" (OOC) social interactions and feel that gaming is a relaxing way to cement friendships and feel connected to others. (Bowman) Some gamers enjoy the release role-playing affords them from the constraints of their primary social identity. Still others view role-playing gaming as a psychological tool to examine themselves and others within shifting contexts and situations (whether they realize they are doing so or not). (Bowman) Some focus on what they believe to be the three major functions that role-playing games serve: community building, problem-solving, and identity alteration. (Bowman)

The original concept fueling the inception of role-playing games (RPGs) was to encourage wargame players to add more depth to their special heroes and work together as a team rather than battle each other. (Bowman) Game Theory refers to this cooperative role-playing gaming as a nonzero-sum game, (Schick) participants are able to experience overcoming challenges and achieving success without it being at the cost of fellow players. RPGs can provide players with the opportunity to understand the motivations of others more clearly, expanding their comprehension of mundane reality and existing social dynamics. (Bowman)

As for computer-based and online games like Dragon Age, Skyrim, Everquest, Guild Wars, and World of Warcraft, etc. they tend to focus less on in-depth character development and more on the instant gratification of conquest and reward. MMORPGs tend to downplay (narrative) character development (focusing more on statistical development), even on game servers specifically created to encourage role-playing. (Bowman)

If computer and online games are the movies and television (in popularity) of the 21st century, then the in-person, paper-and-pencil tabletop role-playing gaming is the Broadway theater of gaming. (Ubergoober) The finest experience, but unfortunately a relatively small audience, and most do not realize they are missing out from the experience.


References Used

Play by Stuart Brown M.D.

The Functions of Role-playing Games by Dr. Sarah Lynne Bowman

Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax (co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons)

Interview of Gary Gygax on Ubergoober DVD.