Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Social Framework of the Role-Playing Process

This article, written by Markus Montola, looks at the process of role-playing that takes place in different games, and the inconsistencies between the definitions of role-playing. In this article, Montola defines the role-playing mindset as a method of game playing, which can be optionally combined with various game systems. Role-play typically has no inherent endogenous goals at all. The rules of role-playing only provide the structure for the activity, but give no end condition or an objective.

Montola states that role-play, a social activity, always has three elements present: an imaginary game world, a power structure, and personified player characters. According to the article, the power structure of role-playing activities about imaginary people acting out in an imaginary environment is what differentiates it from children's play. Montola proposes three general rules that should always be followed in any type of role-playing:

1) Role-playing is an interactive process of defining and re-defining the state, properties and contents of an imaginary game world.
2) The power to define the game world is allocated to participants of the game. The participants recognize the existence of this power hierarchy.
3) Player-participants define the game world through personified character constructs, conforming to the state, properties and contents of the game world.

This article examines several forms of role-playing, primarily taking examples from tabletop role-playing, live-action role-playing, and virtual role-playing.



  1. Nonsense :)

    The differentiation, if anything, from children's play is the fact that there exist /some/ formalized rules and a way of judging competing claims.

    You assert a "power hierarchy." That is an overly broad generalization. What kind of RPing are you talking about here?

    Three is not at all an absolute. Especially when applying scenarios to practical matters instead of just fun, I've noticed that my participants tend to assume multiple roles as befits the scenario.

    Also, lack of external objective is also overly broad. While there may be a lack of an explicit objective, there are a hierarchy of objectives codified by the rules themselves.

    Most games assert "Have Fun" as the primary objective, though if we're using scenarios in a professional context the hierarchy changes.

  2. Thanks for the comment! This is a summary of the article linked to it. It is not necessarily the position of the author of the summary.