Blog of Sara Jakša

The Role of Role-playing

In one of our master seminar sessions (where each of us presents what we are doing for master thesis) there was an interesting presentation. That presentation was about using role playing to increase creativity.

The topic was presented by a person who plays LARP, where he noticed that a lot of times people can use role playing to get over their fears or to change themselves. He gave an example of how people can get over their fear of public speaking, when they are in the character.

That got me thinking. While I had never LARP-ed, I did regularly attended the story games meetings in Vienna. Plus, I have that weird habits, that freaks people out, where I start thinking about the story and I play it out, and people then think there are multiple people there, because I change voices. But don't worry, I will try to concentrate on the first one in this post.

When I look over my experience of this, I notice some weird themes going on them. I think that there were always traits, that reflected myself. For example, unless the story explicitly demanded otherwise, I always had a badass characters, that were amoral, always depended on their own intelligence and did not usually go into cooperating, unless it was clear what was in it for them. I mean, in one story, we ended up cutting every man's dicks. In another one, I was playing that badass woman named Irene, who wanted to take on the criminal families of Victorian (I think, it was Victorian?) London by herself. In another one, I was given a character, but he still tired to manipulate everybody around him. In my defence, in the last example, I did give the grandma, who wanted to kill her sick husband, some sweets with heroin. On the other side, I did not tell her, she just helped me bake sweets with heroin. I think you get the feeling.

I do wonder, if this is my base personality coming up. Let me take example of non-cooperation and manipulation of people. When I test for the big five, I tend to test as very low agreeableness. People with low agreeableness tend to be more direct, more competitive instead of the cooperative, and not care about the people that much. The last one is probably the reason, why we on average score lower on tests of theory of mind and empathy.

But in the real world, I needed to get socialized. I can cooperate with people, in a lot of cases, because of the social structures, the cooperation is the -easiest way forward. But in the story games, there is usually a world, where at least some of these social structures are gone. In this case, I am going toward what is more natural for me, and this means... well I don't really have a word for this, but you have a description up above.

Makes me wonder about the role of social structures as well. Right now, I am reading the book by Philip Zimbardo titled The Lucifer Effect. I am at the start, and it starts with the description of the Stanford prison experiment. This is the one, when normal people were divided into prisoners and guards and they had to stop it prematurely, because of the extent of the abuse, that happened there. The thesis of the book is, as far as I can tell, that it is the situation that define the person.

Well, in science it has been excepted that both inner qualities (like genes and personal environment) and the situation make us who we are. Even if I have to admit, that my interest always tinted toward the former. But that makes me wonder in the different direction.

The role-playing (not just story games) can break down and create new social structures. Which would be a good way for better personal development. One is the obvious one, that my classmate was tackling. Being a different person can help us be more courageous and creative. But I would go in the other direction, it can also lead to better self-knowledge.

Just like it showed me, that deep down I am a manipulative person (I just don't let it surface as much). Or a more courageous one, that I would like to admit. I also think that maybe it can help other people discover, what they are like deep inside.