On Role Playing

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Understanding RPGs

What is Role Playing

Role playing is essentially taking on a role or assuming a role. That is, playing a part. You can play a role in a theatrical, motion picture, or television production. Very often we play roles in our lives such as that of a doctor, or nurse, or bus driver. And then there are the roles we assume while playing in a role playing guide, which presents us with a sort of artificial or imaginary life in contrast to the actually life we live in reality.

A role player is also known as an actor, in that he is acting as the role or part he has assumed. Actor is also the term for one who acts, that is; does something. A mechanic working on a car is acting just as much as the thespian on stage.

The History of Role Playing

Role Playing goes back a long way, maybe as long as 100,000 years which is when the oldest human race, the Khoi may have first appeared. Also known as Story Telling Man the Khoi may well have told stories and in the telling played the role of the people and animals in their tales. Much later in Classical Greece what we later came to know as theater first appeared. An enterprise where first an assemblage of actors presented a story before an audience, later to be joined by a soloist who would take on the role of the lead in the production. Later he would be joined by others in a supporting cast, this supporting cast taking on the roles of those subsidiary to the lead.

Yet later Greek theater in the west was replaced by processions where actors would appear on wagons and carts playing their roles. In other cultures such as the Hindic and Japanese local theater followed a different path, but at least in Japan what you ended up with was something a lot like European theater when you get right down to it.

In Europe the processions would later lead to stationary location where performances were held, such as in the Elizabethan theater of Shakespeare and others. And then the rather broad and blustering acting of Shakespeare’s time would give way to a more naturalistic style of performance. And then with the coming of motion pictures and television the acting would become even more naturalistic and intimate.

This would reach the intimacy and naturalism of the performances in the play of an RPG, for there is nothing more intimate that a group sitting around a table or in a living room.

But are We Role Playing?

You get right down to it, yes we are. Even when you are just playing yourself you’re really playing a version of yourself who really can’t exist in all reality. Bob exploring an imaginary location is really just an imaginary Bob, and the Bob playing the role is playing an imaginary version of himself. You get right down to it, you are engaged in immersion so you might as well just get used to it.


The role of story in an RPG.

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