Assume two scholars are studying RPGs and time. Scholar 1 is interested in the amount of time people spend playing a given RPG, while scholar 2 is interested in how they experience the passage of time when playing that RPG. They might ask players to keep a diary of when they play or track players through observations to create an objective measure.
Scholar 1 might theorize connections between number of hours played per week and other objective measures of those players, such as how well they do in school. Each approach is valid so long as it helps answer the research questions being asked.
This chapter on the sociology of RPGs will take this variety of perspectives into account. The next two sections look at interpretivist and constructionist approaches to RPGs, focus- ing first on important concepts such as interaction, identity, role, and frames to then broaden focus to culture as we discuss player relations, collaborative action, and rationality.
After that, we will review social stratification research that highlights noteworthy trends related to class, education, religion, gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity in RPGs from a realist perspective. This has to do with what many see as inherently attractive about RPGs — the interactive environments within which groups can collaboratively construct an imagined world and then act in it.
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Box And he studied how the meanings and behaviors of play related to behaviors, meanings, and social structures out- side, such as depictions of sexual violence and the male-dominated TRPG subculture he observed. These themes are as relevant to researchers today as they were then. Situations, Identities, and Roles If two friends are playing an RPG, and one steals a coveted item from the other in the game world, will this become a problem?
The answer lies in how the friends make sense of the situation and their identities and roles within it. In RPGs, typically the character enacted by a player or the game-functional role of that character, e. Identity The meanings attached to the roles an individual occupies, the groups they iden- tify with, and the ways in which they see themselves.
Self The thoughts, emotions, identities, and motives we attribute to ourselves as what constitutes us. Here, there are at least two situations: 1 A Friday night in a family dining room or local gaming store where players are collectively immersed in a fantasy world. There are also at least two identities operating, each corresponding to a situation: 1 Friend—the label one gives to a person, including themselves, that establishes their rela- tion s in the situation. Finally, there are at least two roles operating, each corresponding to an identity: 1 Friends are supposed to be trustworthy and supportive; they are expected not to steal from each other.
Thieves may go about stealing a variety of different ways and for a variety of reasons. If friend were the only identity at work in this example, it would be likely that the victim of the theft would no longer consider the other person a friend because theft breaches the role expectations of a friend.
Leisure Organizations and Resource Mobilization
But if the friends are role-playing as thieves who subscribe to a code in which they may steal from anyone, including other thieves, then the theft takes on new meaning. What is important for RPGs is how situations, identities, and roles are tied together. From a sociological point of view, the identity and role of a thief is just as important as the identity of a friend within gameplay situations.
Patrick Williams mentions a similar example of two players, a husband and wife, playing Munchkin with a larger set of friends. In Munchkin, players shift back and forth between helping and backstabbing each other in an attempt to win.
She became furious, going so far as to quit the game and leave the room. Some other players were surprised by this, and the husband himself expressed regret about his actions. The man had evidently defined the situation in terms of a Munchkin game and defined the woman as a rival player, while the woman was apparently operating under the assumption that her husband would never do something like that to his wife.
To be sure, stabbing another player in the back is very different than stabbing your spouse in the back. Had the woman ex- perienced another player doing this to her instead of her husband, there likely would have been much less drama because the identities of husband and wife would not have been overlapping and clashing with the identities of rival players. Situations, identities, and roles provide guides for how to relate to other players or charac- ters, how to make use of game-related knowledge, and how to manage feelings in and around play Williams, Kirschner, and Suhaimi-Broder Recognizing that there may be mul- tiple sets of identities active at the same time is an important part of how sociologists make sense of player actions Carter, Gibbs, and Arnold : Where the psychological notion of personality assumes that people have stable tendencies to behave in certain ways regardless of the situation they are in, the sociological notions of identity and roles assume that different situations will often expect and prompt the same person to enact different identities and roles.
Frames and Frame Analysis These examples not only illustrate identities and roles but also frames. Frames comprise shared norms, expectations, and understandings of what things, events, and roles to find in a given situation; how to behave in those situations and for what purposes; what to attend and disattend to; and how deeply to get involved in those situations Deterding As a form of culture, frames differ from group to group and change over time.
Framing is the often implicit and taken for granted process by which participants negotiate and maintain a shared understanding of what type of situation they are currently in. The idea that these frames overlap as laminations demonstrates the com- plexity of role-play. Following Gregory Bateson , Goffman saw animal play as the first evolutionary keying and viewed gaming as a basic frame that institutionalizes a playful keying of contests, decou- pling them from physical and social consequence.
However, establishing and maintaining a gaming frame requires often invisible framing work. Social refers to the organization of relations among games, designers, producers, players, and others, while cultural has to do with the organization of meanings, which both enables those relations and derives from them. Social Processes and Structures: Player Relations RPGs facilitate many different player configurations and types of social interaction. Yet players also develop their own relations and patterns of interaction within and sometimes despite the design Simon, Boudreau, and Silverman Most TRPGs, for example, are designed to suit a small group of players that regularly meets face- to-face over months or even years to play together.
Rules for character development and extended campaigns help ensure long-term commitment to the gaming group but also require such com- mitment to come into play. Yet such PUG interactions became predominantly instrumental. Players regularly completed scenarios with little interpersonal communication or respect for informal rules of play. The rela- tive anonymity of PUGs removed the physical co-presence and shared pasts or imagined futures found in e. One of the most attractive aspects of RPG play is its long-lasting gaming groups Rossi As MORPGs popularized fantasy role-playing, sociologists have for some time been studying their social groupings, such as clans and guilds.
Guilds differ by goals, size, cohe- sion, and membership Williams et al. Due in part to their relative stability, guilds can develop idiocultures: cultural elements, like shared knowledge, skills, and behaviors that inform group life. Some guilds recruit openly, while oth- ers may require extensive application processes and interviews. Some become revolving-door third places where informal sociality reigns, while others become regimented and work-like as members become mutually reliant on one another to accomplish difficult objectives.
Jase BUCKOVITCH — Shared Fantasy : Role-Playing Games as Social
Power may be seen both as a structure and as a process and can be found in many different sets of relationships. In MORPGs, terms of service, player codes of conduct, and computer algorithms all structure gameplay. Roles, such as dungeon masters and guild leaders, formalize which members of the community have power, but power is also often facilitated informally through status hierarchies and norms within gaming groups.
Younger or newer players, for example, may be sanctioned differ- ently than more advanced players for breaking rules. Process Power is a practice in which players engage as they interpret and apply or negotiate rules and norms, make decisions on how to divide resources or loot, and treat players in various ways based on their perceived values or statuses. Individuals are given authority or leadership roles, but power can also be revoked or modified. Over time, players can gain or lose status either in-game or out-of-game; in fact, the two may be connected.
Most recently, online and social media have afforded new types of transient and durable social- ity. Identity-based networks, such as Gamergate, have formed to preserve dominant i. Culture: Gaming Identity and Collaborative Action Culture can be understood as an abstract and yet coherent web of meanings see Geertz that people use to define themselves, their relations to each other, and the social actions that take place in and around games.
Social player relations and cultures of play are intertwined: Many of the organizations and social groupings just mentioned also provide a sense of purpose and identity to players — very much a cultural phenomenon. Prominent larp de- signer Eirik Fatland eloquently described the collaborative project of culture creation in all forms of RPGs: When we design larps, we play with the building blocks of culture… But asking people to act As If is not enough to make a larp.
As larpers we need to act As If together… this is what we do, as larp designers, which is to describe and communicate the minimum requirements needed to direct human creativity towards a shared purpose. This is not to say that designers alone create RPG culture. Gaming cultures are created through a multitude of interactions among designers, players, and others Fine On the one hand, players become enculturated into RPG culture by interacting with and within games and gaming communities Bainbridge , On the other, players acting together create gaming culture, which, in turn, influences their thoughts, emotions, and actions Fine These processes become most directly visible in the collaboration required to start and keep joint RPG play going Kirschner Likewise, players may need to learn new ways of negotiating social relations within and beyond a game.
Whether cul- ture is internalized through interaction with the game, mediated by game masters, or learned from collaborative action with fellow players, we typically take it for granted.
Since then, sociologists have traced disenchantment and rationalization in a wide variety of settings — including RPGs. Poe, J. Tolkien, and H. Lovecraft and manifest in contemporary RPG and science fiction and fantasy fandom. And Fine early on noted that ironic awareness of and play with the laminations of RPG play — fictional game world and real table — is part and parcel of its appeal. Different social groups re-enchant the world in different ways, which can lead to con- flict. Followers of Bahamut, the lawful good god of justice, protection, and nobility, would be appalled at the beliefs and behaviors of a follower of Lolth, chaotic evil goddess of shadow and lies.
They insist that players whose characters believe in pagan deities in-game must also believe in these deities outside of the game. To them, invoking a god in play is not different from invoking their god in their own everyday life, within a religious frame that guides their beliefs and actions in that moment Bainbridge ; Waltemathe The CRPG trilogy Mass Effect can be read as is a story of conflict over religious authority where players are compelled to wrestle with their own religious perspectives Irizarry and Irizarry Social Stratification Stratification refers to classifying people into categories or strata based on income, religion, education, age, gender, sex, race, or other characteristics Andersen and Collins ; Hurst, Gibbon, and Nurse However, stratification research deals with all categories: men and women, rich and poor, etc.
Here, we will review studies that have analyzed player populations in terms of adoption of RPGs, edu- cation, gender and sexuality, and race and ethnicity. Adoption and Education Demographic data on role-playing gamers is sparse, chiefly stemming from industry reports. One in five was female. Different forms of RPGs show different penetration and social status in different cultures. The Nordic countries, for instance, are known to be welcoming to larp.
Anecdotal evidence suggests, for exam- ple, that German TRPG is male-dominated by highly educated players, while Norwegian larp is female-dominated and embraces exploring alternative way of being such as alternate sexualities. Surveys in the late s reported that only between 0. Der Urwese by Hartung, J. Two Early Tudor Lives by Sylvester, Richard Standish, and essential advice about creativity, design, and experi-mentation encourage you to play with fiber, add funky embellishments, and use your creative spirit to customize any pattern even the ones in this book!
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