Role Playing for Self Improvement


Many articles on this site and others, and the gaming groups I am a part of, only view gaming as a hobby or at most a dramatic art. I would like to present a new perspective because for me, gaming is a much different type of activity. For me gaming is an exercise for self improvement. What I am advocating is a meta-approach to your gaming that includes a self reflective process.

First, nothing in this article or its implied application is meant as a substitute for real therapy, nor is it to be considered authoritative, expert, or professional opinion. If you have a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist I advise you to consult with this professional before trying any of techniques in this document. I assume no responsibility for psychological difficulties, traumas, or pains that may come from employing these techniques. Continuing to read this article indicates you consider yourself able to determine (alone, or in concert with a mental health professional) which techniques will be safe for you and under what circumstances. The following is the theory of one gamer.

Many articles on this site and others, and the gaming groups I am a part of, only view gaming as a hobby or at most a dramatic art. I would like to present a new perspective because for me, gaming is a much different type of activity. For me gaming is an exercise for self improvement. Don't get scared off here, I'm not advocating any far out New Age hippy dippy stuff. What I am advocating is a meta-approach to your gaming that includes a self reflective process I find helps me improve my relationships with others, understand myself better, AND IMPROVES MY ROLEPLAYING.

It is my belief gaming can be used for personal growth in several different ways, but all of these different ways have one basic assumption in common; the game is a reflection of ourselves. From the type of game, be it fantasy or cyberpunk; from character, be he fighter or she magic user; to specific action, from negotiation to holding the trigger down, we create this game. We create it from what we know and can imagine, we create it from our fears and our desires. If you disagree with this basic premise then you are likely to disagree with what follows.

Given this assumption I think we can use the game for self improvement. We can do this in two ways. First, by observing the parts of the game we create and the relationships our creations have. By understanding my character reflects me because I created him, I can learn about myself by observing him. This observation itself can help produce growth because awareness is the first step in making change. Second, because the game is a reflection of ourselves, the game can be used as experimental ground. We can try on new personalities, new perspectives, new ways of being in the world. By trying them on we can discover which of the new ways we would like to use in the real world more. This way I might actually acquire in interpersonal skill I can use in real life. In the coming series of articles I will address how character formation, gaming group dynamics, world creation, NPC generation, GMing, and player/GM interactions can be mirrors for ourselves and can be tools for improving what we find there.

Character Formation

A character is a role, and like any theatrical production, exists independently of the actor.

In this article I will address how the character we choose both reflects a part of us and can be used as a tool for growth. There is an assumption in my gaming groups that the character has nothing to do with the player. While some common trends are acknowledged, our GM often emphasizes that the nature of gaming is dramatic. Choose a character, define his or her motives, write a history for her or him and once you have established a world and life for the character outside of yourself then you are ready to play. Bad roleplaying is defined as slipping into your 'real' self, and not maintaining the character as established. Good roleplaying is defined as never allowing your subjective experience of the character to interfere with the objective, history and/or description. In other words, the assumption in my gaming groups is once you have written the character, anyone else should be able to play that character because now the character is something outside of you. In this perspective, a character is a role, and like any theatrical production, the role exists independently of the actor(s). I do not want to detract from this perspective. I enjoy it. I play in groups that function with it. And it works just fine. There is nothing wrong with it. But, there is another perspective I would like to offer which I think would engender self improvement.

This new perspective acknowledges the characters we play are not just generated ex nihilo, but are generated from within us. Our wounds, strengths, psychology, and even our growth can be expressed through and experienced in our characters because our characters are a part of ourselves. If we base a character on a part of ourselves we don't like we could work on developing affection for that character and so learn self-acceptance. We can play a character with a lot of anger and grow more calm for having expressed it. We can play a character with traits we would like to cultivate and in doing so stretch our ability to manifest that change in our real lives.

Let me illustrate this point with a personal example. One of my current characters is a rogue (D&D 3E). He originally ran away from home when his father shamed him for stealing. He lived on the streets for a few years, and when he became successful he returned home to find his father dead. He mourned the loss of his father and foreswore stealing. He joined the current group of adventurers because he thought they might be able to help him gain prestige and respect. They consist of several priests and a paladin. My character however, feels he is not moral. He never feels like he is good enough and is constantly seeking guidance on moral matters from the paladin in our party. He is self denigrating and lacks a backbone.

It wasn't long in the process of playing before I realized this character reflects a part of me. Though I am an active member of my community, high functioning, and seem to have things pretty well together, there is a part of me who never feels good enough. This is reflected in the character in that he never feels he can make up for stealing against his Father's wishes. I also tend to play it cautious when entering a new group and try, to the best of my ability, to befriend the leaders in the group. My character reflects this tendency of mine by sucking up to the Paladin in the adventuring group. Over the course of the last year, I have been watching some of these dynamics changing both in myself and in my character. For example, I have been working with Fred Luskin's Forgive for Good (Harper Collins, 2003) book. This has helped me to become more accepting of myself for harm I have done to other people, and to accept I am human and therefore I make mistakes just like everyone else. My character, in parallel, encountered a messenger of a God who cursed him (not for transgression but for doubting the God's ability and for thanklessness). My character went through several arduous tasks to be absolved, and dedicated large sums of money and resources to learning his new faith. Finally, after a trial of his flesh, he was absolved of his curse and has since gained a great deal of confidence in his judgment and in his moral fiber.

Reflection upon how your character is a part of you can be a very effective tool for self growth.

By paying attention to my character and his development, it has been possible to see, and experiment with the changes in me over the same time. I think reflection upon how your character is a part of you, could be a very effective tool for self growth. Even difficulty staying in character is a valuable tool in this model. For example, if my character is offended, and if he wouldn't normally have trouble telling the offending PC or NPC off but I don't roleplay him doing that, I have several questions to ask myself. Am I uncomfortable expressing anger? Do I trust the player (of the PC) or my GM (of the NPC) to differentiate between my character's anger and my own? If I slip out of character in order to avoid character death or difficulty am I afraid of my own death? Do I avoid conflict in my own life? And therefore the richness of that experience?

If I find I am constantly playing characters who are paragons of virtue without flaw, is that my own aspiration? Am I putting it into practice in the rest of my life or only taking that risk in the game world? If I am constantly playing characters who are blood thirsty, what is the connection between that and my life? Most of us aren't blood thirsty but such a trend in me would represent that I am dissatisfied with my life and don't express it. It might mean something different for you.

This process could even be extended into the character creation process. When creating a character choose to play some part of you you don't express (if you are an introvert with a hidden wild side, play a hedonist), play a part of you that you want to live out more often (if you are too rigid or judgmental play a character, who is cordial and loose), play a part of you that you want to explore in a safe context (if you have a difficult relationship with a parent, play a character with a similar relationship and make it the character's goal to resolve the problem). All of these techniques will make you much more attached to your character and her/his development than trying to create something objectively separate from you. It also entails a certain amount of risk for you, especially if you reveal your motivations to other players. But I maintain the fruit of such a labor has been bountiful for me and I anticipate it might be for others as well.

Subsequent articles will also cover how to make a world to reflect or enhance your self improvement (for GMs), how to observe the interpersonal dynamics of your gaming group and PC adventuring party for personal growth opportunities, the role of the GM in the growth process, and analyzing specific game events for their significance to you.

Interesting. I've had similar thoughts myself, but I always am chastised by my fellow role-players for putting way too much pressure on a game. If one can use role-playing as self-reflection and still allow others to simply roll dice and kill ogres, I see no reason not to. In fact, if you have such a means of self-reflection and deny it, you do yourself a disservice.

Convincing others to try this, or indeed that you mean no offense by essentially psychoanalyzing their role-playing style poses an interesting challenge in its own right.

Great Jumping Jehovazats ! This is a good article !

I'm gonna have to think clearly about this, because there's so much in it:

(1) Thinkanalogous, welcome to introverts-anonymous !

(2) First you describe the way I play. My pc's are always my better self, acting and thinking the way I would like to be able to. I hate playing evil, petty or weak characters. Those are parts of my personality I want to master.

(2) I agree that this can improve your behaviour. I have several reasons for this which I will try to articulate:
(a) First commonsense, If you think about your behaviour, you can analyze the reasons behind it and try to change it.
(b) Second, all great heroic stories, parables, etc are designed to appeal to the heroic parts of our natures. They tell us that we are better than we think by holding out a higher level of behaviour. Do you recognize that feeling when you leave the cinema, and for 5 minutes you are larger than life ? Feelings like these have changed the course of history. Its what great prophets, religious and moral reformers, writers, storytellers try to inculcate in their audience.
(c) Third, the scientific argument of behaviour reinforcement. This is the idea that in many ways the human brain cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. If you do something in your head then your brain acceppts it in some measure as real experience, and it affects your behaviour thereafter. Many sportspeople use this technique to imagine success and winning to program their brains for success.

(3) The other style of play you describe (theatrical ) is useful also, because it also leads to understanding of character traits, even if they are less pleasant than those we would prefer to have. They are part of us also. Remember that Repression and mastery are not the same. Repression consists of denying a desire or character trait. Its still there and will pop up all the stronger because we deny its existence . Mastery consists of acknowledging it, understanding why we have it, and then controlling it to achieve a higher level of conciousness ( sorry about the new age stuff, but there's no better way to say it ).

(4) Other proven methods of character development are prayer and meditation. Coming from a religious background, I can assure you that prayer is a very powerful tool for self improvement. But I can't prove this, you have to expeience it to appreciate it.

(5) A bit of commonsense. Imagination is no substitute for the real thing.
" If you can dream and not make dreams your master"
" If you can think and not make thoughts your aim"
In other words The risks, costs and efforts that are expended in real-life effort, make real experiences much more rewarding than imaginary ones. You have to make practical improvements in your real behaviour, or its mostly wasted effort.

(6) Last thing. For all us introverts :
"The world is made for those who lack self-awareness"
Thats ok. We have more than one world to explore.

Well I can't really dissagree with you here, I've found that RPG are a positive activity that usually better those who enjoy it.

But I'd go with Mo when he says that it's no substitud efor real life, mostly because the levels of loss and gain in real life have much more impact on you.

Example: loss of a henchman and loss of a co-worker. A henchman or a co-worker that is considered a good friend of your caracter or your self will not produce the same level of grief and learning to cope with it. The real thing will leave deeper impression on your persona.

What I think is nice about RPG is that they are great exploration tools. One can try out things with no risk to one's self other than starting a new PC (a prospect much scarier in new life, even if you believe in reincarnation).

My two silver pieces.

::snatches Sam's silver off the floor::

I feel I should say that as a person with more than a few screws loose RPing has been extremely helpful in the manner presented in this article. As a hobby and an artisitc outlet they agive me something to occupy my time in a constructive manner and allow me to feel like I'm getting something postitivly acomplished.

Great article, good read, good points.

First, thank you for the positive feedback about this article.

Second, I definitely agree with Mo, RPG should never be a substitute for real life. My purpose was only to present a way that we can turn this hobby into something that enhances the rest of our lives. It is like a friend of mine once said in his Broccoli theory of leisure. “Broccoli is a side dish. It makes a great side dish, nutritious, tasty, colorful. But if you skip the main course and load your plate up with broccoli you have missed the point and you aren’t getting complete nutrition.” [Alon, wherever you are, thank you for the broccoli philosophy] My point is that RPGs are a good side dish, they can enhance the meal. But, somewhere you want a main dish with protein and carbs.

Third, in an original draft of this article I included a more overtly spiritual connection. Mo, I was pleasantly surprised to find someone else who saw this possibility. In the end I decided not to include spirituality in this article because I felt that it created more than one purpose to the article. I don’t think personal growth or spiritual growth are inherent in RPGs. For me these interests are the canvass upon which I paint the rest of my life, so it helped me to spell out how RPGs fit into the larger painting.

Fourth, in a coming article in this series I address the importance of either keeping these explorations personal or of explicitly incorporating them into the formation of an RPG group so that everyone is on the same page. There can be a lot of dissonance if you psychoanalyze others, especially without training, context, or permission.

Thank you all for your comments. I have enjoyed reading them and you have given me further ideas on this topic.

your point that self-analysis through any creative exertion(in this case rpgs because of the site)
Is perfectly believeable. I, as a writer, often ask myself why I wrote what I wrote and why I wrote it the way I did.
1. Prayer is a powerful tool. Even an athiest cannot ignore the fact of psychological supplementation of prayer to one's mind helps bring about peace. The devout, however(including myself), go to the fact that faith is what allows prayer to work. I personally believe that faith in anything allows you to visualize to the point where it becomes real. Some would say this is hallucination, but I prefer it to be considered preemptive knowledge. I believe there is a god of somekind because it seems fairly impossible for there not to be one. I ended choosing the God of Judeo-christian origin, and you follow Allah. (Did I spell that right?) You're also right abotu the fact that prayer can't be proven in a lab. I admit the above sounds a little mechanical, but I've been writing schlarship essays lately and it makes me a little over analytical.
2. I sometimes make better versions of me, but sometimes I create odder versions of me, insaner versions of me, or versions of people I know.
3. You're 5th point is also true. Psychoanalysis is merely a tool allowing us to work the real world better. Just like scientific rsearch.
You're right. It's a grand exploration tool. Or, in more nerdy terms, it's the experimental (underline "mental")
playground where you get to see "What if I... " subclauses played out, and hold no higher risk than looking like a fool in front of your friends(which I am in the habit of doing anyhow, so yeah, whatever).
Analytically yours,

I like saving princesses, solving mysteries, and defeating the bad guys through my game personna. I find it to be an enjoyable and indulgent leisure activity, a more social than videogames.

RPG's have served me psychologically by bringing me a little farther out of my shell with a group of friends when I was a shy kid. But I don't put a lot of stock in armchair psychoanalysis based on characters we play or design, and I'm not sure I really want to play with people who are at the table for that reason either.

Is it passe to play these days because it is fun?

Firstly, I wanted to thank thinkanalogous for an interesting article. It was enjoyable to read concepts that I've considered in the past expressed so succinctly.

I've often considered the characters and campaigns that I create as facets of my own personality and psychology being expressed by direct focus or exaggeration of one or more of my traits. If not facets of my own personality, I look at them as reflections of personality and psychological makeup, E.G. playing a mousy scholar type when I'm actually fairly social and not a shy person. Focus by contrast, you could say.

Nephandus said :

"... I don't put a lot of stock in armchair psychoanalysis based on characters we play or design, and I'm not sure I really want to play with people who are at the table for that reason either.

Is it passe to play these days because it is fun? "

Despite understanding that characters I create are likely a reflection or facet of my own personality, I agree with Nephandus and take the 'armchair psychology' with a grain of salt. I'm glad that thinkanalogous made the point, at the outset, that an RPG is no substitute for real psychological help.

I play the game for fun. It's a great way to relieve the stresses of the day-to-day routine of work and family that a lot of us have. Ever since I saw the AD&D Monster Manual 1 "way back when", I've loved the idea that I have the chance to control, interact with and defeat the monsters that I'd always loved as a kid.

Now I'm over 30. I still love the monsters, but I play because it's a great way to spend time with friends. As the mother-in-law of a gaming friend said to the friend's wife : "It's not drugs. It's not drink. It's not gambling. It's fun with friends. Be glad and let him have his fun".

I'll keep the psychology in mind, but the fun and relaxation is my main focus.

"Is it passe to play these days because it is fun?"

Apparently. While I understand the personal benefits of this approach, RPing is a social activity. It is rarely fun to play a game with someone who is using the activity as some kind of personal therapy. It's like watching those sad female stand-up comics who are using the whole gig as therapy for their low self-esteem issues. I caution people to avoid dragging their personal issues into a game without discussing it with the other players, and I urge anyone who finds this technique more than mildly helpful to abandon the use of it in RPGs and seek professional counselling. A qualified counsellor will be much better equipped to assist you with whatever issues your RPing is helping you discover than your own intuition and your gaming friends.


Theo, I also believe in the God of Judeo-christian origin who in arabic is called Allah. Actually Judeo-Christian is in my opinion an imprecise phrase because the Judaic and Christian concepts of god are signifcantly different even though they have a common origin. Also, the phrase excludes the Islamic connection to the same god. A better phrase would be "Abrahamic" because this emphasises the common origin of all three religions without placing undue emphasis on any one of them. I personally prefer language which is inclusive, except where you need to distinguish for reasons of clarity. This is especially necessary in todays political climate where different sides deliberately use language to exclude others, promote their own version of reality, and even to demonize the other side. Sometimes this is done crudely, some times it is done in a sophisticated fashion. This is not really the place for a discussion of political language, so I'll stop here.

No Nephandus, you imbecile ( said in a paternal indulgent fashion ). We all play primarily for fun and to socialise. I hope. But players who are into self-awareness also note that it can help you to understand yourself, and also perhaps affect your behaviour in real life.

Erik, I'm not sure about your group exploration. I think it would make a fun event very heavy going. I think its best to play games for fun, and if they help you to become more self-aware then thats good too.

So long as you play the way you play, for the reasons you like to play (this is response mostly to Nephandus and the reaulting thread) and can do so while letting everyone else in the group do the same, then you're the best role-player in the world.

This is bound to cause arguments in practice, though, as the fun-timers get upset when they think the self-realists are taking things too seriously, and the self-realists think the fun-timers aren't "into" it in the way they are. Is it possible to coexist? Most definitely, but it takes a little tolerance and a lot of communication, I'd wager.

I full-on agree that RPG's are a good way to explore certain aspects of yourself SOME extent...can be used to develop yourself.

I was something of an introvert in junior high and I'd like to think that gaming helped break the shell. I know friends who are less shy because of gaming -- you can practically chart the growth of their social life against the amount of time / investment they put into RPG's. Of course, there are other factors that played into that (wine, women, song).

I have four main archetypes that I explore through my PC's (or NPC's, if I'm the GM): the amoral & angry renegade, the lovable & child-like oaf, the wise-cracking rogue, and the virtuous do-gooder. I am none of those four...not fully...but each one of those compose X percent of me and when I role-play, I get to turn up the volume on those aspects of myself.

I favor gaming over other forms of entertainment for a variety of reasons.'s a game...something you can play, something that is more social and interactive than a video game. It's a form of entertainment. I also believe that it can be an artistic outlet. I also think it can be therapeutic. I think gaming has a lot more potential that what it is credited for.

And...hold on to your hats, folks...I have fun pushing the gaming envelope -- so do the people I play with.

I'm somewhat baffled by some of the resistance I've seen to folks putting a different spin on gaming.

Some people are satisfied with vanilla ice-cream. Some like chocolate. Some like rocky-road. Some like 64 ounce chocolate shakes with a shot of caramel, green sprinkles, M&M's, and a cherry on top. All Erik has done is tell us what flavor of ice-cream he likes -- I don't want to speak for him, but I don't see him saying that he NEVER eats vanilla...he's just trying to introduce a new flavor. the name of wrong with that?

Now...I'll be the first to admit that you can eat way too much ice-cream. Sure, playing for self-improvement can be taken too far...and it may not taste good to everyone...but, I'm glad there was somebody who cared enough to tell me about it.


Thanks for the appreciative comments. I was wondering if and how you would react given your recent (and excellent) article comparing RPGs and Jazz.

I understand that people don't want to fun taken out of RPGs. I hope they aren't. Right now I'm playing in three games. One is just a short adventure with some friends, one is a campaign but just for fun, and one is a longer multiyear campaign with depth that I explore characters in and use more of the personal growth techniques in. I don't want the fun taken out either.

I think that RPGs are maturing, and gaining acceptance in our culture. I recently read "Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering" by Robin D. Laws (Steve Jackson Games, 2002). He writes, "If roleplaying is going to grow creatively, game designers wil lhave to continue to continue to push the limits, just as painters, musicians, and authors have done ever since their respective fields were born" (page 2). My thought it that one of the goals of this site is to publish stuff that you won't find on other sites or published anywhere else. In other words to support creativity in the field of RPGs. I hadn't seen or heard of anyone writing about RPGs as a self improvement tool so I thought it might fit here.

In any case, I'm glad for all the feedback. As Rogue wrote, "Hang on to your hats folks." There are several more installments to this series!


Thanks for the kind remarks.

I mostly talk about my D&D games on these posts since D&D currently takes up about 80 to 90 percent of my game time. But, like you (and others, I'm sure), we play different things from time to time and we do so for different reasons.

We've got a Suicide Squad game that we do now-and-then, based off the comic by DC. Those games have always been one-shots and we wrap them up in a single night. Pure fun, no real depth, mostly action and silliness. We also have a Transformers game that falls under this umbrella.

Our Shadowrun games are a mixed bag. They're more campaign based and we try to throw in more intrigue and suspense than we do in other games...but, we do it with this "gosh the future is whacky" type mentality. I swear that Garth Ennis writes the scripts for some of our Shadowrun games.

And, then there's D&D, which is our long term game where we've spent years developing the characters and back-story. I don't think we follow the personal growth techniques to the extent that you're talking about...but, I think these are the games where we do the most "exploration"...for lack of better phrasing.

I agree that the envelope HAS to be pushed. Nothing stays stagnant...or, if it does, it dies. If nobody was out there trying to "improve" things, then we'd all still be playing the 1974 version of D&D...and there'd be no githyanki, no spelljamming, no dark sun, no 3rd edition, etc.

RPG's are organic...they grow and change as time passes. And, I agree with thinkanalogous...I think this is a great forum to discuss different spins on gaming. Keep spinning!

Rogue G and Thinkanalogous - I too support refining the craft of gaming and DMing, and sometimes unconventional approaches. My skepticism of this particular angle is based on my experiences with several people in several campaigns who were using the game to facilitate experiences for apparently different purposes than "fun". While in each case, those particular individuals did indeed find their activity engaging, it came at a cost to everyone else's experience.

Perhaps, after so many years of expanding the role of gaming, I’m at a point where I’ve seen diminished returns. At this point, my reflexive reaction is to pull back, and to focus back on the basics, doing a few things in a game really, really well, and pulling much of the rest of the stuff away from the live session and maybe dispensing with it, or putting it online.

Psychologists do indeed use RP as a tool for psychotherapy, though the technique is more carefully applied, and it demands an outside vantage point to be therapeutic, at least in the method described here. As I indicated, RP gave me an opportunity as a young kid to make decisions in front of a group, to be more outspoken, and to just be social. I’m not saying it’s any better than a game of soccer – for me, it filled much of the same role. I don’t dismiss it in that regard.

And sometimes I have seen players make characters, particularly in LARP – which are obvious proxies of repressed personality aspects. For instance – the number of grossly vampy sexy slutty female characters is hard to miss in Vampire LARP – especially when physically, they are often played by very plain or overweight women. There’s obviously some need being served on with their character choice, or I wouldn’t see it so often. But are they aware of it? And if they were, would they still enjoy playing those characters?

In a large game of LARP – with dozens of players, I think a focus on individual stories and defined portrayals of characters is what it’s all about – most plots and conflicts are generated by the players themselves. But smaller games, usually around the dinner table, I think tend to work better when participants focus a little less on the “me” and a little more on the action (and on crafting a good scenario, better action and intrigue, building atmosphere). These things aren’t mutually exclusive by any means – it’s a sliding scale.

That’s me though, and a few people here. Some people prefer different methods though, and that’s fine. My reservations about playing in such a group or with someone who is using the game as a tool for other means aren’t really much of a condemnation of their practice. It’s more of a realization, after a long time playing, of what I like and of what I don’t like.


I've hit some of those dry points where other folks have ruined a perfectly good game (for whatever reason). It sux. Many times, there's nothing you can do about it.

Maybe I'm just lucky in the fact that the guys I play with are all of like mind. For the most part, none of us have fun unless all of us are having fun. As a GM, I'm lucky in the sense that some of my players help other players showcase their PC's...none of my guys try to steal the show, for any reason. Maybe that's why our experiments seem to work...I don't know.

It's always healthy to hear the viewpoint from the other side of the fence -- don't think that I'm trying to silence any voices. I don't think there are any "rights" and "wrongs" here...just different flavors of ice cream.

I'm mostly here to help keep the spirit alive. I love RPG's and I'd hate to see them go the way of the dodo.

The market is kinda goofy right now. I like the fact that there seems to be so many different products to choose from -- even 10 years ago, it was still mostly TSR on the shelf...WW seemed to be treading water, West End was in dire straights, etc. Today, there's a lot of stuff on the shelf. The flip side of that is that I fear there's too much fluff on the shelf. Over-saturation often leads to death. Comic Books were nearly killed by the crap that was going on 10 years ago and, nowadays, it seems like RPG's might be in the same boat.

I think it'd be a shame to see RPG's go away. I live in a part of the world where RPG's are dying -- there are a mountain of kids who play card games (Magic and whatnot), but the RPG sections seem to keep growing smaller and smaller (despite the growing variety).

I was pretty jazzed to find a sight that keeps the torch burning. Maybe I'm too enthusiastic in my approach. I dunno. But, I'm running some of the best games I've ever run these days -- my articles are all based on things I've done to get to the point that I'm at. Given my opinions about gaming, it just seems logical to share the goods, so to speak. As I've always said, my way may not be suited for all parties -- after all, I seem to be one of only 3 people who thought Nth Man was a great comic book.


I've noticed similar things regarding women who play games. I've NEVER seen a hot, stacked blonde at the gaming table...and, I've very rarely seen a girl gamer play a "common" female. When was the last time you saw a woman play a female dwarf...full beard, warts n' all? It never happens.

Now...I've seen guys play all sorts of strange characters...they're not always Conan types. Maybe this means that guys are more comfortable with being weirdos...I dunno.

I always prefer smaller groups. 3-4 players seem to work best. I could elaborate...but, it sounds like it might make for better reading as it's own article.

Thank you Think for the insightful article. I have, for a long time, found RPGs to be a good way to explore/improve yourself. I usually don't bring this element consciously to the gaming table with me, but I'm always aware that at some level my characters are a reflection of me. I agree with all the preceding posts that RPGs should never be seen as a substitute for actual therapy but I think that there is also a rather large gulf between self-improvement and seeking professional help.

Most of us are learning all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. In nature, one of the primary means to learning the necessary skills for survival is play. It is a fertile area of study for behaviorists the world over. I think that if we can identify with some (or all) of our characters enough then they can stretch our awareness and perspective on the world. Our characters can place us in situations we might never otherwise find ourselves in. What does it mean to hold the lives of others in your hands? Or to be responsible for the death of a loved one? What is a hero (or heroine) and is it really desirable to be one? Is it possible to rise above your own character flaws?

A personal example of when I became aware of this aspect of role-playing is a character I played on-line (on a WoD MUSH). The nature of this medium is such that it is much easier to focus on your own character without burdening other players with it (I realize that the dynamics in a table-top group are very different). I played a character who lived in New Orleans and came from a poor and violent background. He was a big man and hardened by the streets at a young age but he eventually channelled all his anger and frustration into training in the martial arts. After being away from NO for several years he returns as a kung fu instructor opening his own school in his hometown. I always played him as a gentle giant and, while he had his own demons to fight, he was always calm and compassionate towards others. For the two years that I played him, he didn't get into a single fight (not that I avoided them per se) and was a testament to non-violent, positive action. It was a frustrating period for me in real life and I found that I had very little patience with people, a trait I disliked in myself. By playing this character and constantly choosing to deal with the people in his environment in a helpful, supportive manner, I found that I was actually learning from his responses. Having patience and being a good listener started to become much easier for me and I realized that it was possible for me to fuse elements of my character's personality, missing in me, with my own. This isn't a major accomplishment, but I did find it an interesting experience.

Thanks again for a thought-provoking article, Think...I hadn't realized that there are people out there who share my madness. ;-)

I am going to inject a bit of controvesy here....

Can D&D or other games actually be bad for your character? I know the objections raised by certain Fundamentalist christian people and groups seem silly to us players who know that roleplaying has nothing to do with literal devil worship, but I want to point out some more serious objections that have occurred to me from time to time. Let me list them for you:

(1) A few years ago there was a group of high school kids that were heavily into DOOM and ended up entering their highschool and murdering many students and teachers. They also left the place litterred with homemade pipebombs. The reason I mention the game DOOM, is that apparently they were heavily into it and created their own scenarios filled with scenes of sadomasichistic violence horror. It seems to me that there is a possible link.

(2) If you look at another thread on this site 'Moloch a Devil for all campaigns' you might detect an almost unhealthy obsession with Demons and Devils. Look at the poetry. Its almost celebratory. This is part of a trend that I've observed in other places.

(3) Similar to point (2) above. I have noticed an obsession with vampires and other monsters. Some RPGs are geared specifically to playing these kinds of monsters. Is there anything destructive or unhealthy about this trend?

Heh this could have been a thread by itself


I think ANYTHING can be unhealthy when taken to an extreme. D&D...or any RPG for that matter...can be destructive if not handled with care.

Since you wanted to get the ball rolling...

I don't think DOOM, Moloch, heavy metal, big bore hand guns, Jack Daniels, sex, politics, Barney, pulp fiction, or anything of the sort MAKES people do bad things. They may factor in to the equation...they may be part of the problem...but, I don't think they're ever the root cause.

Obsession of any kind is probably a bad thing. Did obsessing over DOOM turn kids into killers? I said...I don't think things like DOOM are ever the sole cause...those kids probably had other things going wrong in their lives and these things probably weren't being handled properly. I'm sure there are more people in the world who have played DOOM without actually killing anyone.

Having a soft spot for the bad guy, the rogue, the villain...well, that's a much bigger thread. It extends beyond D&D and RPG's. It's in virtually every form of media. People root for Darth Vader, the vampires in the Lost Boys, Doctor Doom, Zartan, Angle Eyes, Thoth Amon, Black Adam, Boba Fett, and Fran Drescher.

This could go on forever...but, I don't think there's anything wrong with flirting with your dark side. Hence, if you play a vampire in a game (which I'm guilty of), I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.

It's about the what extent are you willing to take things.

And...frankly...some people can handle different doses of stuff. 1 beer is bad for Human X...but not for Human Y. Some folks are more easily swayed than others.

Moderation, I think, is the key...and everybody needs different levels of moderation.

You know, I think you might be on to something Mo.

The Collumbine shooting was caused by German techno bands like KMFDM and Rammstein.

Black trenchcoats should be banned.

The X on my hand is a gang sign.

Sorry, I just had to go off for a bit there. I'm better now. Sort of.

"I'm gonna sing the Doom Song now. Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom, the end."
-Gir, Invader Zim


Anywhoo, I don't think that D&D or other roleplaying gmaes can be detrimental. Unless the person has a trouble seperating fantasy from reality. Which, sadly, does happen. All in all I don't think it is any more detrimental than movies or television. Actually, signifgantly less so than the latter.

I would think that if you're truly obsessed with a game like Doom, your problem isn't with Doom, it's with the fact that you're obsessed.

Rogue - I agree with you for the most part, but Barney the Dinosaur might be an exception. Listening to his damn song might indeed MAKE me violent. ;)

I don't think the problem is that they played too much doom. IMO the problem is that they wanted to kill people. Their obsession with DOOM was likely just a symptom, or manifestation of the deeper problem.

If you are a violent sociopath who played doom, the problem is not with the game. Incidentally, I am not trying to diagnose those kids (as I am unqualified to do so) I am just making a general observation. Assuming that all murdering dictators wear socks, does not mean that socks are the work of the devil.


I'm not sure how we got on this angle, but I'll go with it.

Role playing is used by psychologists as a therapy technique.

The APA did a study of RPG players in the 80's and found that they were unremarkable psychologically.

Not a single crime legal defence citing RPGs has ever worked - ever.

If people had difficulty with "blurring reality" in RPGs, then Hollywood method actors would be shooting people with guns all the time.

RPGs are common games, as is Doom and the rest. What teen boy DOESN'T have them on his box? You might just as well note that they "drank Coke." It's the questions that aren't asked - Did they have jars of spiders under their beds? Did they hurt their pet cat? - those are the things that interest me.

Do people "take things too far"? People can become concerned to an unhealthy extent with anything - even washing hands. Does it help to single out this?

I'm not convinced they were "obsessed with Doom" anyway. It's a characterization made by someone who wasn't necessarily party to their thought process - applied in the context of someone who's just murdered. I've been "obsessed by Doom" at times - to any casual observer as well. Had I killed someone, and only then, would this have taken on any kind of significance in the media.


I guess the general view is that RPGs are not particularly bad for your character. I tend to agree with this view myself.

But I'm not 100% sure, because I'm aware that there are cultural differences between the levels of violence that occur in different societies. There are all sorts of factors that contribute to this and violent games may be one. The problem is that the importance of such influences is poorly understood at present. Certainly, violent games are probably no worse for you than violent TV, or, say, a culture of carrying firearms.

I introduced it as a theme because it does no harm to examine the arguments of your critics, even when they appear silly on the face of it.

To some extent, I think violence in America is over-played by the media. I'm not saying we're a saintly nation...but, when other nations are making suicide-bomb attacks in their own streets...well, let's just say that violence isn't unique to America.

I kinda agree with Neph...other folks make characterizations without being privy to the subject's thought process.

If I killed somebody later today, a lot of people would point the finger at my mountain of RPG's on the bookshelf...the 22 boxes of comics that I own...the fact that I own a few wrestling DVD's...and the fact that I have a lot of heavy metal in the CD towers. It is, however, entirely possible that NONE of those things had anything to do with my planned murder.

Don't worry Mo...its been fun food for thought.

I agree Gith. Violence in America has been on a steady decline over the last 10 years or so. Not that the evening news would have you believe that with their major motion picture feel to each story. It's sad really. That's why I don't watch TV, I prefer to make my own opinions and think for myself. Of course that makes me unpopular in corporate America. I guess it's good thing I don't care what they think. RPGs, music, video games, etc. have nothing to do with violence. Crazy has to do with violence.

Sorry, I know it's off topic and I'm not really sure what my point was.

Yes, Mo, it was food for thought and an interesting point. It got us talking for a bit about things.

That usually good becuse nasty things can happen when we are forced to find our own things to talk about.


That was scary. But be warned the Offtopikers are gatering again.

:: emerges from the shadows ::

...and we're having t-shirts made.


That doesn't seem too off-topic...Mr. Bib

Violence is on a slow decline, but people are quicker than ever to find something or someone to BLAME for it. Whether its videogames or music or D&D, people will find a way to sidestep responsibility for their actions or the actions of others.

And when parents blame Doom and Marilyn Manson for their sons going on a full-auto-killing-spree at the local high school. Its because ultimately they didn't KNOW their own children very well, and perhaps if they had done a better job as parents, maybe their kids wouldn't have grown up to be such f*ing idiots.


The Good Cap'n

"Fantasy can be abused or misused, but of what thing in this fallen world is this not true?" -- J.R.R.Tolkien

I have seen RPGs have both good and bad effects on various friends over the years. The best was a couple who met over the gaming table and the interplay between their characters blossomed into a romance, which lead to a stable marraige and two wonderful children.

The worst was like the best, but instead of a stable marraige, she repudiated her professed Christian faith, declared herself a High Preastest of Bast, and divorced her husband, an Army chaplains' assistant -- who was devistated.

By the way, both the ladies in question, while not blondes, were brunnette bombshells. And the lady with the happy story played a female dwarf, complete with beard, who was the sister of my dwarf cleric. (Her husband played a human theif in that campaign -- full of angst at finding himself in the middle of the wild, since he was an urbanite.)

While I have gamed with ladies ranging from plain to gorgious over the years, they have actually tended more toward the latter than the former, although all of them were a minority compared to the guys.

Courtly Cleric sez: While I have gamed with ladies ranging from plain to gorgious over the years, they have actually tended more toward the latter than the former

Cleric...where do you live? I think I'm in store for a job transfer...


Have you read GamerChick's article on "Why Women Don't Game" ?? I think you might not want to delve into that particular subject...

::pokes head in::

Good looking game girls? Where?

All of my female friends game and I'd have to say from an objective standpoint they are all very good looking. That is if you like kinda dikey chicks who like other chicks more than most guys. Which I do. Man, the lesbians are gonna string me up.

What the hell was the topic anyway?

:: shrieks in terror ::


:: The Good Cap'n unsheathes his plastic sword and small spoon in preparation to defend his own life, and the life of his dim-witted comrade, who uttered the words - "dikey chicks" in vain, totally unaware of the impending doom that follows ::

I have the feeling that we are treading dangerously close to the "off-topic" line. I think I saw Morbus in the back doing some practice swings with the old cencorship stick.

While I may be torn limb from limb by raging lesbians I have the impression I would enjoy it more than being banned from this site.

I need therapy. I guess RPGs just havn't done it for me. Is that lose enough to being on topic? I'm not sure.

HEY! Don't blame me! You were the one who said dikey chicks...

:: slaps hand over mouth ::

muh moh

It was said before, creative outlets are essential for maintaining a healthy psyche. Ang gaming is definately a variant of said outlet.

I found, at university, that a few women are interested in RPGs, at least enough to play one or two sessions, but they quickly seem to lose interest. At the time I just put it down to being female, but I was younger then and not as smart as I thought I was. Now I know that the environment was just not conducive. They were put off by:

1) Aggressive male play. Teenage boys vying for dominance.
2) Crappy plots. Lack of character development.
3) No-one really explained roleplaying to them. It was all about rules and fighting.
4) Sexual tensions. Hard to seperate the game from boys trying to hit on girls.

What it needed was a mature DM capable of keeping us all interested and busy. I reckon I could do it now, but not at the time. Also some players are just incompatible. I remember a few young men who were so aggressive that it was hard for anyone to play with them.


What you do in THAT case is include an NPC in the party thats even more aggressive, and doesn't like the aformentioned 'aggressive young male player' HA-HA!

Have the NPC disagree with the player constantly, OOH and give the NPC abilities that exploit the player's weaknesses.

mmmmuah hah hah hah hah

Captain Assassin,

You know... that would never occur to me. But its the ideal way to deal with the *****s. I'm just too nice to think of these things. Mo, go write 100 lines:

I must practise being a b*****d !
I must practise being a b*****d !
I must practise being a b*****d !
I must practise being a b*****d !
I must practise being a b*****d !
I must practise being a b*****d !

Sorry, I don't speak asterik.
Am I close?

Actually, I think the secret words are...




meaning he wishes to hone his skills in transforming his physical form into musical lyrics...

:: sigh ::

By the time I finished typing just wasn't funny anymore.


I am not a prude, I'm just not sure what the monitorring software at my workplace will pick up. You know these security guys. Nothing to do except chase down minor offenders.

Role-playing is not seperate from the decision-making skills that allow one to function in the real world. Everyone brings in some aspect of their personality to a character, it's what creates genuine acting. Thinkanalogous has pointed out another way role-playing can be utililized, but I find that stressing characteristics of the player through the character is often dangerous to the life of a game. In everything that I've played in or STed, the death of a long-running game nearly always comes from interpersonal conflict, clashing of personalities in the real world, often translated to the game itself. The most difficult thing about pretending to be something else is to seperate the other players from their characters. In a game, it's ok to hate a character, but that so often means hating the player. Works the other way, too. A good piece of advice, and obvious: don't roleplay with people who dislike each other. No amount of pretending will resolve real-life issues.

The disher of air makes a good point,

There's an article somewhere in here that discusses that particular topic...

Tacking starboard, come about right...heading 240...

The Good Cap'n

Ah...I gotta stir the pot, I think.

Role playing is a Mars vs. Venus thing when it comes to the sexes.

Mo lists some reason why women aren't involved...and those are certainly valid reasons, but I still think there's some core difference in the chromos that makes RPG's more of a guy thing.

RPG's aren't alone in this regard. I can't think of that many girls that I've ever known that were into comics, or Star Wars, or Transformers, or G.I. Joe, or Iron Maiden, or John Woo, etc.

I tried for years to get girls I knew into RPG's. I failed miserably. We weren't power-gamers, our plots weren't THAT bad, and we weren't hitting on these girls (actually...some of them were hitting on us).

A big part of the reason I like RPG's is 'cause I used TO BE Han Solo when I was 5. I was also Starbuck, Spock, Murdock, and...loathe I am to admit it...Bo Duke. I liked to pretend.

Women like to pretend...but they seem to out-grow it earlier than guys do...and they have a tendancy to play "house" rather than some hookey adventure.

I'm generalizing, I know. I'm sure there are women out there who "get it." But...I still think this is a Mars / Venus thing.

::dons best Curly voice:: Hey Mo!

Yes, anyway, I was not in fact calling you a prude I was just inserting words that I thought might be funny.

And Ass, it probably wasn't funny when you STARTED typing it. Not to anyone else anyway.


Did you chaps notice ?

Rogue Githyaki has inadvertantly really really stirred the pot above. He has suggested that roleplaying games are much more a guy thing then a girl thing.

Now statistically this is undoubtedly true, but just think of GAMERCHICK's articles. She has spent a lot of time and effort putting the position for women being put off by bad play or DMing. In a sense, RG's suggestion is a direct challenge to her position. Not intended, but there it is.

I would be really interested in a debate on this issue. Are roleplaying Adventure games more suited to male players, and therefore what are the differences between males and females that cause this .

Mo digs a deep hole for himself.

Theres a thesis in here somewhere.

I know I'm going to regret this, but here goes.

I am pretty much a "look at the numbers" guy, and the numbers clearly indicate that RPGs are a guy-centric hobby.

RG thinks it's because guys and gals are different, guys stay childish longer (forever I think) and therefore keep wanting to play pretend. Also they never get tired of killing things and taking their stuff. Sort of like why the 3 stooges are more popular with guys than gals, because guys are way more childish, and are entertained by Curley getting hit with a hammer forever.

GC (and I'm dramatically oversimplifying here) suggests that mucjh of the problem is that RPG guys are jerks (Though GC is way to polite to call us that). Or at least they behave in such a way that it does not lend itself to attracting gals to the game. She also suggests that guys play a bit differently than gals, so the games that currently exist (run by guys) may not attract gals as much. See her articles for details.

I've also heard it suggested that Originally many RPGers were old wargamers, so the starting point for the hobby was mostly guys, and D&D (the big gun of the RPG world) catered to that wargamer crowd. And thye number of gals in RPGs has just never overcome that big all guy head start.

My guess is that it is probably a mix of all those reasons and more. But all of them are big generalizations that may or may not apply to potential guy and gal gamers as a group, but definitely do not explain individual decisions. Individual decisions are always based on individual circumstances. A particular player's experience with a particular game or gaming group.

I will say this for the guys in my group (myself included) we are all knucklheads who never grew up, like to kill things and take their stuff, used to play wargames, and would watch the stooges forever. But we have never (IMO) behaved badly toward any gals (not that there were too many) who played with us, by hitting on them or belittling their characters, or whatever. Nonetheless, 25 yrs later the group of 10 has 9 guys and 1 gal in it. Our group may be a little skewed though, since we started in High School, and I went to an all boy prep school, so the group was originally all guys as a result.

So it turns out I have not answered the question "why don't more girls game?" hopefully I've at least added to the discussion.


Oh yeah, one more thing. We seem to have managed a bit of topic drift here, don't you think?


Rogue said:
...and we weren't hitting on these girls (actually...some of them were hitting on us).

The Cap'n says:

Mo said:
Now statistically this is undoubtedly true, but just think of GAMERCHICK's articles. She has spent a lot of time and effort putting the position for women being put off by bad play or DMing. In a sense, RG's suggestion is a direct challenge to her position. Not intended, but there it is.

The Cap'n says:
Where is she? Has she posted anything recently? Does she not comment on any article but her own? That seems kinda self-centered, doesn't it? Not to mention that her articles (plural) are all about women's hardships blah blah blah. With the exception of the "I am a gamer" article, which was actually quite good (although it is very old). I think she should focus her writing skills on a new topic.

Goils sure are screwy...nyuk! nyuk!


Having stirred the pot I think I should stick my neck out too.

I know its slightly off subject but if you look above, we've been discussing women in rpgs since courtley clerics post of 16 april.

To illustrate my thoiughts, let me give you an example that everyone is familiar with. The world of films.

If you talk to people about what films they like, you find that, on average, the all action film is more attractive to men than to women, Whereas, the films that deal with relationships (romantic or otherwise) are more attractive to women. This is supported by market bresearch so that films are produced by formula to appeal to a particular audience. Channel 5 in UK specifically shows womens films for their afternoon audience. Now the films that are meant to appeal to both men and women have to contain elements that are attractive to both men and women. A strong element of action, but also strong relationships.

Similarly,RPGs started as an all male preserve, at a time when few women were interested in the wargames or science fiction fantasy genre. Naturally it developed along male tastes to be action based. Since then, more women have broken in to the hobby, so they are pushing to have a more relationship based game. Now if you want to be succesful DM, with a mixed group of players, then you need to have both elements, but if your group is all male, then I think you can be pretty much action based.

Anyone disagree ?

Women should just get back in the kitchen!

:: holds up aluminum trash can lid as a shield ::


^ That was just a 'hook-n-line' tactic to get people (women) to talk about this...

I agree with Mo...nyuk! nyuk! Its all about what our testosterone (or) estrogen fueled brains are interested in...

It's a CHEMICAL difference...for the most part...


Besides, if both sexes were interested in the same stuff, then things like 'guys night out' and 'girl talk' would NOT exist.

I have to maintain that gals like Gamer Chick are the exception...not the rule. I've browsed some of her articles and I agree that guys can bring down the system for gals that are interested in playing -- we can be jerks...I'll never deny that.

I think Mo is on to something regarding action vs. relationships -- sorry for summarizing.

I once had a half-elf character whose elven half was a "dark" elf (it was shadow-elf, but why get technical). The point to this guy was that he was always wrestling with his dark half and wasn't sure which way he was going to embrace...his more tolerant, human side...or his agressive, blood-thirsty side. He usually tended to lean to the darkside.

We had a party for high-school graduation and invited a lot of our gal-pals to play with us -- this was a colossally bad idea. One gal get hitting on my guy's character...thinking that all he needed was a girlfriend to shape him up. I didn't want to be mean to her...but, geez, I REALLY didn't want to go down that road with my character.

95%+ of the time that I've played with gals...they were just doing it because they didn't want to feel left out. Girlfreinds, wives, friends, n' such.

Don't get me wrong. I'm SURE there are women out there who "get it" and play because they want to play. I just think they're very few in number.

I'm not trying to be sexist...but, it just seems that RPG's are a guy thing. Maybe that'll change in time...and if so, cool...but, dating is hard enough in real life...I'd rather not have to deal with in my games.

Well said...

How much interest is sparked in a man when his girl invites him to her tupperware party...

:: cringes ::

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am so glad that my girl is a nerd too.

:: directing choir ::


It's always interesting, after playing a character, to see just how they resemble you. Then ask your friends how it resembles you, and compare the answers. FUN.

Or take quizzes for your character. Here's an interesting one:

Or go to and try theirs!

People who play role playing game are more advanced in thinking compare to those who are not (i just read this somewhere). I proved it to myself.
Final Fantasy is my favorite rpg.

I just feel that RPG makes life fun and an escape from daily grind stress.