Role Playing Characters and the Self
By Jennifer K. Mulcahy - homepage & e-mail

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The room is dim, the mood suspenseful. Seated around you at a table are several people clad in jeans and t-shirts with sheets of paper, pencils, and dice in front of them. Somehow, though, you no longer really see these people there - they have become the characters sketched out carefully on their sheets of paper, involved not in the world of the dining room at your friend George's house, but in a world of fantasy. Governing this world are rules unlike those of our own world, and the story is guided by the Game Master, sitting ominously behind a cardboard shield at the head of the table. You hear his voice, like a narrator in a movie or a choose-your-own-adventure book, describing your surroundings and circumstances. His voice paints a backdrop almost magically in your mind, and you are immersed in this fantasy world:

"It is nearing nightfall now, and the light of the moon is just beginning to illuminate the towering oaks of the forest in blue light. You hear the faint growling wail of a Manta beast in the distance, and you feel a chill overcome you. Your companions all seem to draw their cloaks a bit more tightly around themselves, and you find yourself doing the same.
Preoccupied with your feelings of discomfort, you are shocked to see a large centaur standing before you on the path. You wonder how he could have gotten there so silently and quickly - he seems to have materialized out of thin air! You step back a bit and take a deep, cold, piercing breath. Craning your neck upward, you face the beast. The centaur says nothing, but waits for you to react. Roll your percentage to act first."

You gather up you 2 ten-sided dice and roll them, counting the red die as the tens place and the white die as the ones place. You roll a 67, but Linda rolls a 89, and her character gets to go before yours. Linda decides to ask the centaur what his purpose of being in the forest is, because that is what she feels that her character, Luktu, would do in that situation. The centaur gets to react next due to the dice roll the Game Master made for the centaur behind his cardboard shield.

"The centaur's eyes narrow and he speaks in a bellowing baritone, 'If you wish to pass through my forest, you must solve a riddle. If you choose not to hear my riddle, you may turn around and go back the other way. I If you fail to answer my riddle, I will make it so your quest becomes plagued by three catastrophes. If you answer my riddle correctly, your quest will be assured and your path will be golden. Who now dares?'"
The Game Master stares at you with a crooked smile on his face, waiting for your reaction. Your dice roll has made you the person to act next. You consider what the intimidating beast has offered the group. Although in your real life you may decide that the offer is not worth the risk, your character is much more brave than you are. You stand up tall and confront the centaur, 'We accept your offer, and have faith that we can solve the riddle! Speak.'

People all over the world participate in role-playing games. The people who are interested in role-playing varies as much as their reasons for doing it do. People who role-play must choose and play characters which interact in a fantasy setting, often with different rules and laws than we are accustomed to in our own world. Different types of people choose characters based upon different criteria, and have varying reasons for roleplaying in general. The basis for comparison between these criteria may be based upon how similar and what similarities there are between a player and the character that he or she chooses to play. The reasons behind choosing such a character as well as comparing within and between the categories of extrovert, introvert, male and female can show us if there seems to be any correlation between extroversion and introversion, gender, and the characteristics of the roles played. What this paper addresses is how the characteristics of a person's real life self compare and contrast to those of a character he or she is likely to choose in a role-playing setting. This study finds that introverts, whose existence is tied primarily to the self inwardly and solitarily, use role playing to make improvements on their self and experiment with their self. Regardless of what changes are made, the player relates to his character and treats it as a version of the self. Extroverts, on the other hand, exist primarily through their relationships with others, and even tend to define the self in relation to these outer relationships. They, in role playing, create separate entities which are not versions of their real life self. Women of both introvert and extrovert natures seem to find that helping the self in some form through their role playing is an important aspect of the game. Although this phenomenon transcends in some ways the boundaries of introvert and extrovert, the differences between extrovert and introvert still seem to present themselves even in this instance. Through examining some of what my informants say about role playing, we can see how these hypotheses are demonstrated.

In order to obtain my data, I posted a request for participants on news groups around the Internet where role-players could see it and respond through email. Respondents were given consent forms and survey forms through email. The initial questionnaire contained twenty-two questions, including a long list of personality traits, such as outgoing, helpful, moody, nervous, outspoken, careless, and active, obtained by a Brandeis psychology professor, which I used to compare characteristics between a person's real life self and the character he or she chose to play. Questions ranged from whens, whys, and hows to yes/no answers and the quantitative approach of the comparative trait list. Some questions were aimed at getting subtle clues out of people as to how they really are without asking them directly, as a supplement to the more direct questions. The purpose of this was to try to get more input without solely relying on the informant's direct answers which may be colored by various forms of censorship (both purposeful and unconscious). For example, one question asked was "Describe your ideal weekend." This, along with "Do most of your friends also role-play?" gave me insight into both how important roleplaying was to the person as well as seeing how introverted or extroverted the person's behavior seemed. Direct questions were also asked to obtain the same information, and these questions were used more heavily than the indirect, which were used primarily as a safety net to make sure that answers seemed to have some consistency. Although all questions were considered to build a broad image of each informant, the questions that ended up being explicitly used in the end are as follows:
1) Why do you role play?
2) Why do you choose the type of character that you ?
3) Do you find yourself playing the same type of character when you role play? If not, do you find yourself having characters that share similar characteristics?
4)Do you empathize/identify with your character? and
5) Would you rather play a good, evil, neutral, or some shade in between character? The initial answers to each of these questions were followed up by why's, how's and additional requests for more detail and explanation.

After a process of sorting and coding my materials, I decided upon the categories I would use to divide and analyze my data: male, female, extrovert, introvert. I devised these categories based upon consistencies that seemed to be occurring in the answers I was getting from introverts and extroverts, as well as the more obvious division between genders. From this point, I went through each survey/interview again and chose four of the most long and detailed responses from each category and replied to their email in detail, asking questions about specific issues that came up in their individual responses and asking for clarity and examples of different things they said.
Out of the four second-round emails I sent out in each of the categories, I received two to three replies from each of those categories. In categories having three replies, I selected the two responses with the most description and thoroughness from each category in order to have an equal amount of respondents from each category.
My informants will be referred to under the guise of pseudonyms. Emily is a 25 year old introvert. Kerry is 27 and also a female introvert. Mortimer is a 33 year old introvert, and Donald is a 20 year old introvert. The female extroverts are Colleen, 30, and Melinda, 30. Male extroverts included Saul, 27, and Sam, aged 24. The age range makes it clear that classifying oneself as either an introvert or extrovert is not dependent on age. People who, when asked, categorize themselves as introverts seem to have different reasons for roleplaying than extroverts, and therefore choose characters based upon different criteria than do extroverts. The definitions people gave for introvert and extrovert were all pretty similar, and I will define them here before going on. I would define an introvert to exist primarily within themselves, while an extrovert exists more within the realm of the outside, with interactions with other people being a main focus in their life.
Colleen describes the differences as this: "An introvert is someone who prefers more to keep to themselves, and doesn't need to have other people around in order to be happy. An extrovert is someone who needs people, maybe even tends to define themselves by their relationship to other people. Introverts don't need those types of relationships in order to be fulfilled."
Mortimer follows along these same lines, yet puts it in a different way. He says,"My litmus test for introvert/extrovert is whether someone is 'charged up' by, say, a party or whether that level of interaction with people is draining." His description details the environment in which each type thrives, which I found to be an insightful view on it.

The introverts in my study all tended to share a lot of the same reasons and ideas behind role-playing and character creation. The idea of risk and role-playing being a safe environment in which to explore things that may be physically possible in real life, but that people feel they cannot or should not risk doing in their real lives showed up in many places in the interviews with each introvert. Mortimer described this idea of safety as this:

Emily talked about risk in a different way, dealing not really with physical risk but emotional risk:

This slant on 'risk-taking' leads us directly to other related ideas found in the interviews. Donald admitted that he uses role-playing as a way to do things that he is afraid to do in real life:

Kerry told of her 'safe' exploration of lesbian curiosities through roleplaying:

One thing that I found interesting about this case, though, was the way that by saying that it "really *isn't* either being unfaithful or homosexuality" she seemed to make excuses for herself to reinforce to herself that she really wasn't cheating on her husband or displaying true lesbian behavior, and these excuses accentuate her admitted guilty feelings about the supposedly imaginary behavior. She also admits to her curiosities and the emotions she explores to be real and something that might cause real infidelity if used differently. She says that getting truly into character "enables you to have the character say things that surprise even *you*" Her close relation between self and character shows through when she says that she doesn't cheat on her husband in role-playing 'that often', and says "It felt a little odd the first time, but I got over it." This statement reinforces her natural relation to her characters by feelin responsible for their behavior.

The issue of the character being an extension of the self, or an improved version of something that is still considered a self, came up repeatedly in the introvert interviews. Kerry plays romantic plotlines, which are role-playing storylines involving romantic behavior and themes, with her husband. She admits that it is definitely an extension of her real life marriage. Mortimer says that his ideal character type is:

Donald describes that his characters all tend to share certain traits that he has himself, while other characteristics he has in himself get placed in certain characters and not in others in order to concentrate on those traits:

This same informant went on to tell me that his characters often are versions of himself that have traits that he dislikes about himself omitted, at least partially. In this situation, Donald wishes to have his character as an improved self, rather than a totally separate and different entity. With his character, he can express things he feels it is unsafe, either physically or emotionally, to do in real life, and he also can modify parts of his own personality to fit a model he may wish he was in his real life. The character for an introvert, then, is a rebuilt or idealized self. The important thing to remember here is that it is still essentially him, and that it what I mean when I say "extension of self". Donald describes his real life traits of hypersensitivity to criticism and social awkwardness, the reasons he omits these traits in his characters, and perhaps even more interestingly how the omission of the traits begins to fail the more he begins to fully formulate and psychologically become his character:

Emily said that she refuses to play lazy characters. When asked for further information, she replied, "Because I'm lazy myself and I know it, and I don't like it!" This is just another example of an introvert carefully removing unwanted traits from a core-self that remains in their characters.

All the introverts interviewed said that they empathized and identified with their characters. This is shown above, as well as through another aspect of roleplaying - alignment. Alignment has to do with the moral nature of a character. Common alignments include Good, Neutral, and Evil, with Lawful, Chaotic and Neutral types of all of those. Lawful requires that the character obey according to the rules within the system of morality and obey the appropriate gods and rulers. Chaotic implies that one will stop at nothing to make sure that their brand of morality is upheld , even if laws are broken, while neutrally tended alignments involve the self's own morals in their own life and rarely impose their beliefs upon others. With each introvert I interviewed, I was told that they would not play alignments that their real-life morality didn't agree with. Mortimer said he only played "good" characters:

This shows a strong bond between self and character, because the man likes to think of himself as only being able to play what is 'right', which shows that how his character feels or behaves is a direct reflection on him as a person in real life.

The extroverts I interviewed seemed to have a different take on role-playing than did the introverts. Three said that they empathized with their characters sometimes, and one said they never do. Saul said that roleplaying involves acting, which he describes as "Acting means incorporating the personality of my character during the game. This would be like an actor taking the role of a personality different than his own." He goes on to say that he considers an interesting character to be:

It seems to me that this young man uses roleplaying to be things that he isn't, even though he does not want to be like them in real life. He does not drink in real life, and this is something he could easily do if he wanted to be like this in real life.

Additionally, Saul talks about his characters differently than introverts do. He treats his characters as parts in a play rather than as a self which he feels he relates to and is in some way. This contrasts with the introverts' playing characters who are largely improved-upon versions of themselves. With this freedom from playing characters similar to one's own real life self, an extrovert gets the opportunity to play a wide variety of different characters. Colleen says about her characters:

An important reason some of the extroverts mentioned for roleplaying was the opportunity to interact within a group. This makes a lot of sense when we consider the definitions given for the term 'extrovert'. Saul says that:

The issue of morality and alignment among the extroverts was a different story than among the introverts. The relationship between the self and the character is very distinct, and therefore the players feel more freedom in choosing morals different from their own. Colleen said the following with regards to alignment in gaming:

Sam has a preference towards playing good characters, but it is not for the reason of his own morality. He finds evil characters "too easy" to play while good characters are a challenge. He shows this example:

Although the contrast between introvert and extrovert has been demonstrated to be extreme at times, one motivation behind roleplaying that was found to transcend the barrier between these two categories. On the issue of self-help, a tendency to take the roleplaying experience and transform it into a useful tool in order to deal with real life experiences and problems, was found among the females of both introvert and extrovert groups. For the female introverts, characters were developed based upon aspects of their own lives or personalities that they needed to work on, or based upon situations which let them practice for events in real life. Kerry said the following about her reasons behind choosing her characters:

Although Kerry is experimenting with being more outgoing, she still relates to her character as her own self, improved. She wishes for her real life self to attain these qualities. She goes on to explore other instances where she has found self-help for her real life through role-playing:

Both extroverts used forms of self-help through gaming as well, but the way it was used was markedly different. Colleen said that she has learned how to control her emotions through role-playing, yet she is not using her character to change her actual personality in her real life. She is instead acting as another person would for the duration of the problem in order to get through it:

By "playing" these roles, she escapes the problem she faces in real life. These examples illustrate that while not contradicting what was found in the extrovert and introvert comparisons, gender has proved to be a perhaps even more vital factor in at least one aspect of role playing. Despite introvert or extrovert tendencies, being female brings with it a need to derive some sort of useful help from the role playing game and apply it to real life in some way.

The characters which are developed by introverts and extroverts are strongly tied to the motivations and practices of each of these types of people. Introverts, who exist primarily inside the realm of their own self and who define the self based upon inner experiences and values, use role playing in order to expand upon the self. Through role playing, they find that they can doctor up their real life self, adding and omitting aspects and traits as they see fit. No matter what is changed in the transition from real life self to character, the character is still viewed as a version of the self. The self is what remains as the focus point, no matter what situation or group it interacts with.

Extroverts exist mainly outside the self, and often define what they see as the self based upon relations to other people. Because the people surrounding a person's life is highly variable, the self is perhaps less rigidly defined in this way. Because the self is not the main focus in real life for extroverts, role playing is undertaken as a social event as well as a way to try on different masks within a group of people and demonstrate their talents for acting as a variety of separate people. These characters are not viewed as a version of the self, but as completely separate personalities which are stepped into like an actor steps into a costume and role in a play. Something interesting to note is that if an extrovert defines the self based upon outward influences, perhaps his character is built at least partially based upon the characters around him. Saul told us that he usually caters his character to the needs of the group, which upon closer examination appears to be very similar to how an extrovert creates and changes the self in a real life situation. What is important for an extrovert is the group with which he interacts, rather than the self. Different groups may produce different characters for whatever reason, and perhaps the real life self of an extrovert is just a character created within the boundaries of real life. Since an extrovert's characters all differ greatly and have no relation to each other, it makes sense that the character used in real life would not feel related to any of the characters created in a fantasy setting.

On the issue of gender, it was seen that women use role playing as a tool to help them in real life situations. A reason for this could be tied to differences in gender roles and ideas in western culture. Women are always told to improve upon themselves and to act in a refined and calm way in public. Introverts may be taking this tendency to constantly strive to be a more perfect woman and apply it to role playing, using the game as another avenue with which to achieve a higher standard within themselves. Extroverts, on the other hand, apply the notion of controlling their natural emotions in public to role playing, and create personas which can be later used in order to hide true emotions in a real life setting. While the need to attain certain qualities desired by society demonstrates itself in the female informants in both introvert and extrovert categories, it remains clear that the way that these goals are obtained is derived from what is means to be an introvert or an extrovert.

In order to further my research on this topic, I would need a much larger time frame in which to conduct my interviews and collect my data. I would also like to continue the use of email for questioning, because the static medium allows for questions to be thought about before answering them. In addition, I would add in-person interviews in order to expand on meanings and question things further when they are initially answered, as well as to add a human element to my interviewing. I would also like to sit in on some role playing sessions with my informants and observe their behavior first-hand.

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