Role Playing Games

Rosie Murray

A Role Play Game (RPG) is a game genre where the player assumes the role of a character throughout play. It is possible to assume more than one character and for RPGs to be in different, fantasy settings. According to , RPGs are one of the most popular game genres available.  points out that in 2018, 11.3% of games sold in the US were RPGs.

Figure 1: (Game Genres popularity in 2018)

What Makes An RPG?

What is an RPG? “…every game is a role-playing game if the player feels like they are roleplaying,” (Liberty, 2017).  The definition of an RPG is debated though it is officially defined.  RPGs first began as tabletop games, like Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft and the videogame RPG definition derives from the tabletop definition. Liberty discusses how parts of video game RPGs miss the tabletop RPG components; “Tabletop RPGs, being multi-player games undertaken in person are inherently social…Single player RPGs lack this, but can make up for that by adding an online community to their game,” (Liberty, 2017). Kao discusses “juiciness, colour, audio, feedback and seductive details,” (Kao, 2020), as their main components of an RPG, whilst Liberty leads with “a player controlling a character where the character has game statistics and/or relational attributes with other game objects, important fictional/narrative relationships with other story elements and the player makes decisions for the character, stepping into that role and making choices as if they were the character,” (Liberty, 2017). This further proves that the definition of an RPG is up in the air.


Figure 2: Screenshot from The Witcher 3, a traditional RPG

Who Plays RPGs?

Those that play RPGs have been found to fall into certain stereotypes and to hold similar characteristic traits.  Our personalities often lead to the games we choose to play. “Personality traits are likely to differ between groups interested in any particular hobby to some extent. For example, fantasy RPG players report to be less feminine, less androgynous, have lower empathy, describe themselves as scientific, and engage in leisure activities such as reading and playing on computers,” (Douse & McManus, 1993). Our morals often affect the outcome of a game, evident in games like Until Dawn, a game that is solely based on your previous actions in the game. Of all genres, ‘realism’ is the least popular. “Because they are so close to reality, these games tend to be less popular as entertainment,” (Sundberg, n.d.). Is this because we lean away from our own lives and look to live in a more dramatic or approachable world?

Social Skills

People often find a connection with others through RPGs. RPGs can be two player or played via co-op, where two players go through the story rather than one. This experience leads a player to gain perspective, escape social pressure, improve social skills and more. “These video games are designed in ways that promote sociability, communication and collaboration amongst players pursuing missions (quests) in the environment,” (Yu, 2009). The fact that RPGs can deliver a real-world scenario often means that social skills
are developed through these interactions. “Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is an immersive fantasy role-playing game (RPG) which allows players to fulfill real-world social needs through interaction”, (Adams, 2013). Beyond these interactions is the slang that comes with mostly an RPG game. Slang is just a subset of a language and to learn this, understand it and use it is proof that these players have social skills, even if not to society’s standards or expectations.
“The development of slang is a common trend in subcultures that help the members of the community connect with each other,” (Sundberg, n.d.). This creates a sense of community amongst those engrossed in whatever RPG world(s) they choose, encouraging a more social way of life. Regardless of the story in these games, the skills they give us are still relevant to this day. “MMORPGs require players to synthesize, analyze and evaluate information, apply critical thinking and solve problems thus, they may be considered as learning environments that support players in gaining, the so called, 21st century skills which can be potentially transferable in real life,” (cited in Dickey, 2007; Susaeta et al., 2010).

 Mental Health

RPGs have been found to be useful in socializing and personal development. It gives the players a safe space to experience new situations, change the outcome of an already lived experience and explore their reactions which leads to character building of their own. “…many have approached RPGs as therapeutic tools in other disciplines such as play therapy, social skills groups, and embodied cognition…” (Mendoza, 2020). Games often have an influence over how we act, and in return, games are often created with our own behaviors in mind. People often have particular traits that lead them to playing games before they play these games, it’s merely that games bring these traits out. One of these traits is aggression, which is really a stigma from older generations. Studies
have found that no game has influenced aggression in RPG players. It’s believed that this stigma comes from lack of understanding and knowledge of RPGs. “…they show that only a minority of practitioners believe that engagement in RPGs marks a sign of psycho-pathology, and that familiarity with the games in question leads to a reduced probability of that belief,” (Ben-Ezra, 2018).


Sexism is prevalent in the gaming world. There are often gender norms placed upon people through media and society, and this issue doesn’t stop when it comes to online roleplay games. “Arguably, societal issues, cultural norms and gender roles translate themselves into the social online gaming world,” (Malpas, 2009). Women often find themselves in hostile environments when they decide to go online to play their games. When on the mic, women receive 3 times as many negative comments as their male counterparts, regardless as to how they play. “The researchers found that the female voice received three times the amount of directed negative comments than the male voice,” (Brehm, 2013). Women often, however, turn to game to live out social experiences they are denied as women. A safe space is created between them and their controller. “Feminist science fiction has created a privileged space—a sort of dream laboratory— where feminisms may try out different wonderful and/or terrifying social projects,” (Cross, 2012).  It’s once they involve men that women start to see the negativity. It has been discussed that men offered – and more often than not, insisted – to help women when they played a game with them. “To see female gamers as in need of help and guidance is a strategy to keep control over the game; to view women as less competent is to make them harmless” (cited in Eklund, 2002, p. 333).  Although we can’t say that every man does it, we can understand why women may be apprehensive to enter the online world when it’s safer and easier to remain in the world of an RPG that contains NPCs and themselves.

Figure 3: Gaming gender percentages in 2020


Taking everything into account, we can now see that roleplay games contribute to our society as much as we influence them. Due to the fact that roleplay games always have a player assume a different identity, this commonly leads to growth of character for the player themselves. RPGs are also found to be effective when a person is developing or struggling with their social skills and other behavioral issues. While a player benefits from roleplaying games, companies and developers often look to what makes an RPG an RPG and how they can use this to their advantage. It is a mutualistic relationship built between companies and players.

Check your understanding



Adams, A. (2013). Needs Met Through Role-Playing Games: A Fantasy Theme Analysis of Dungeons & Dragons. Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research, [online] 12(1). Available at: [Accessed 12 Feb. 2021].

Brehm, A. (2013). Navigating the feminine in massively multiplayer online games: gender in World of Warcraft.  [online] p.903. Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2021]. Cross, K.A. (2012). The New Laboratory of Dreams: Role-playing Games as Resistance.

Women’s Studies Quarterly , [online] 40(3/4), pp.70–88. Available at: [Accessed 12 Feb. 2021]. (2019). Computers in Human Behavior . [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2021].

Hosch, W.L. (2019). role-playing video game | History & Examples. In: Encyclopædia Britannica.  [online] Available at:

Kao, D. (2020). The effects of juiciness in an action RPG. Entertainment Computing, 34, p.100359.

Liberty, S. (2017).What Are Role-Playing Games Even? How are they that? [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2021].

Mendoza, J. (2020). Gaming Intentionally: A Literature Review of the Viability of Role-Playing Games as Drama-Therapy-Informed Interventions.
Expressive Therapies Capstone Theses . [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2021].

Spinelli, L. (n.d.). Tabletop Role-Playing Games and Social Skills in Young Adults. [online] . Available at:

Sundberg, C. (n.d.). Vassar College Digital Window @ Vassar The origins and effects of role-playing games Recommended Citation. [online] . Available at:



Rosie Murray is a second year student at the Technological University Dublin, studying Creative Digital Media. Rosie is 22 years old. She was born in London but made the move in 2000 to Dublin. Rosie enjoys the skills she picked up throughout her college course, Graphic Design and Photography being her favourite. She has one rescue dog that she spoils regularly. She has a love for music which led her to teach herself both guitar and keyboard in her teen years.


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Game Design & Development 2021 Copyright © 2021 by Rosie Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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