Role playing broadens the horizon

Submitted on Tue, 08/07/2018 - 13:16
Role playing is no longer considered strange. The benefits of role playing are identified and used for educational and training purposes.

Text: Milla Pyyny
Photos: Jenni Toivonen

J. Tuomas Harviainen / photo: Jenni Toivonen
According to Professor J. Tuomas Harviainen, role playing is a universal phenomenon.

People who experiment with different kinds of roles and fantasy worlds through games learn how to be more in tune with changes in their environment. They also learn how to be more open to the points of view of other people and different sets of values.

This is what Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media J. Tuomas Harviainen at the University of Tampere has to say. He has been studying role playing for 16 years.

According to Harviainen, role playing improves social skills without a doubt, because interaction within the game and the gaming community is strong. In LARPing, or live action role playing, and board role playing games, you cannot choose a winner, because the players are pursuing a common goal.

Role playing seems like an excellent method for certain learning purposes. A role removes inhibitions and creates an alibi, in a way, which means you do not have to be ashamed of failure. Role playing makes it easier to learn languages, for example.

“In learning LARPs, the character acts as such a strong motivator that the students are able to surpass the boundaries they have set for themselves. Students may, for example, be encouraged to talk actively in a foreign language, even if they might otherwise feel they do not know the language well enough to speak it freely.”

Role playing is also utilised outside the field of role playing, as it is used in the corporate world, for example.

“It can be utilised in business training and negotiation exercises for the defence forces, for example.”

Play-acting
without a script

In role playing, participants jump into the skin of their imaginary character and get swept away by the story. Role playing has its roots in improvisation theatre, but it is also influenced by role play and strategy games.

When role playing first started gaining popular attention, the players were thought of as strange, but today, the stigma connected to role playing and role players has ended. It is just another hobby.

Harviainen wrote his dissertation on live action role playing. He himself is a live action role player. LARPing is all about players dressing up as their chosen character and immersing themselves in their role. The players create the story together with the other players, and there is no predetermined script.

What interests Harviainen about role playing is the unpredictability. He is fascinated by the opportunity to fully immerse oneself in another role and participate in adventures in alternative worlds.

“Role playing features elements that cannot be found anywhere else. It is interesting to me as a researcher, as well.”

In media, LARPing is considered to be the hallmark of any kind of role playing. However, there are actually many forms of role playing, and the most traditional of them are board and online role games. The popularization of role playing and the emergence of role playing in films and TV series have in part shattered the illusions around role playing and introduced different forms of role playing.

“Younger generations now have an idea of what role playing is, especially online.”

Clash of genders
in role playing

Competition is fierce and becomes emphasised in the million-player gaming communities typical of online role playing.

“Online gamers are clearly very competitive. This may lead to pronounced hostile behaviour.”

Genders clashing in the world of online gaming, role playing included, can have serious consequences. According to Harviainen, some gaming communities still exhibit toxic masculinity.

The presence of women and genderqueer people online is sometimes considered to be an invasion of the male world. Communities like this represent a very traditional, male form of masculinity. Exclusion also occurs in role playing.

“The behaviour may lead to bullying, harassment and even physical violence.”

Playing is often considered to be a male activity. In Finland, however, role players seem to be men and women in equal numbers. According to Harviainen, the majority of live action role players have been women for a long time now.

There are no significant differences between the gaming styles of women and men, but some trends can be identified.

“A general trend could be that female gamers are typically more interested in social gaming and male gamers are represented among competitive gamers.”

University of Tampere game laboratory
participated in Ropecon

The University of Tampere Game Research Lab, conducting ground-breaking work in game research, organised the academic Intersection in Games seminar at the Ropecon role playing event. Harviainen works in close cooperation with the game research lab and acted as the chair of the seminar this year.

Ropecon, organised in Helsinki, is the largest volunteer-run games event in the Nordic countries bringing together amateurs and professionals in the field every year.

Ropecon focuses especially on role playing. The name of the event is a big clue, as it is made up of the words role playing and convention. Ropecon was organised for the 25th time this year.