vendredi 1 décembre 2017

De-roling: an inflated concept ? [micro-essay, part 1]


The popular culture served us the trope of the actor lost in character. It can be a drama immersion techniques, like the actor's methods de Hollywood. For example, Daniel D Lewis is famous for staying in character all time during the shooting of a movie. It can be a choice of the actor as a temporary personal strategy to escape from his social life. For example, Tom Baker is said to have stood in the character of Doctor Who he played a long time on TV. Finally, it can also be a deliberate choice to blur the lines and play with the opposition character-actor. For example, Jim Carrey played Andy Kaufman who played and blurred roles between his different characters.

Delsarte System of Expression,
Genevieve Stebbins, 1885.
On another note, several psychotherapy techniques are using role play to make experiment perspective taking, role taking (status and positions) and emotions. Yet, in the 70s, several psychodrama techniques started to insist on the importance of de-roling (or deroling) at the end of an intervention, before the debriefing. De-roling is supposed to allow the person to re-establish his own identity by putting a distance to the role (status, expectations, responsibilities,...), to get rid of emotions that doesn't belong to the person and thus avoid a mental state of confusion.

About tabletop RPG

One of the key-point of the moral panic of the 80s around tabletop role-playing games was that a player could be lost in the role of his character. The Rona Jaffe's novel Mazes and Monsters followed and popularized by a tv-movie of the same name, tell the meanderings of a mentally disturbed player.

In the practice of live action role play (larp), the institution of a de-roling phase is sometime claimed to help a satisfying and healthy endgame. It could limit the phenomenon of bleed when emotions of the character are transferring to the player.

Some interesting questions 

While studying the topic, I collected and sorted questions in 3 categories.
Psychology: Does a person playing a role need a de-roling phase? If not, what are the consequences? For what kind of persons in particular? On which aspects of a person: emotions, personality, values,...? On the short term or on the long term?

Social : Can we related that topic to the liminal reintegration at the end of a ritual? How to relate the question of the human ability to fluently switch roles and behaviors depending on the context? Can we measure the influence of people expectations on the person playing a role by the person himself?
Learning : Does de-roling give importance to the activity before (ritualization)? What is the impact of de-roling in a debriefing post role-playing-based learning activity? What is the difference of de-roling and debriefing?

Current research on the topic

There is a few academic studies specifically on de-roling. The existing documents are mainly thesis, non-evidence based books, technical manuals or handbooks and short essays.

The only 5 studies published in peer-reviewed journals (ie. the highest level in term of scientific authority) are theoretical studies:
The fact there is only theoretical studies doesn't help validate the legitimacy of this concept. Ideally, experimental studies should be done to compare and to measure the effects of de-roling. To the best of my knowledge and my recent investigations, today there is no experimental study on de-roling.
[note: I didn't search for studies on debriefing]

[next: details and sources of the current post]

mercredi 29 novembre 2017

Unproven Role Playing Therapy Efficiency for Sexual Harrassment and Assault [newspaper article]

Carey, Benedict. 2017. “Therapy for Sexual Misconduct? It’s Mostly Unproven.” The New York Times, November 27, 2017, sec. Health.  

« (...) The evidence is weak for empathy training in offenders, through techniques like role-playing and taking a potential victim’s point of view, said Michael Seto, director of forensic rehabilitation research at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.
“It’s hard to teach empathy,” he said. “Accepting responsibility is often done confrontationally instead of collaboratively.”
(...) But only if the harasser is willing, committed and genuinely humbled is therapy likely to be anything more than a ruse to buy some sympathy — and worse, perhaps an eventual return to the field. (...) »

* * *

Suggested readings

  • Students role-play adolescent interpersonal interactions: No change in empathy measures. Experimential. Master Thesis.
  • Sex offenders complete role-play paradigms: Improved recognition of consequences for victims. Experimential. Peer Reviewed Journal.
    • Webster, Stephen D., Louise E. Bowers, Ruth E. Mann, and William L. Marshall. 2005. “Developing Empathy in Sexual Offenders: The Value of Offence Re-Enactments.” Sexual Abuse 17 (1):63–77.

mercredi 22 novembre 2017

Why People Play Table-Top Role-Playing Games: A Grounded Theory of Becoming as Motivation [OA peer-reviewed article]

Coe, Darrin F. 2017. “Why People Play Table-Top Role-Playing Games: A Grounded Theory of Becoming as Motivation.” Qualitative Report 22 (11):2844–63.

This qualitative research is based on the interviews of (n=16) TRPG players. The author used the grounded theory, a known qualitative methodology used for conducting, coding and analysing interviews. This methodology is supposed to reduce experimenter bias and pre-experiment hypothesis in order to let the data speak by themselves.
The author found out that « participants of TRPGs are motivated to begin playing because they recognize either consciously or subconsciously the opportunity to engage in a process that will help facilitate them developing their identity or their state of existence to a more idealized state, or the process of becoming. »
The author didn't found external achievements as motivators (learning something, developing a skill,...).
Figure 3: Graphical Depiction of the Theory of Becoming as Motivation

lundi 13 novembre 2017

Computers Play Chess, Computers Play Go; Humans Play Dungeons & Dragons [prospective]

Simon Ellis shares his long term goal: making a computer AI able to play D&D. He talks about it very shortly in the magazine article (2017) and in the lightning talk.

At the end of his PhD thesis (2016), he gives more details about "Ariel", an AI agent able to play D&D:
« Such plot and character-driven games require players to have a large amount of specialised knowledge, to draw new inferences and regularly reevaluate existing ones; players must ideally have a 'sense of "self"' regarding the fictional character they are playing and how they would react in given circumstances, and also be able to function as a member of a party. I believe that developing an artificial character to role-play well represents a supreme challenge in the field of AI research; I further believe that, when created, it would by necessity be perhaps the closest to an artificial generally intelligent system ever developed (p.120) [follows a short list of different types of complex interrelated systems]»

mardi 17 octobre 2017

Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve emotional control in young children [RCT peer-reviewed article]

Goldstein, T. R., & Lerner, M. D. (2017). Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve emotional control in young children. Developmental Science.
Young 4 years old children (n=97) participated in the first randomized controlled trial (RCT) testing the relations between social development and role playing. The results show dramatic pretend play activities improve only emotional control (not affective empathy, neither theory of mind, neither prosocial behaviors).

The intervention lasted 8 weeks and were divided in 24 sessions of 30 minutes. Two control groups were tested alongside the pretend play group: a story time group and a block building group. These two groups help control narrative elements, character and emotion embodiment elements, collaborative activities and fine motor skills elements. The intervention was assessed one week after the last session, so there is no measure on a possible fading of the effect on mid- or long-terms.

Dramatic pretend play games (DPPG) are  « short, engaging activities, led by an adult, that involve an individual child or small group of children engaging in creating movement and sound based on a prompt about a character, situation, animal, emotion or idea. »They are based on Viola Spolin drama theater play's exercices.

« Emotional control is associated with academic competence, prosocial understanding and behavior, and behavioral control is associated with lifetime achievement. » « Children who experience more personal distress in response to others’ distress have been found to show less prosocial behavior. »
« Therefore, these results could have emerged because children in the DPPG group gained an ability to task switch, to distance themselves from emotionally charged situations, to see themselves as separated, and to control their reactions based on their distance from someone else’s distress, rather than affecting emotional control directly. »

The authors note that « The distinction between fantastical pretense and more “real-world” pretense, and how each type of pretense affects emotional control, is an important direction for future work. »

Links to go further:
My opinion: the study is very well written and the results are evidence-based. Furthermore, the popularized article explains the methodology in details which is very pedagogical.

vendredi 6 octobre 2017

Here Be Dragons: Using Dragons as Models for Phylogenetic Analysis [peer reviewed article]

Cruz, Ronald Allan L. “Here Be Dragons: Using Dragons as Models for Phylogenetic Analysis.” The American Biology Teacher 79, no. 7 (2017): 544–51. doi:10.1525/abt.2017.79.7.544.

The students are building character matrices (with Mesquite 3.04) and cladograms based on the characterics of the D&D 3.5 dragons. Then, they generate a phylogenetic tree based on their analysis (with PHYLIP 3.6). The character choices/states are based on breath weapon, number of limbs, wing shape, alar phalanges,... but not on color, alignment and religion.

Fictional dragons in teaching activities present some weakness :
  • difficulty to determine which characters are important ;
  • some characters are vague ;
but they also present strenghs :
  • fun ;
  • lack of established/accepted "best" estimate: practice problem solving and critical thinking ;
  • no pre-existing phylogenetic: no cheating.

Ronal Allan L. Cruz, the ressourceful professor who designed the activity, comments « this activity reinforces the usefulness of fictional organisms in understanding the biology of real ones. »

vendredi 29 septembre 2017

Build, Choose or Receive a Character to Roleplay ?

In Reacting to the Past roleplay learning games, each player receives an specific designed character. Then surprisingly, a lot of players sincerely try their best to defend the values and styles of their assigned role, whatever the role is (ex: a Muslim and a Jewish students playing "the other side" in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War reenactment).
It seems to be more powerful and transformative than if the role was choosen (it can be possible if the game master decides to do so). In ludic RPG, most of the time the character are build by the player, or choosen by the player among a set of pre-generated characters.

If the character is assigned [no evidence or sources to these claims]:
  • The player can endorse the role with less judgement from outside;
  • There is less responsability because no choice was made, so it's less stressful;
  • The distanciation is greater;
  • The effort of play is more challenging, it is less automatic or easy;
  • The player needs to ask more questions and to endorse the answers;
  • The player can experience cogitive dissonance with the character but, because its not him and he didn't choose it, its more easy to accept the dissonance than his own ;
  • The player experiments a new role he maybe never [dare to] think about;
  • Its more easy for the gamemaster to design and assign roles that are competing or conflicting because it is a source of meaningful game.

Let's go back in the past with a study from 1954:  Active participants, taking the role of a character with different opinions than theirs, and feeling a satisfying oral speaking performance, show more amount of opinion change than passive participants or not satisfied orators.
Janis, I. L., & King, B. T. (1954). The Influence of Role Playing on Opinion Change. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 49(2), 211–218.