mardi 6 février 2018

Role-playing games : Basic bibliometry with PsycNET (draft)

Martinolli, Pascal. « Role-Playing Games : Basic Bibliometry with PsycNET (Draft) », Feb. 2018. (open access and reuse : CC BY)

Number of peer-reviewed publications
about TRPG in PsycNET
This draft paper is a basic bibliometric analysis of the topic of tabletop role-playing games with the PsycNET databases. It also extends the bibliometric analysis to several related topics: role playing, pretend play, psychodrama, etc.

Additional informations (csv data, references, source code...)

vendredi 2 février 2018


For a long time, analyzing stories and their functions was limited to humanities (literature, linguistics,...). Recently, social sciences (anthropology, psychology, evolutionary psychology,...) and sciences (neuroscience,...) invested more in the research of this topic.

Bibliometry 101

Searching Scopus, a multidisciplinary database representative of the publications in science in the world, we observe an increasing number of articles with storytell* in a selection of search fields: for example in Title and Keywords. Finally, we compare with two other terms: a common term like analysis and a top-fashion term like machine learning.

 Two recent articles

« Telling stories: more sex and better cooperation »

  • Anthropology survey of Agta hunter-gatherers tribes in Philippines:
    • Smith, Daniel, Philip Schlaepfer, Katie Major, Mark Dyble, Abigail E. Page, James Thompson, Nikhil Chaudhary et al. « Cooperation and the Evolution of Hunter-Gatherer Storytelling ». Nature Communications 8, no 1 (5 décembre 2017), no. 1853. doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02036-8. [open access]
  • The evidences lead to correlations allowing to claim : 
    • Good storytellers have more kids and receive more ressources ;
      • elder individuals are significantly more skilled storytellers ;
      • women are slightly better storytellers than men ;
    • Telling stories in group reinforce values of these stories, mainly cooperation, and social and sex equality.

« Reading stories: coded in our brain deeper than language »

  • A neuroscience study : Dehghani, Morteza, Reihane Boghrati, Kingson Man, Joe Hoover, Sarah I. Gimbel, Ashish Vaswani, Jason D. Zevin et al. « Decoding the Neural Representation of Story Meanings across Languages ». Human Brain Mapping 38, no 12 (1 décembre 2017), 6096‑6106. doi:10.1002/hbm.23814.
  • Human brain is universally structured in the same way to be able to understand stories whatever the language or the culture.
    • MRI scan of readers brains in 3 languages (english, chinese and farsi) : the researchers can determine which stories which brain in reading.
    • It takes place in the default mode network, known for « searching for narratives, retrieving autobiographical memories, and influencing the way we think relating to the past, present, and future, and our relationships with others.» s
    • Stories help us making sense of the world we live in.

jeudi 25 janvier 2018

Roleplaying in management training [video]

9 short videos (in french with english subtitles) on the benefits and the good practices of roleplaying in management training. They are presented by Guy Archambault, honorary professor at HEC Montréal.

3 requirements to succeed with this technique :
  • "Sounding true"
  • Varying the situations
  • Debriefing and commenting after the roleplay

jeudi 11 janvier 2018

De-roling: an inflated concept ? [micro-essay, part 2]

Philosopher mask,
maybe a replica from an Athens Museum*
This second part provides more details about the previous post.

Pseudo-bibliometric analysis with Google tools

  • A basic search in Google Scholar shows that almost all the documents retrieved are from the field of Psychotherapy or Theater.
  • The concept seems to be born around the mid-70s (1973 in GB; 1977 in GS) in the field of psychotherapy. No Google trends or ngrams are available.

Comprehensive bibliography on de-roling

Personal bias and previous knowledge

  • I have a strong bias against psychoanalysis and other kinds of "personal interpretation of case studies". I ask empirical experiments as a minimum scientific requirement for social psychology claims.
  • Based on my knowledge, humans are good at switching roles, assuming different conflicting roles and knowing effortlessly if the roles they are playing or they are watching is fiction or reality. (forthcoming posts on that).
  • I remember reading a genuine personal experience of a Vampire: the Masquerade french player [impossible to find it again online]. He was telling how, to his own amusement, after more than 24 hours of continuous play, being a vampire, he found himself waking up at his home and jumping out of his bed because he saw a strong ray of light on his sheet. (cf. an article about Edgework I reviewed).

Comments on Mazes and Monsters

  • The book and the tv-movie are telling the story of a tabletop role-playing game AND a live action role-playing game. Here, a pretty funny summary of the plot of the tv-movie.
  • Hobgoblin is another book based on obsession with fictional characters was released the same year.


  • De-roling (more rare: deroling
  • de-roling is a sub-topic of debriefing

Lost in TV-Tropes

 My hypothesis

  • Even if 
    • de-roling is proven to be a viable concept 
    • and it's describing an existing psychological phenonemom
  • I think, usually, a tabletop role-playing game 
    • is not a place in which we embody, embrace or assume completely a role 
    • but it's a setting where the players are constantly 
      • negociating the relations between their character, them as player and their own person ;
      • and exercising and enjoying their ability to switch layer-of-play.

Engagement and distance at the table

« When their are transcribing sequences of tabletop role playing games, scholars and designers are often cleaning the text to give it some fluency. In these texts, the roleplayers seems completely focus on the game (...) I think we are missing something specific to RPG when we ignore these moments: daily life talks, examples from other fictions or from the news, exchange of cookies, coffee breaks, expressions of exhaustion,...  This switching between engagement and distance can be seen at every tables and it deserves to be studied as "second level of interpretation" [second degré, in french] in the communication of the fiction. » [p.185. My translation from Olivier Caïra. 2007. “Au carrefour des niveaux de communication.” In Jeux de rôle: les forges de la fiction, 189–204. Société. Paris: CNRS.] [Read more on engagement et distance: Norbert Elias, Engagement et distanciation, Paris, Fayard, 1993.]

Reportedly (and not verified by me), a rule of the japanese RPG Ryuutama (2007) punishes the players for being sleepy, leaving the table or making jokes. The game start and the exitgame are ritually codified in the american RPG Polaris (2009). The rules in the first volume of the french RPG game Sens Hexalogie (2010) have an incentive to keep the communications of the players in-game with the design of Negative Immersion Points.

* and maybe a inspiration for the infamous «green devil face» of the Tomb of Horrors.

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