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            Show someone a ten-side die, and you will either get an acknowledging smile or a confused frown. Along with MOO’s, Magic: The Gathering and EverQuest, Role-Playing Games seem to be almost unheard of outside certain circles. It is hard for role-players to explain what RPG’s are to non-gamers; and it is even harder for non-gamers to understand what the appeal of RPG’s is. It is hard to understand RPG’s without ever participating in them because RPG’s are not just a game; they are an experience. And the ten-sided die, among other things, has come to be symbolic of this collective experience.  


            My main interest in RPG’s is in its interface with our individual personalities. I am interested in finding out how our personalities influence how we shape our characters or what we are trying to get out of the game. Too often we project our own rationale for enjoying RPG’s onto others, and we are unaware that other reasons abound. Why do some players consistently choose the same character classes while others never choose the same one twice? Why do some players like to role-play reflections of themselves while others prefer to role-play opposites? Are women attracted to RPG’s for the same reasons that men are? My main concerns lie in isolating the personality traits that separate one kind of behavior or preference from another. For example, in seeing the differences between player-character resemblance, I am interested in finding out what personality factors are influencing those differences.  


            Past studies on RPG’s have mostly focused on identifying how gamers differ from non-gamers on certain personality scales. Most of these studies have yielded very few differences. It has been shown in at least two studies that role-players score higher in factor Q1 (Experimenting; liberal; freethinking) on the Cattell 16 personality scale than non-gamers (Simo’n, 1987; Carroll,  Carolin, 1989). No other deviations were found in any other factor when compared to an average sample. Another study where gamers were analyzed in terms of feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness and isolation found no significant deviation from a non-gaming sample, except in the area of “cultural estrangement”. Cultural estrangement in the study was defined as awareness and interest in popular entertainment, and gamers were found to score lower than non-gamers. On the other hand, they also found that non-gamers reported a higher sense of “meaninglessness” than gamers (DeRenard, Manik, 1990). Abeyta and Forest (1991) used a questionnaire on gamers and non-gamers measuring self-reported criminal behavior. Again, no differences were found except that non-gamers were found to score higher on “Psychoticism”, which however was not a reliably measured factor. Gamers and scholars familiar with why RPG’s gained a negative image in the media in the past 20 years will probably understand what the motivation behind these studies were. (A good historical account can be found here – The Attack on Role-Playing Games)  


              Douse and McDougal (1993) performed a study on a fantasy Play-by-Mail game where the gamers were compare to non-gamers and gamers were found to score higher in introversion, lower in emphatic concern, and were less feminine and androgynous on the BEM Sex-Role scale. But because the sample of gamers in the study were all chosen from such a peculiar subset, I do not feel the study is representative of RPG gamers in general. I also think that the sample is biased in several other ways because computer/email preference is confounded with role-playing. In particular, people who prefer to socialize over email are probably more introverted than an average sample regardless of whether they are role-players. Furthermore, Play-by-Mail RPG’s are very different from the traditional table-top face-to-face RPG’s.  


            The study that motivated mine was one done by Jennifer Mulcahy (Role Playing Characters and the Self). Although her paper seems to have been written for a Brandeis College Psychology class, never published professionally, and is not written in formal APA style, the data that Mulcahy found and the ideas she expressed were intriguing and refreshing. This was mainly because she was trying to understand differences within gamers rather than differences between gamers and non-gamers.  


           Mulcahy’s study consisted mainly of a two-part email survey, where her second survey followed up on the most detailed and elaborate responses from the first survey. She divided her respondents into male/female and introverted/extroverted factors. Altogether she chose 8 final respondents with 2 in each combination. Mulcahy did not use any statistical tool in her analysis and used quotes as her main support.  


          Before going on to what she found, here is how she defined Introversion and Extroversion in her study: “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.”  Here are the main differences she found:



- Use RPG space as a safe lab to try out things they would otherwise not do in real life, both physically and emotionally. They are expanding who they are.

- The character is an extension of the self, or an improvement of the self.

- Empathy with their characters, shown through alignment. Introverts would not play alignments that differ from their own


- Empathize less with their characters.

- See the character as different from their own personalities, which is what makes the characters exciting for them.

- Are more akin to actors and their characters their masks.

- Do not care if character alignment is different from their own moral outlook.

          Although based on a very small sample and no statistical tests could be used, Mulcahy’s ideas provided one set of correlations which could be tested out with a larger sample. Along with Introversion and Extroversion, I was interested in several other factors that might affect game play behavior and preferences. The main ones include: gender, age, self-image, other personality factors as well as the sense of personal growth and the character as self-idealization which carry over from Mulcahy’s study.

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