chapter  2
33 Pages

Definitions of “Role-Playing Games”

WithJosé P. Zagal, Sebastian Deterding

Role-playing games (RPGs) are the most contentious game phenomenon: the exception, the outlier, the not-quite-a-game game. In their foundational game studies text Rules of Play, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman acknowledge that their definition of a game considers RPGs a borderline case. When scholars, designers, and fans use the words "role-playing games", they typically do not speak about all phenomena called "role-playing games" but usually refer to one of several clusters of phenomena, which we call forms. The empirical phenomena referred to as "role-playing games" are very heterogeneous, spanning different socio-material assemblages: joint talk and paper inscriptions, joint embodiment, and single and networked computing devices. Role-playing games is a word used by multiple social groups to refer to multiple forms and styles of play activities and objects revolving around the rule-structured creation and enactment of characters in a fictional world. However, because "role-playing games" is a social category created by humans, it has no unchanging, context-independent essence.