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Role-Playing and Playing Roles: The Person, Player, and Persona in Fantasy Role-Playing

Dennis Waskul and Matt Lust
Symbolic Interaction
Vol. 27, No. 3 (Summer 2004), pp. 333-356
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction
DOI: 10.1525/si.2004.27.3.333
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Page Count: 24
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Role-Playing and Playing Roles: The Person, Player, and Persona in Fantasy Role-Playing
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In fantasy role-playing games, participants collectively create and play fantasy personas in an imaginary universe by using a vast system of rules that function as guidelines for make-believe action and interaction. Consequently, role-playing games obligate participants to occupy a liminal role located in the boundaries of persona, player, and person. This study, based on approximately ninety hours of participant observation and forty interviews with thirty role-players, explores how role-players actively negotiate these symbolic boundaries: how role-players carve out distinct spheres of meaning between themselves, their fantasy personas, and status as players of these games. It also illustrates how these distinctions fail. Boundaries erupt and role-players prove unable to compartmentalize themselves so discretely. Through the lens of these games, we can examine simplified and exaggerated dynamics and entertain the possibility that we are all players located at the liminal margins between the people we believe ourselves to be and the personas we perform in situated social encounters.

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