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Role-playing Games


Disciplines > Game Design > Types of Game > Role-playing Games

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Role-playing games (RPGs) are those in which players take on the persona of distinct characters. The player may play a single character or switch between a set of characters, although this is often a smaller rather than larger set.

There are often other players in the game with whom the player interacts, either collaboratively or competitively. Like the player in question they play the part of independent characters, each with various abilities.

There may well be other independent non-player characters (NPCs). The overall game is often managed by a games-master who determines events and referees actions.

Characters are created with particular qualities, ranging from physical strength to magical abilities. These characters may last across many adventures, gaining further abilities and artefacts across their 'life'.


Military exercises are a form of role-play, where battle situations are simulated.

In computer role play games, you create a character with various abilities.


Role-playing games are an ancient form of play that has often been used as a way of preparing for real life. This is reflected in the way that many RPGs are based in fighting.

In recent times, war gaming was combined with J.R.R. Tolkein's 'Lord of the Rings' to create the RPG Dungeons and Dragons. This is a social game that is often played on a board with model figures. In the 1970s, it was used as a model for the first widely-played computer RPG, which was Will Crowther's 'Adventure'. Evolution from this led to complex computer-based role-play games where the internet allowed many players to interact in the same virtual game space.

People often enjoy role-playing games as a means of escape, getting away from a humdrum existence into a world of excitement and danger where we can exert powerful control, build our sense of identity and experience exciting arousal. Even though the danger is of course not real, our imaginations are powerful enough to allow us to feel the thrill of fear, almost as if we were really there. Role-play can also serve other purposes, such as self-development, social facilitation and even therapy.

See also

The Purpose of Games, Identity, Power

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