What Is Roleplay?

When one thinks of “role-playing games,“ Dungeon and Dragons is usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, concept of role-playing began even before kings pushed pieces of wood around a table to simulate battle plans. Historical reenactment has been practiced for over a millennia buy Han Chinese, Romans and medieval Europeans, who would often organize events where everyone would pretend to be from an earlier age. Modern examples of this historical hobby are the Society for Creative Anachronism, and various Historical Societies throughout the world.

The definition of role-play is literally to pretend to be someone else. Thus any form of acting is considered role-play. This concept was first introduced in 1932 by Dr. Jacob Levy Moreno. The main purpose and theory behind Moreno‘s work was that people learned more by acting out social problems than just talking about them. In the 1920’s in Vienna, he created an “experimental theatre” to help each person understand the different aspects of their own personality and those of their partners. It was a way to allow creative spontaneity and the expression of their emotional capacities without repercussion. Moreno invited participants to suggest and act out scenes in which they would, in turn, play different roles. Hence, the term “role play(s)” was coined.

It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that role-playing was seen as a form of relaxation and fun than psychotherapy in the mainstream community. Considered to be the father of modern day role-play, Gary Gygax of the University of Minesota’s war-gaming society developed a set of rules for late medieval milieu. It was finally published in 1971 under the name Chainmail. From this humble beginning, the concept of modern table top gaming was formed and blossomed into a world wide avenue of scenarios and genres for any to explore.

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