The Sociology of Role Playing Games

“Because of their complexity, these games are difficult to describe succinctly. They are a hybrid of war games, educational simulation games, and folie a deux” -Gary Fine

In the process of playing full immersion role games, the elements of fantasy and nonsense replace the realities of the world through shared experience of fantastical events in a fantastical environment. The fact that these are games introduces the fact that people are doing something unnecessary that has no real function or importance in the real world. Thus, the attribution of nonsense to the activity.

The shared fantasy aspect can lead to Mr. Fine’s “folie a deux”, which is a psychological disorder that is shared by two or more people, where the shared fantasy world, it’s environment, the society, the purpose of the characters, and the context in which they exist becomes all too real. The time and effort required to function well in the fantasy world replaces the time and effort required to function effectively in the real world. In that respect, people who are loners and who have trouble socializing with real humans can become powerful and savvy icons in the unreal world, eventually becoming unable to see the “nonsense” in what they spend so much time doing.

The educational stimulation comes when a massive amount of learning is required to understand the players, their abilities and the personal and social interactions that can go on with multi player games. The physical and mental skills required to resolve situations, negotiate disputes, manipulate things and to solve puzzles is great brain building activity.

The war gaming allows the expression of emotion and ideas that are completely unacceptable in the real world. Killing, combat, aggression and dominance that individuals do not have a chance of engaging in the real world. Excellence in an impossible endeavor that exists in a fantasy world, along with others who are engaging in the same fantasy and who are part of the same social systems.

As a result, such “nonsense” and “playing” becomes quite real to those who immerse themselves in the activity, actualizing parts of themselves that they cannot actualize in the real world. Role playing games are no longer corny and shallow medieval fantasies, but are richly developed and complex fake worlds and societies that involve many highly developed norms, values, sanctions and rules that allow socialization between individuals.

Role playing games even allow teaching and what-if analysis in the field of sociology itself.


Gary Fine, “Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games As Social Worlds”, 1983, University of Chicago Press

The Library Of Economics and Liberty “The Sociology of RPGs: A Case Study in Cultural Growth”, Aug 2007