Gadgets & Gift Ideas

What Is Role-Playing?

In the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of a role-playing game (RPG) is "a game in which players take on the roles of imaginary characters, usually in a setting created by a referee, and thereby vicariously experience the imagined adventures of these characters".

Therefore, if we take this definition to be accurate, in order to find out what exactly are Role Playing Games, we must find out what is meant by the phrase “take on the roles of imaginary characters”. It also suggests that the character needs to have a personality, and therefore by definition, if the character does not have a personality it is not a Role Playing Game. An example I have read in another definition, is that of a video game, for example Nintendo’s Street Fighter, where it could be argued this is not an RPG, as the “character” is simply an agent of the gamer, and does not have personality.

    An interesting quote from - A. Rilstone - on this topic:

“What is essential in this definition is the freedom of choice allowed to a player's character, compared with the very limited range of choices available in most computer or boardgames. In any given situation, a character in a role-playing game should be able to take any action that that character would be able to take if that situation were to occur in real life.” A. Rilstone 1994.


The brief outline of games that may be considered RPG’s that appears below, includes Narrative RPG’s, Party Games, Storytelling games, Live-Action Role-playing games, and Computer Role-playing Games. This list is by no means exhaustive, and if you have any comments you would like adding to this page, please email me via the link in the footer of the page.

Party Games:

An example of this is the classic “Murder mystery game”. Mystery games can be best described as an interactive clue game. You and all your guests come to the party in costume and in character, soon to find out you are all suspects in a murder....

Narrative or Table-Top RPG's:

A Narrative or Table-Top RPG is a formalized verbal interaction between a referee and a player or players, resulting in the production of a narrative. This interaction means that the fictional character (controlled by the player) has complete or nearly complete freedom of choice within the fictional world (controlled by the referee). The whole idea around text based RPGs is the rule system. The books for these RPG's contain the rules, guidelines and stories of the world the game takes place in. After that’s established the players and the game master (the person that is in charge of keeping that story moving along) use their imaginations and build a fantasy game that's different every time they play. Dice are used in order to determine random events such as the accuracy of a blow and how much damage it does. By far the most well known table top RPG is Dungeons and Dragons.

Storytelling Games:

A story game is one in which players tell stories. Some games require paper and pencil, some others require props and yet others require only a few minutes of time. Some story games use traditional tales, others use personal experiences or original stories.

Live-Action Role-playing (LARPing):

A spin off of table top gaming is Live Action Role Playing or LARPing. This is a little more involved than table top and is more like acting in a play without a script. For the time that the game is in session the players are their characters. This involves a large area for game setting, usually a park or other closed in area so as not to disturb those that are not in the game. This is much more interesting than table top but does require additional rules so as not to make anyone uncomfortable. Criteria such as no touching or hitting must be observed and if for any reason it becomes necessary to do so there is a system to deal with combat situations. An example game in this category includes the live-action vampire game Mind's Eye Theatre.

Computer Role-playing Games:

As illustrated by the quote from A Rilstone at the top of this page, computer games usually do not involve role-playing. However, over recent years some Computer games have emerged that do involve interaction between human players. However even with these types of computer games, this seems to be a controversial topic as illustrated by this quote from - J. Harkavy:

“Computer Roleplaying Games can be a lot of fun, but when it comes to true, feel it in your blood, roleplaying, it tends to fall short. And, many gamers are very territorial or passionate about what they play. I have heard arguments about how CRPGs should not be called roleplaying because it just doesn't fit the bill. Don't get me wrong, I have been roleplaying for over 20 years and I do enjoy CRPGs. But the similarities just aren't enough. Typically a computer or a video RPG has you taking the perspective of the main hero. The interaction of multiple characters is lost in this focus. Instead, we have sidekicks, extensions of the main, the only differences sometimes being a different quirkiness or affectation, helping their leader achieve the required goals.” J. Harkavy

Other RPG Descriptions:

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