Journal of Roleplaying Studies and STEAM

Author ORCID Identifier

Elektra Diakolambrianou https://orcid.org/0009-0003-8864-2912

Sarah Lynne Bowman https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1277-8787


Many psychologists, therapists, and educators have emphasized the practice of play, especially with enacted roles, as a site for learning and therapeutic growth. This article weaves together a plethora of theories from psychology, Counseling, and role-playing game studies in an effort to understand the nature of enacted roles, their relationship to identity, and their transformative potential. Challenging the notion that identity is a fixed, stable monolith, the article synthesizes four overall approaches to theorizing the nature of identity drawn from various theories: identity as a social construct, narrative identity, identity as psychodynamic, and identities as parts of a whole. The authors posit that these ways of framing identity can help role-players, designers, and facilitators better understand the multifaceted nature of selfhood. This work holds implications for understanding the enactment of characters in role-playing games, especially with regard to the transformative potential of the role-playing experience.

Throughout the article, we also explore the psychology of play from the perspective of therapeutic practices and modalities that exist outside of the discourses of role-playing games as a hobby or field of academic study. We will emphasize how role-play, identity shifting, narrative, and embodied enactment are present in many existing therapeutic processes to various degrees. Examples include psychosynthesis, Gestalt therapy, drama therapy, narrative therapy, Internal Family Systems, and person-centred therapy. We will highlight clinical therapists who use role-playing games to augment more traditional practices.

Furthermore, while role-taking activities are central to many human experiences throughout time, the article will emphasize benefits the imagination space of role-playing games, particularly with regard to prolonged perspective taking, co-creative improvisation, the alibi of fiction, and increased agency and empowerment. The article will also address limitations to the form that might interrupt its transformative potential, such as cognitive dissonance, identity defense, and difficulties with integrating these experiences within one’s life narrative after they conclude.