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Heuristic: Evaluating Selene’s costume


Iconic language:

What is it made of?
Solid black leather and PVC

What do you see in the artifact?
The suit is tight and covers from toe to neck. The only skin exposed is on the hands and the face. The corset is used over the catsuit, and is laced with long black laces that are visible and reminiscent of bondage. The solid black and corset on the outside is reminiscent of the Goth and Punk scenes, where the kink boots also made their more public appearance outside of the BDSM community. The boots are tall and heeled, but not spiked. The buckles are again reminiscent of bondage and kink, but also of warrior boots or motorcycle/biker culture.

Cultural language

What is its context?
Her choice of clothing hearkens to other female action heroes that have come before her. She is in conversation with these expectations.  See Emma Peel from The Avengers. Catwoman. Trinity from the Matrix (trench coat).

Corsets have a recent history of being used on the exterior of clothing or visible rather than covered to demonstrate armor (video games, Amazon women, Wonder Woman, Xena) and to demonstrate ownership of one’s body and sexuality (Madonna, Beyonce) putting it and the female erogenous zones on display but in a performed role that is for gazing but not touching.

Who is its audience?
Female fantasy played out of bodily strength and subjectivity, embodying the hero. Male heterosexuals who enjoy watching female body perform and derive pleasure from the sexualization and domination fetish.

Theoretical language

What does it mean?
This character is believable in the power given to her as a Death Dealer. She displays sexual potency while being fully covered. She displays physical power – athletic, strong, flexible, agile, all of which are visible on skin-tight suit.

The character is female. The corset and catsuit emphasize female body curves and keep Selene and other female action heroes from becoming too masculinized. Should the character appear too masculinized, she is not only threatening (which is a turn-off) but it also upends the heterosexual normativity on display. Were she to present as androgynous or too masculine, then heterosexual men would have their heteronormative gaze threatened with potential homoeroticism or confused identification.

How do we interpret it?
Argument is that women can be accepted as powerful heroes IF they retain heterosexual allure — men still want to watch and sleep with them. Men “allow” the power in the bedroom — being dominated or overpowered sexually is a turn-on. And it represents a power they are willing to give since it is both temporary, pleasurable and offers them something to gain. The traditional power structure is retained and unthreatened. Giving power to the female in the catsuit doesn’t threaten their dominating power of the business suit. Men remain in a position of controlling the female body as their fantasy is played out on screen.

Integrating Visual Argumentation

Visual arguments are indeed arguments, but they don’t work in the same ways that verbal/textual arguments work (in fact, I would argue that not all verbal arguments work the same way, either). Arguments do put forth premises, and they do have a grammar of how they are constructed, with major, minor premises, a hierarchy of evidence and support, a misuse of these elements to create fallacies, etc. More than words, I think, visual arguments have the viscerality that Gibson discusses, the kind of gut reactions that are then justified with logic afterwards.

I looked at Laurie’s, Jenny’s, Dan Cox’s, Megan’s, and Chvonne’s arguments. Megan and Donovan commented on mine. While my intention in the argument I thought I was conveying in the composed photo was closer to what Megan wrote, Donovan’s interpretation is not incorrect. I would say that it is more like Megan’s is my major premise and Donovan’s is my minor premise. My argument was one of girl power, and also one of familial love. The princess tropes are more “typical” femininity, while my daughter and I are dressed as female superheroes and “mutants.” We stood together in solidarity, back to back, united, deliberately in the same pose as Elsa and Anna to create the juxtaposition. Of course we are “real” and they are cardboard cutouts, but we are also not fully ourselves as we are cosplaying Storm and Black Widow.

I believe visual argumentation exists, and that the logic of design and placement and argumentation can be decoded and conveyed. Just like with text, however, there will be some who don’t “get it” and there will always be the variance of reader response. That variance exists whether with words or images, as arguments are layered and nuanced and audience members are diverse. Just because an argument is decoded that the designer did not intend does not negate the concept of presenting an argument. But just as an author must consider all the meanings of a word or phrase, as well as of the sentence, paragraph, and the whole, a designer must consider all the meanings and implications of design choices. As Stuart Hall notes, there will always be difference in the encoding/decoding as a result of individual and ideological particularities as a result of lived experience.

Bakhtinian notion of Carnival as applied to Larps

The Bakhtinian notion of carnival offers an interpretation of culture as a “two-world condition” (p. 6), one of the official life of institutions, hierarchies, classes and rituals, and a “second world and a second life outside officialdom” (p. 6) that all people inhabited at one time or another, often publicly. This world was based on laughter and folk humor, and becomes that basis for the study of popular culture. Bakhtin links it to the idea of spectacle, but is careful not to relegate it to a separate world of art. Rather he locates it on the border between art and life and states that “it is life itself, but shaped according to a certain pattern of play” (p. 7).  Carnival, says Bakhtin, “does not acknowledge any distinction between actors and spectators” noting that such an idea of a separation would destroy it. In a description that sounds quite like Huizinga’s description of the demarcated and ritualized magic circle of a game, Bakhtin refers to carnival as: “carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, tehre is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal spirit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part” (p. 7). Thus, carnival is something that participants embody, they become carnival incarnate, and together they enact and encompass it. In so doing, they recreate spectacle, themselves, and the world of officialdom that they reenter upon leaving carnival space. (Hmm …. this is beginning to sound like a larp).

Bahktin says clowns and fools (hmmm, and tricksters, too? what about kender?) represented the carnival spirit all the time, and as such represented a form of life that is “real and ideal at the same time.”

Also, carnival, says Bakhtin, is the “second life of the people, who for a time entered the utopian realm of community, freedom, equality and abundance” (p. 9) — a place to play and revel in what they do not have in the mundane world. It is separated from the mundane world of “practical conditions” by being part of the world of ideals, “the highest aims of human existence” (p. 9). Bakhtin states that this realm must be sanctioned as this other form  in order to be allowed and to be festive (e.g. fun). However, official feasts did not lead people out of the existing order into the second life, but instead reified it, “assert[ing] all that was stable, unchanging, perennial: the existing hierarchy, the existing religious, political, and moral values, norms, and prohibitions … the predominant truth that was put forward as eternal and indisputable” (p. 9). Carnival, on the other hand, is a temporary liberation from this “prevailing truth and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions” (p. 10). Bakhtin says that by design, carnival was hostile to all things that had been immortalized and completed. (this makes larp especially carnivalesque because there is no preconceived script or ending — it is made up and made new).

Carnival also was a social equalizer, Bakhtin says. One did not have to adopt the forms and rhetoric of his/her mundane world status and position. He says, “people were, so to speak, reborn for new, purely human relations. These truly human relations were not only the fruit of imagination  or abstract thought; they were experienced” (p. 10). Carnival thus was a fusion of “the utopian ideal” and the realistic, made incarnate and embodied. (Larps as breaking away from mundane responsibilities and identities and having their own social codes and at least the perception of greater autonomy and agency via rules that seem less complex, make more sense, and in which one has the power to argue/advocate for self in a direct, relational way with an embodied and present GM vs. a non-corporeal distant entity that controls or enforces.)

Bakhtin stresses that this second life becomes a “world inside out” of “ever changing, playful, undefined forms” that include “parodies and travesties, humiliations, profanations, comic crownings and uncrownings” (p. 11). He notes that this is not “bare negation” or a “negative and formal parody” that we may associate with such humor or behavior. He notes that the purpose of carnival was to revive and renew one’s participation in and acceptance of the official culture that is temporarily displaced by carnival. It is as if, through play and the temporary agency gained withing, that one is able to accept and then return to the mundane world. It is a temporary escape that allows one to subvert “burnout” or depression. Go obtain agency and fun and debauchery during carnival and then return to the official, mundane world with an adjusted attitude and ability to re-engage.

**return to this article for the notion grotesque realism, especially as applied to the horror larps and The Rejects — Theatre of Cruelty.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1984). Rabelais and His World. Indiana University Press.





Bakhtin, M. M. (1984). Rabelais and His World. Indiana University Press.

A Circular Wall? — Steven Conway’s notion of reformulating the fourth wall for video games

I read Steven Conway’s GamaSutra article “A Circular Wall? Reformulating the Fourth Wall for Video Games” with interest, since I have been doing work on live action role-playing games, where the concept of bleed is used to describe what theatre and game studies critics and scholars often refer to as breaking the fourth wall between the diegetic and the non-diegetic worlds.

Conway’s premise is that video games do not so much break the fourth wall, as they do expand or contract the magic circle of the game. What might seem to be a breakage, whereby the player becomes aware that s/he is playing a game is actually a technique that enhances the immersion of the player. Conway cites this quote by James Newman (2002) from “In Search of the Video Game Player: The Lives of Mario“:

Importantly, the … relationship between player and the system/gameworld is not one of clear subject and object. Rather, the interface is a continuous interactive feedback loop, where the player must be seen as both implied and implicated in the construction and composition of the experience.”

I find this quote interesting in terms of larps because of two factors:

  1. Markus Montola’s oft-cited larp theory of subjective diegeses vs. objective diegesis. Montola proposes that an individual player has an individual, subjective experience of the game that cannot be aggregated, and that there are as many games as their are players. He also dismisses a notion of an objectivity (a collaborative diegesis or “the game”). Moving beyond the binary of subject and object to a model of a continuous interactive feedback loop liberates and complicates Montola’s notion.
  2. Also, since larps are enacted through open-ended player speech and actions (as opposed to finite encoded options written into the game), the idea of continuous feedback loop is interesting to discuss the recursive nature of a larp (if I speak it, it is true and you are provoked to respond) as well as the collaborative nature of it (larps are built through multiple players who simultaneously interact and also create/compose the world as well as the experience of that iteration of play.

Interesting to my work on how triggers function in larps, Conway proposes that when the player is cast out of the magic circle — when the dynamic magic circle contracts to exclude the player, to use Conway’s model — this is not a “slap in the face” as Ernest Adams states in Designer’s Notebook (Gamasutra). Rather this is a moment of fun because of the surprise. Games operate under the notion that the player is in control, that the player possesses agency and power. The player is the one “doing” or “enacting” or “making” the game happen or respond. When the game — which we assume to have no personality, consciousness, or adaptable agenda — behaves in a way that inverts this supposed hierarchy of control, taking power away from the player then there can be a thrill in the thwarting of expectations. In a larp, breaking the fantasy of immersion such that the player becomes consciously aware of him/herself and has to contemplate — extra-diegetically — how they feel and what to do next is one such time when control is wrested away. A trigger, as I’ve said elsewhere, breaks immersion by making the player conscious of actions and experiences that occurred extra-diegetically and aware of one’s status as a player. Conway notes that rather than being entirely negative, this movement when the game contracts and leaves the player exposed can be delightful and fun, as it is unpredictable. In the taking away of the agency to contract the circle, the player reasserts agency to expand the magic circle and respond diegetically. Furthermore, Conway believes that such a ‘break’ or contraction actually increases immersion because the player further invests in the game via increased engagement.

Conway, S. (2010.). A Circular Wall? Reformulating the Fourth Wall for Video Games. Gamasutra: The art & business of making games. Retrieved July 8, 2014, from

Bakhtin and the World of the Utterance

The nascent field of larp theory, dominated by the Scandinavians since 2003 or earlier, has struggled with defining what a larp “is.” By this, I mean not just what it constitutes in terms of components and logistics (although there has been debate about that, too, most notably regarding whether freeform is a larp), but how to determine what a particular run or instantiation of a larp means or says. It is generally agreed that each run of a larp is unique; this is as a result of having different players in the various roles, as well as different rhetorical and physical circumstances. To tell a story by larp is to never tell the same story twice. But how do we know what one of these particular larp stories, unique manifestations of a written larp is, says, or means? One of the prevailing larp theorists, and the one most often cited related to how a larp making its meaning through its participants’ storytelling, Markus Montola, claims in his 2003 article “Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses” and again in his 2012 dissertation, On the Edge of the Magic Circle: Understanding Pervasive Games and Role-Playing, that what “happens” or “means” in a larp can never be fully known because the game takes place in the minds of individual players who interact with each other, but never fully express their experience of the game. In the debrief following a game, when individual players narrate what their game experience was, and  these personal or subjective diegeses are collected and shared with the other players, a semblance of the larp as a unit is conveyed. However, Montola argues, this still does not approximate what the larp “is” or means, since a collection of individual stories, imperfectly and partially narrated, does not constitute the larp itself. The experience of the larp is deeply personal, he argues, and exists only in the mind of each individual player, never fully shareable or expressible, and never brought to any true collective vision or cohesion. As many diegeses exist as their are players, Montola states, with no über-diegesis or diegesis that “is” the larp. It’s a post-modern view of fragmented narrative that is akin to Biesecker’s adaption of Derrida’s différance; only in the opposition of the various views of the narrative (or the rhetorical situation) does the situation exist or unfold. Like Biesecker, Montola would reject any notion of a unity or underlying diegesis or a “truth” or “singularity” that drives the rhetorical situation of the game or that “is” the game, something Bitzer might allow for in his notion that there exists such a unity to solve or uncover.

I think Montola is right that each player has a personal experience of the game. But I think he is wrong that these subjective diegeses never congeal into THE game. I disagree with the idea that it is impossible to have a singular diegesis or cohesive description of a larp (by larp I mean a particular instantiation or run of the larp — larp as played in a particular context of place, time, and players).




Bakhtin, M. (2000). The Problem of Speech Genres. In P. Bizzell & B. Herzberg (Eds.), The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present (Second Edition edition., pp. 1227–1245). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Bakhtin, M. (2000). Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. In P. Bizzell & B. Herzberg (Eds.), The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present (Second Edition edition., pp. 1210–1226). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Montola, M. (2003). Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses. In M. Gade, L. Thorup, & M. Sander (Eds.), As Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp (pp. 82–89). Frederiksberg: Projektgruppen kp 03.
Montola, M. (2012). On the Edge of the Magic Circle: Understanding Pervasive Games and Role-Playing. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

_The Functions of Role-Playing Games_ –> Review and Notes

Bowman_FRPG_CoverSarah Lynne Bowman’s 2010 text, The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity, fills a basic gap in the literature about role-playing games by giving an overall history of the development of role-playing games in the United States and addressing the high-level benefits of role-playing to education, business, military and individuals. She attempts to connect research on role-playing, and the positive attitudes toward the benefits of simulation for developing creative scenarios and solving them, to leisure-based role-playing games (RPGs), which have frequently been stigmatized in the United States as frivolous or even dangerous. Her secondary research draws on anthropology, psychology, education, business management, and theatre/drama to make parallels and demonstrate commonalities in role-playing and its benefits across its many manifestations. Her primary research consists of interviews with friends in the role-playing game community, as well as her own experience with table-top and live-action role-playing games (LARPs). In particular, Bowman has been involved with Dungeons & Dragons-based games, and the White Wolf franchises, Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, two popular larps in the US that she and her interviewees have played.

Throughout the book she conflates role-playing with role-playing games, giving  passing mention to the fact that a game has a structure and rule system, whereas role-playing does not. She does not elaborate on this distinction, and instead focuses on the role-playing aspect of the game. Much of the research is about role-playing itself, and its social, creative, problem-solving, and psychological implications. Bowman assumes that this research is applicable to the role-playing game community, by virtue of role-playing being part of the game. The benefits of military simulation, for example, or classroom role-playing, or using computer games for learning, must transfer to the D&D or larp games she describes. I find this move between role-playing that is not in a game context and RPGs (table-top or larp) to be somewhat problematic, especially since there is a distinction, which Bowman notes, regarding their execution and their esteem. The question of WHY “serious” games or role-playing in the context of education, business, or the military is seen as useful while RPGs (computer, table-top or larp) are stigmatized is noted, and Bowman hopes her research can help eliminate this difference, but she does not attempt to explain why. That is a study I would like to see done. What is it about US culture in particular, that stigmatizes these activities seen as “leisure” or “fantasy” while heralding the same general behaviors in other more utilitarian setting? I have some ideas related to America’s utilitarian, protestant, capitalist culture, but that’s to be explored another day.

Bowman outlines three major benefits to role-playing that she connects to RPGs via the role-playing research, the anecdotes and reports of the players she interviewed, as well as her own experience. These are: (1) socialization, social skills, and community building; (2) problem-solving, innovative thinking and creativity; and (3) identity exploration and self-actualization.

She gives literal examples of her own role-playing characters and uses Erving Goffman’s notion of role-playing in everyday life to draw parallels between the skills she used in the game situation and the “fronts” she put on there, and the “fronts” (clothing style, mannerisms, and speech patterns) she uses or began to use out-of-game. She gives anecdotal evidence that playing in the game world with these etiquette and leadership skills (pp. 136-138) helped her to cultivate more mature skills and roles in the mundane world as a result of the practice in the safe space. She also briefly toys with the notion that players are projecting or attempting to embody their Ideal Selves through role-playing.

Bowman gives a primer on the classes and races of Dungeons & Dragons characters, which she ties to cultural archetypes, indicating that D&D draws on some deeper narrative and psychological tropes. Drawing briefly on Jung, Propp, and Campbell, Bowman delineates:

Character Classes in D&D, based on Archetypes

The warrior/fighter archetype, which includes subclasses such as the Cavalier (the chivalric mounted knight, typified by Camelot), the Paladin (typified by Lancelot, combines cavalry with limited spiritual power and devotion, the Ranger (best seen by Strider/Aragorn in LOTR,  skills in tracking and herbalism), the Berserker (Viking lore, undisciplined fighters who can sometimes transmogrify into wolves or bears), the Barbarians (after Conan, powerful and brutish and primitive, fearing magic and civilization) (p. 147).

The Cleric archetype or class, which also includes the Druid. A Knight of Holy Orders, dedicated to faith more than fighting. Uses healing magic and has limited combat skills. Often in the “true neutral” moral philosophy, viewing the binaries of good/evil, dark/light, etc. to be balancing forces of nature. (see Treebeard, Tom Bombadil in LOTR for druid types).

Wizard class, dedicated to magic. D&D divides these spells into “spheres” or “schools”, such as Illusionists (making reality appear different) or Psionicist (exerting control over reality using mental powers). Wizards are often mentors, advisers, tour guides for the heroes; helpers or donors. In RPGs, wizards are often also the hero. (Gandalf)

Rogues — follow their own individual creed and sometimes “swindle, beguile or foll others for personal gain or amusement” (p. 149). Subclasses of rogue archetypes include the Thief (finds treasure, is stealthy, pilfers, unlocks doors); the Assassin; the Bard. The roots of the Rogue class are in the Trickster archetype, boundary-crossers who blur the conceptions of ethical behavior and confuse the binary distinctions that humans tend to make.

Bowman delineates the races seen in D&D, including Human, Halfling (which Bowman sees as representing the friendly innkeeper, country bumpkin, or humble environment from which a hero emerges); Gnomes (typified by skills in the arts and building, as well as pranks) which appeared in Germanic myths and European folklore; Dwarves (superstitious miners who distrust magic) appearing in Germanic and French folklore, often living underground or in caves, including subraces of Duergar Dwarves, Hill Dwarves; and Elves (long-lifespan, associated with beauty, gracefulness, art). Subraces include High Elves, Gray Elves, Sylvan or Wood Elves, Drow (Dark) Elves.

Bowman notes that the general tendency to place characters into archetypal figures, bloodlines, clans, races, and classes is a way of replicating or mimicking traditions in the mundane world and also archetypal personality types such as Caregiver, Fanatic, Judge, Loner and Visionary (p. 153). I would argue that there is a basic sense of nostalgia and a desire to categorize as a way to push back against the fluidity and fragmentation of the post-modern world that is at play in these desires to replicate strict hierarchies in the RPGs, and not merely a psychological connection to shared universal humanity.

Psychological Basis for Role-Playing

In her attempt to legitimize RPGs, Bowman traces the impulse to role-play to early childhood explorations of alternate identities, adolescent blending of various social codes and mores to create a stable ego identity, and the postmodern world that demands a stronger fluidity of identity and multiplicities of self, which she sees as “sub-personalities” that also reflect archetypes that bubble up through the collective unconscious and are identifiable by their continual recurrence in cross-cultural narratives (p. 154). She defends modern role-playing games against critics who would relegate them to “abnormal escapism” by demonstrating that they are connected to inherent archetypal structures, legitimate identity exploration, and a tradition of role-playing.

Bowman sees role-playing as a natural outgrowth of this post-modern sensibility of having to play so many different roles, but then she also traces the popularity of role-playing to the freedom of expression and breakdown of social structures of the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly in the US, and also to the basic origins of humanity in tribal cultures. These are never reconciled into a narrative or theory in the book, however, so one is left feeling uncertain whether Bowman thinks today’s role-playing is anything more than modern expressions of basic human behavior or something new and different, though connected to the past. It seems that her point is to demonstrate the connection in order to legitimize modern RPGs such as D&D and World of Darkness. Her point is not to theorize or offer an explanatory or descriptive model, but to report linkages between RPGs and other disciplines as a means to demonstrate that they are “good” and beneficial.

Bowman destabilizes her previous six chapters at the beginning of chapter 7 by saying, “creativity is, by nature, an unconscious process” and thus it may be impossible to understand the causes, motivations and reasons for the characters enacted by players (p. 155). This is surprising, because Bowman has spent the previous chapters attempting to show that the behavior of the storytellers and the players in RPGs is based on unconscious archetypes and cultural traditions being expressed anew in ways that are fundamentally healthy and quintessentially human. She relies on self-reported “flashes of insight” into the creative process of her informants to attempt to pinpoint this process she sees as being unconscious, rather than using the previous research to corroborate a theory that role-playing can be predicted and explained via the psychological and sociological methods. After saying this, however, she goes on to trace the development of a role-playing character using typology and psychological identification between the player and the archetype.

The ideas of identity alteration, though only one of the three functions of role-playing initially identified in the book, seem to be where Bowman is most interested and where her greatest contribution lies. She is interested in HOW a player adopts a new identity and creates the multiple sense of of self. She spends a great deal of time reporting on clinical psychology and ideas of Dissociative Identity Disorder and Multiple Personality Disorder, positing that these may not be disorders (and deserving of stigma or repair) but “advantages, resulting from an active, creative and intelligent basic consciousness” (p. 140). Her reasoning is that fantastical escapism can be present without trauma or alienation (though she spent much of Ch. 1 an Ch. 2 discussing how many role-players characterized themselves as outcasts); that the behaviors could be the result of “deeper wells of creative power” and an inherent human nature to draw from the wells of unconscious and represent with symbols, such as art. Bowman believes that role-playing is this same process of art creation, but that the medium and product of an RPG is simply not societally acceptable or economically feasible; and that clinical psychology as a discipline prefers to pathologize rather than “celebrate his or her uniqueness” (p. 141). Her example is that Vincent Van Gogh’s “unorthodox behavior patterns and roller-coaster like emotions” were the result of “high level of creativity” rather than lunacy, and that if only these artists “can acquire patronage or acclaim they become ‘rehabilitated'” (p. 141). Bowman sees exceptional creativity as a heightened identity crisis (drawing obliquely on Erik Erikson) and that role-playing is a manifestation of this creativity and identity exploration (p. 141). While I admire her point that humans do have a tendency to marginalize and stigmatize that which they do not understand, I would offer that a distinction between the creative imagination and true mental illness still exists, and that not all artists would find their troubles disappearing if only they were paid properly with money and esteem.  What I would like to explore here is our (United States) society’s tendency to hold up actors (who are indeed role-players) in high esteem, and to celebrate their talent and eccentricities as well as lament their tragic downfalls as a result of sacrificing themselves to their art or being the type of “creative soul” that is consumed by “normal society (e.g. Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman), while simultaneously stigmatizing those who role-play or act as a hobby (community theatre, larping), counseling against the dangers of a loss of self or not living “in reality”.

Bowman posits that Robert Assagioli’s theory of psychosynthesis, or an assimilation of alternate egos and fragmented consciousness may help get past the context of trauma and pathology associated with multiple identities, but Assagioli himself notes that the cycle of dissolution and reconstruction sometimes is healthy and other times creates “toxic conditions” and “psychopathological abscesses and tumors” (qtd. in Bowman, p. 143). Bowman, agreeing with Assagioli, states that “Integration” (the goal of psychotherapy and the “norm” of psychological health) can take places after ego identity dissolution. Following this logic, though, it would mean that role-playing is an immature consciousness struggling to integrate, and that after a role-playing stage, the player would dissolve these alter-egos and construct a healthy, normative, whole. Perhaps Bowman is attempting to say that the healthy, normative, ego identity is itself a blend of multiplicities and fragments, and that it is never stable, but always evolving and being re-synthesized. However, she does not say this explicitly, nor posit this as a theory to integrate the various sources she uses. This is an interesting idea, though, to think of a role-player as being hyper-aware of the performative nature of everyday life, more comfortable and adept at moving among roles and “fronts” both in-game and out, and eschewing a single “ego identity” that would be formed at a particular time in life, after the adolescent crisis, in favor of a more fluid identity that incorporates experience and the various psychosocial crises outlined by Erikson and that is a more accurate manifestation of the post-modern self than an ostensible singular integration that was posited by psychologists more than a century ago. Bowman spends her time justifying role-playing in broad terms and concentrating on de-stigmatizing or de-pathologizing it. She does conclude with the idea that role-playing various selves (see ch. 7) does help the player with his/her out-of-game primary identity, channeling Mackay, but she does not then reconnect that idea to this psychological research. She argues, agreeing with Daniel MacKay, that role-playing is an art form and role-players are artists. (p. 142). Here, she would agree with the proponents of the Nordic Larp movement, who, since the turn of the 21st century, have been advocating for larp as art.

Bowman puts forth the idea that the creation of alternate selves is an inherent human impulse, and that the content of these identities may arise from specific archetypes that exist in the collective unconscious as explained by Jung.The book is mostly a broad literature review related to role-playing and its origins and contribution. Its research scope is ambitious and broad, making it struggle to come to cohesion. Yet in Chapter 7, (this is the book)  Bowman offers a process for character creation and the beginning of a theoretical model of archetypal roles, which are corroborated by the experience of various players in modern US RPGs and larps.

She offers a four-stage process of character evolution:

  1. Genesis — origin or inception arising from a combination of archetypes, game mechanics, literature, popular culture, personal experience. May be motivated by social needs or psychological needs. Bowman sees this as an individual process, as existing internally to the player creating the character (I might argue that this is inherently social, given that it draws upon culture and society — see Bakhtin). Bowman sees this as the Gestalt of the character, the essence or shape of an entity’s complete form.
  2. Development — adds more details through creative exercises. This is still an individual activity which might include research into costuming, a particular time period, skills, etc., including the writing of backstory or scenarios.
  3. Interaction — a testing of the character within the game system and world. “Brought to life” and tested through play. The nascent personality is enacted and the player attempts to think “as” the character and immerse into the character and the world.
  4. Realization — The player has a distinct sense of “character’s past and present motivations, their complexities and idiosyncrasies” (p. 157). This comes as a result of passing through the previous three stages.

Bowman states that in this process, the player is the “Primary Ego Identity” which still exists, although “the more immersed in the game world the players become, the more they perceive the character as a distinct entity from the Primary Self” (p. 157), manifested in nine different ways with various degrees of similarity to the Primary Ego Identity. Bowman, then, sees a character as an alternative self that is brought to life by the player as a result of tapping into primal psychological urges, universal narrative, collective unconscious, and formed via interaction with other character identities and the social norms of the game world. For Bowman, a character (or persona) is a distinct entity and identity that is related to the player in one of nine ways.

Her Nine Categories of Archetypal Selves that are enacted in role-playing games are as follows (though she notes that some characters will share qualities of multiple categories). She derives these from the interview questions that she asked her informants:

Doppelganger Self — closely resembles the primary ego identity. Puts primary self into new situations. Sometimes  (Bowman says “the majority of the time”, citing Fine and Mackay) dismissed in role-playing (at least in the US and in the traditions Bowman explores) as amateurish and immature, used by “younger, less-skilled players” (p. 165), claiming that “serious role-players” instead concentrate on the  “successful enactment of an entity other than the self” (p. 165). This is seen as “surface level” and a lack of immersion. Bowman cautions that this Self need not be viewed as shallow; that playing a Doppelganger can “enhance self-esteem” and allow the “ordinary” (by which she means the player) to do “extraordinary things” in the game situation.

Devoid Self — this is basically the Doppelganger Self minus one or more essential qualities the player possesses out of game. For example, the character may have a physical disability, lack of empathy, etc. Bowman notes that this single change often radically changes the behavior of the character, distancing it from the Primary Ego Identity.

Augmented Self — Doppelganger Plus. Take the player and add a super power, wealth, immortality, etc. Again, this change tends to change the behavior of the character to create a more distinct persona.

Fragmented Self — take a fragment of the player’s personality and accentuate, amplify it. By exaggerating this aspect, one creates a “new” identity or way of being. Bowman notes that these aspects are played out archetypally (rogue, rake, femme fatale, vixen, animalistic impulses through anthropomorphic play, sexuality — feminine side or masculine side — altruism or greed, etc.) and allow expression of behaviors that may be repressed.

Repressed Self — Bowman refers to this as the Inner Child. Open expression of “childish” or naive behaviors and play with a sense of “well-meaning mischievousness” (p. 170). Can be seen as regression to a less-evolved state or to play or reason with childlike perspective and abandon.

Idealized Self — a persona that possesses qualities the player wishes that s/he had (Fine: “taking on a role helps one overcome deficiencies of one’s ‘real self’ … qtd. in Bowman, p. 172). Often a hero with great physical strength, acumen, and sex appeal who accomplishes amazing feats (and thus, hopes to transfer some self-esteem and confidence to the player). Often the idealized characters behave with altruism, nobility, strength of purpose, compassion, and self-sacrifice.

Oppositional Self — complete opposition to the primary ego identity, including attributes and behaviors that the player finds repulsive (though not always). Could be a philosophical difference (e.g. playing a homophobe or a passive female when the player is tolerant and accepting or an independent, strong woman). Can be a way to explore other mentalities and ways of being to understand those the primary personality has conflict with out of game.

Experimental Self –– character created as an exercise to test the bounds of role-playing and rethink assumptions. Might be fantastical.

Taboo Self — a persona that is able to explore, in the generally safe and consequence-free space of the RPG, topics that are normally off-limits, such as rape, abuse, incest, cannibalism, etc. Often the player’s moral stance is reaffirmed rather than subverted due to the role-playing in this persona.

MacKay, and then Bowman, posit that as a result of experiencing these alternative selves in the role-playing environment, players have an underlying sense of psychological unity that helps them as they navigate the fragmented out-of-game world. Bowman attributes this to the ritual space of the gameworld, which allows for reintegration at the close of the ceremony/game. Using the anecdotes from her informants, Bowman concludes that enacting other entities helps players better understand their primary selves (ego identities). She does not connect this to psychological phenomena or role-playing research she delineated in the first few chapters.

Limitations: Bowman bases all of her conclusions on the slice of RPGs and Larps (particularly World of Darkness) that she has played. Her ideas about character creation presuppose that the player creates the character him/herself (many larps have pre-written characters) and is able to develop the character over time.

Bowman does not give information about her research methods, so it is unknown how she selected her informants, who they comprise, how she collected the information, etc. It is unclear whether those she spoke with constitute a viable sample of the role-playing community and whether their anecdotes are generalizable.


Bowman, S. L. (2010). The functions of role-playing games how participants create community, solve problems and explore identity. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.
Fine, G. A. (2002). Shared fantasy: role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mackay, D. (2001). The fantasy role-playing game: a new performing art. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Thank God for Popham! (Not James, but Susan!)

I’ll admit, when I first saw the last name Popham, I did this:



James Popham, guru of assessment, was assigned reading when I was a K-12 educator, and used to usher in the era of accountability and a focus on “instruments” rather than students.

Then I read Susan Popham’s lucid, straightforward prose, and was instead feeling this:

Happy Cat

Ironically, perhaps, this image comes from a web site devoted to cleansing the body. I do feel cleansed of Foucault after Popham.

Before I get to Popham and her coherence and cohesion, I’d like to focus some on Carolyn Miller’s piece. You should see my marginalia! As a former communications executive who developed and used many professional writing genres (and templates … a discussion of this term and its relationship to genre seems to be in order), the idea of a genre as having a social purpose resonated well. She believes that a genre is characterized by its usefulness in communicating from one group (or organization) to another by means of expected and accepted forms and formats. As Miller notes, a genre has a purpose, an exigence, a reason for its existence and its use in a particular situation; it is not merely a summation of particularities, or a form one can notice. This goes beyond what many (Frye, Black, Campbell and Jamieson) who postulate a kind of internal rhetorical unity that denotes a genre (C&J) or a kind of one-way “transaction” (Black) that communicates to an audience via a set of strategies, diction, or linguistic elements (153). This is the more “literary” definition of a genre, one which many are more used to. A literary genre can ostensibly exist without an actionable purpose, although I would argue that a writer calls upon a genre for one or more exigences: to express, to woo, to join a tradition, to imitate, to enjoy a challenge, to play with language, etc. I doubt that anyone is ever truly without an exigency, but this is different from what Miller means by “social action”, whereby the listener/reader is called upon to do something, and the genre exists as a way of bringing together not only a linguistic form, but a group of people who will interact (discourse) around it.

I was also piqued by this quote: “Thus, inaugurals, eulogies, courtroom speeches, and the like have conventional forms because they arise in situations with similar structures and elements and because rhetors respond in similar ways, having learned from precedent what is appropriate and what effects their actions are likely to have on other people” (152).  This is part of Foucault’s historical a priori and also Vatz’s notion of what speech has come before as impacting the rhetor’s choices in responding to a situation. I submitted then when reading, and reiterated later in the essay, that analysis of discourse then becomes about deviance from the expected genres. This deviance (or aberration to use a network term … more later) may be interpreted as innovative (a sanctioned deviation from expected discourse, a lauded tweaking or hybridization of the genre) or as abject (beyond what is considered right or proper in terms of the use of the genre).

I was quite intrigued by her discussion of Walter Fisher’s theories, which I spent some time looking out outside of the article, as I felt it would enrich my understanding. Fisher’s narrative paradigm seems particularly fruitful for further discussion, as he replaces argument with stories as the defining element of rhetoric, positing that rhetors choose among stories and narrative archetypes that match their values and beliefs. Stories, not logic, underpin people’s decisions, and  reasons presented in rhetoric are subjective and may be misunderstood by audiences who do not share these same beliefs/hold these same stories. In an age of “truthiness“, where peopel have their own sets of facts and it’s more important what you feel or believe, and in an age where you can filter your discourse to only hear or be exposed to stories that confirm your world view, Fisher’s theories seem to have even more application than they did in 1984.

I was also struck by the difference between Burke’s motive and Bitzer’s exigence that Miller outlined: “Burke’s emphasis is on human acction, whereas Bitzer’s appears to be on reaction” (155). This struck me as the same difference as teaching and learning, with Burkean thought focusing on what the teacher does and says, what is instructed or imparted or transmitted, while Bitzer’s notions are more focused on what is received or heard or learned. As Miller rightly notes, these are two different actions and interactions with a discourse or a genre, and they do not align always, even if both parties have the same general need or purpose. This idea was further reinforced later in the article when Miller brings up Sharon Downey’s discussion of two sets of rules: “constitutive rules that tell us how to fuse form and substance to make meaning and regulative rules that tell us how the fusion itself is to be interpreted within its context” (161). Thus, one set of ruels governs what is said and how, while another set of rules governs what is heard, interpreted and what it means. The potential for “disjunctive discourse” happens when these two sets of rules are not aligned. While this term is usually used linguistically to refer to syntactical issues that create semantic difficulties, I believe it can have a social meaning when two sets of operating rules — both valid — collide and the discourse breaks down in the absence of a mediator or translator that can bridge this divide (more network terms … more later).  This whole notion applies to education because there, accountability has focused on the constitutive rules — what the teachers convey — but then measured the received messages without using teh regulative rules which govern what is interpreted. The problem lies with using the constitutive rules governing the rhetorical action as the basis for assessment vs the regulative rules that govern what is and can be heard or interpreted within context. The entire premise is incorrect, because rhetorical analysis (and what is teaching if not discourse) would state that what is said is not always what is heard, the action does not always create the intended reaction. Accountability focus on the students — why they didn’t hear or interpret or react in the intended way — would make sense.

I also wondered if Pearce and Conklin’s five levels of rule-governed relationships might make a useful model for theorizing larp: archetypes, episodes, speech acts, propositions (grammatical utterances — Foucault’s statements?), and stream of behavior that is interpreted … “based on the common physiology that human beings share and in the common physical properties of the world they live in” (Pearce & Conklin 78 qtd. in Miller 161). I would add the world they inhabit, as in the world of the game.

Works Cited

Colbert, Stephen. “The Word: Truthiness” The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. 7 October 2005. Web. 3 Feb. 2014.
“Happy Cat”. Image from: Web. 3 Feb. 2014.
Miller, Carolyn R. “Genre as Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70.2 (1984): 151–167. Print.
Munsch, Edvard. “The Scream”. from Web. 3 Feb. 2014.
Popham, S. L. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19.3 (2005): 279–303. CrossRef. Web. 1 Feb. 2014.