In my previous post about the Proteus Effect I talked about how the image a player has of their character effects that players in game decisions whether they are conscious of it or not. Today I am going to take this process one step further and examine how our characters can influence our actions outside of the game.
There is a study in psychology called the Self-Perception Theory, which will be the main focus for today’s post. This theory was originally coined by social psychologist Daryl Bem in the year 1960. Bem hypothesized that as we act, we observer ourselves, and use that information in order to make inferences about our attitudes and feelings. This was a rather bold statement as it meant that our actions influenced our personalities and behaviours, not the other way around. Meaning that you don’t take risks because you are brave, you are brave because you take risks.
Bem’s theory was further proved by James Laird in 1974 with Laird’s own Self-Perception experiment. Within Laired experiment subjects were instructed to hold a pencil in their mouth in one of two ways. This first made you the participant smile, while the latter made them frown. This allowed the participants to make two very different expressions without knowing the nature of the expression. The participants who were made to frown scored much more aggressively on the test than those who were smiling. The smiling participants also rated comic strips as more humorous than the frowning subjects. This shows that our own body position can have an effect on our thoughts and actions, but can we take it further?
Another experiment was done in which boys were hooked up to a fake heart monitor and instructed to flip through a playboy magazine. For each of the subjects the testers increased the frequency of the heart monitor’s beeps during the viewing a random model, signifying increased heart rate. After the viewing the boys where then asked who their favourite model was. The subjects decided that their favourite model was the one which increased their heart rate. To stress this point even further, in a follow up meeting two months later the boys still said that the heart rate model was their favourite.
Ok, so what does all of this have to do with tabletop RPGs? Quite a lot actually. During tabletop RPGs you don the mask of a character and perform the actions they would for the duration of the session. Granted there is a good portion of the actions which you just state the character does, rather than performing them yourself – You wouldn’t want to get in a fist fight with the GM every time combat rolled around would you? But with that said, there is an area of actions which most groups tend to act out in surprising detail, and that is social interactions within the game. When players roleplay out conversations with non-player characters within game you will often act and speak in a manner you wouldn’t do in your day to day life. You don’t care if that orc is the chieftain of a deadly tribe, he is set to pillage the town you have sworn to protect. You will most likely hold your ground in discussions with him even though he is more influential and powerful than you. Even though you may just be with your friends around a table in a basement, that moment feels like you are negotiating with someone in a much stronger position than you. By playing out that negotiation, and standing tall against an intimidating aggressor, you perceive yourself being brave and fearless. This perception then influences your future actions, maybe down the line you will be more willing to ask your boss for that raise.
The actions within a tabletop game are all act, taking place in the groups collective imagination. But that doesn't stop our in game actions from bleeding through into our everyday lives. Author of the book Infinite Realities said: “Avatar’s are not just ornaments – the alter the identity of the people who use them.” I think that this applies in volumes for tabletop games. Those who enjoy the Tabletop RPG hobby are seen to become more confident and outgoing than before they started playing (video). I believe this is because RPGs are a playground for us to act with boldness and creativity which we are two scared or shy to show in our normal lives. This playground gives us the tools to better ourselves.
So next time you make a character for a campaign, try making the character you want to become in your own life, see where that takes you. In the meantime Thanks for reading.