The -Role- of Identity Formation

The benefits of role-playing have been widely emphasised in education, especially for children and youths, and I don’t mean role-playing in the same sense that I did on Monday. Schools love to incorporate role-plays in their lessons, where students put on skits and act as various parts in a story. Role-playing lets kids learn perspective taking and to express their creativity as well. In the same vein, teens and adolescents may be seeking positive learning experiences when they play computer RPGs like Dragon Nest or Final Fantasy.

Really? Positive learning lessons? Well, theorists have used Multi-User Dungeons (which in my opinion are highly primitive role-playing textual chatrooms) to study identity formation in youths, and deduce that youngsters play out different roles in these MUDs to get a better sense of themselves. Teenhood is after all the prime age for identity formation, where they try out various personalities and even their handwriting and signatures are known to differ substantially during this time. RPGs are like the modern version of MUDs — though I admit they’re more restricted — and allow players to play out different archetypes of personalities. They can be the staunch hero, or the necromancer demon, or the seductive witch (even if they’re male), and these fantasy characters, though nothing like how real people would behave, sorta give them the experience of the kind of person they want to be, and that’s where we get our self-esteem and our sense of self. You may be doubtful, though, that playing as a seductive witch can really be healthy exposure for an adolescent boy, and there is really a limited number of fantasy characters you can find in this genre, but the mere act of acting out another person’s role can teach us a lot about our own, or so they say.

Of course, most of us see the bad side of this. We see students gunning down schoolmates and teachers after playing the role of gunmen in video games. I agree that if people don’t get catharsis from their gaming experiences, some of them might instead see the characters as role models to emulate in the real world, which is a completely different context and therefore makes for unfortunate consequences. And we see how teenagers can be so impressionable as to pick up role models from television, but if you think about it, these teens do grow up and shake off these embarrassing traits. And that’s what growth and finding one’s identity is about. You have to try them out — and hope they’re safe — and then change out of them if you dislike them. The process may be inconvenient to those around them, but you’d rather they tried them out now than later in life, wouldn’t you?

And if someone in the game is really adept at, say, being a Rogue, he may pick up some stealth techniques to use in real life, and maybe even be known around his circle for being a dexterous, cautious fellow. Of course I’m really only hazarding a guess here, but I see many people choosing particular preferred types in games, such as Rogue or Warlord or Wizard, that this might also be their outlook on life. “I play Wizard often” may signal a particularly strategic, intelligent or power-hungry type of person. In any case, this is as good a way as any to determine the kind of person a person is, so do consider adding this to the list of benefits a game can bring, to help in establishing a person’s fixed identity.


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