Social Conflict in Role-Playing Communities: An Exploratory Qualitative Study


  • Sarah Lynne Bowman



bleed, role-playing games, rpgs, tabletop, larp, conflict, social, community, communities, bleed-in, bleed-out, debriefing, competition, intimate relationships, creative agenda, power, game master


Much of the current research in the field of role-playing studies focuses upon the positive impact that games can have on the lives of participants. Analysis of the more negative social interactions within role-playing communities becomes necessary in order to establish a more complete picture of the psychosocial effects of these games. This research describes potential problems within role-playing communities in order to aid groups experiencing cohesion difficulties.

This thematic, qualitative ethnography describes the types of social conflict occurring within role-playing groups and examines possible sources for their exacerbation. The study includes several types of role-playing from a phenomenological perspective, including tabletop, larp, and virtual gaming. Semi-structured interviews were collected from a selective sample of 30 international participants gathered from vastly different play cultures. While the types of games and methods of play contributed to conflict in some instances, striking similarities between the experiences of players across modes, cultures, and genres were observed.

Emergent themes for sources of conflict included general problems inherent to group behavior, such as schisms, Internet communication, and intimate relationships. Other sources of conflict unique to the role-playing experience included creative agenda differences, the game master/player power differential, and the phenomenon of bleed, both in- and out-of-game. Potentially conflict-inducing play styles included long-term immersion into character, campaign-style, and competitive play.




How to Cite

Bowman, S. L. (2023). Social Conflict in Role-Playing Communities: An Exploratory Qualitative Study. International Journal of Role-Playing, (4), 4–25.