Defining Role-Playing Games as Language-Games




role-playing games, definition, language-games, Wittgenstein, language, culture


Role-playing games are a diverse phenomenon, ranging from digital games to live action role-playing. Finding a definition that suits them all is hard, but attempts have been many. All of the definitions emphasize some aspects of role-playing games like rules, the role of players or the story. Many definitions do not describe role-playing games as such, but the activity that is role-playing. This paper looks at one of the latest attempts to define role-playing games, by Hitchens and Drachen (2009), and shows some potential problems with it. As an answer to these problems another definition is proposed, consisting of a game world, participants, shared narrative power and interaction. This definition is given only after discussing the nature of definitions in general. By drawing from the work of Wittgenstein, it is shown that definitions are by their nature bound to language in a way Wittgenstein calls language-games. Language is constantly changing, as the culture surrounding it changes. There are no final definitions for role-playing games, only definitions suited better or worse to a certain historical understanding of role-playing games. However, this does not mean that role-playing games should not be defined, as the definitions given can advance our understanding of what role-playing games are and could be. This paper takes part in the ongoing process of definition.




How to Cite

Arjoranta, J. (2011). Defining Role-Playing Games as Language-Games. International Journal of Role-Playing, (2), 3–17.