THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ROLE PLAYING GAMES: And the Crazy (?) Folks Who Play Them!


As co-creator of Ki-Khanga: The Sword & Soul Role-Playing Game™, I have devoted many months to the study of the psychology and sociology of role-playing game players, game-masters and collectors.

In play-testing the game, I have made even more discoveries about the impact and inherent power of a well-crafted role-playing game and a well-run role-playing game campaign.

Do role-playing gamers confuse fantasy and reality?

Role playing games – also called RPGs – are a popular form of entertainment in which players assume the identity of fictional characters and embark upon adventures. Some of the parameters of these adventures are specified by the game you play. However, these games also afford many opportunities for imaginative improvisation by their players.

I have been playing RPGs and game-mastering RPG scenarios and campaigns for over thirty years (for more on how I got involved and the racial issues I dealt – and continue to deal – with in role-playing, check out and during this time, I have read – and heard – several stories about players who have gone over the edge, becoming totally and irretrievably lost in the imaginary world of the game

While this is not impossible, I do not personally know of anyone this happened to and, if such stories are true, such happenings must be exceedingly rare.

Why, then, do such stories abound?

Because many players seek to affirm their own sanity by holding on to the “fact” that, while there are people who confuse the fantasy of the game with the real world, and because they are aware such people exist, they cannot be one of those people.

Being of a typical NT (Intuitive Thinking) temperament, I pondered why so many players of RPGs are so eager to proclaim that they have a grasp on reality.

The answer is that players of role-playing games do, in fact, have very powerful experiences of becoming lost in the fantasy of the game; so much so that they sometimes wonder if they are in danger of crossing the boundaries of reality and losing themselves in the world of fantasy.

Many players unconsciously make gestures related to the fantastic events that are unfolding in their mind’s eye as the Gamemaster describes what is happening during an adventure.

Many of us consistently speak as our characters would. The markers of time and place in our speech – “Now, I strike that Pit Demon with my ice sword!” or “Hurry up and hand me that Aether Gun, Winslow…Mr. Hyde is closing upon me quite swiftly!” – often refer to the imagined fantasy rather than the real world. In times of intense focus of the game, many of us express and feel the emotions that our imaginary characters would feel.

None of this means that role players have a tenuous grip on reality. In fact, these experiences are very similar to what happens when avid readers get so caught up in a novel that they can’t put it down; or when sports fans become so focused on a spectator sport that they feel like they are on the court or field themselves.

This capacity to get caught up in fictions and games is also the basis of pretend play in children.

We RPG players are not insane. We – like most people – have extraordinarily powerful imaginations that allow us to become caught up in, and carried away by, games and fiction.

Benefits of Roleplaying

Now that it is established that Role-Playing Gamers aren’t a bunch of Norman Bates, what benefits can people – young and old – gain from playing RPGs?

For children between the ages of ten and thirteen, that transitional period between concrete operations – thinking logically about objects and events – and formal operations – thinking logically about abstract propositions and testing hypotheses systematically – debating who would be stronger in particular situations, which weapon is better and what it can be used for, and the relative powers of mad scientists and mages sharpens their cognitive skills and encourages the development of more complex schemes for understanding their world. 

For all ages, the only way players can successfully navigate the very abstract sets of possibilities found in role playing games is because of what is called scaffolding.  Scaffolding is the process whereby two people together can do something more complicated than one person alone – especially when one of those people has greater skills. 

In role playing games, the person with “greater skills” is usually the Gamemaster.  He or she guides players to the next step.  He or she shapes their arguments to focus on the key points and he or she joins in the players’ arguments and keeps them going until the players come up with an idea or a plan that might actually work.

The Gamemaster – called “GM, for short – The The Gamemasterhelps players keep track of any bonuses or penalties their character may have and does not allow any one player to dominate the game.

He or she must do all of this while keeping the game exciting and unpredictable.


RPGs and Personality

How do our personalities influence how we shape our characters or what we try to get out of playing a game? Why do some players consistently choose the same character classes while others never choose the same one twice? Why do some players like to role-play reflections of themselves, while others prefer to role-play opposites? Are women attracted to RPGs for the same reasons that men are?

Let’s explore these questions further:

Introverts & Extroverts

The Introvert: Introverts are people who appear reserved and shy in social situations. They are taxed by interactions and thus prefer to be alone or with a small group of friends. They put aside time for reflection and introspection. Introverts often hide their real personality and put up a façade for the world.

In role-playing, Introverts allow their real identities to be expressed through their characters. Because of this, they often choose the same kinds of character classes or character types to role-play.

Role-playing their real selves in a character allows Introverts to feel more secure and they might begin to think and talk like their character in real life. To others, it might seem that the Introvert is becoming someone else. To introverts, it will feel like they are becoming their real selves.

Introverts would find it hard to role-play characters that are too different from who they really are.

The Extrovert: Extroverts are people who are energized by social interactions. They are active and feel at home in crowds or busy places. There are usually many people who they can call friends.

In role-playing, Extroverts find it easy to role-play characters with very different personalities and experiences. Thus, they do not have a preference for one character class over another.

They enjoy the hack-and-slash aspect of role-playing, but most Extroverts would rather be playing in a system that does not base characters on numbers and fixed classes.

The main appeal of RPG’s for extroverts is the social aspect. They like the opportunity to be able to interact with other people.

Sensates & iNtuitives

The Sensate: Sensates are people who like to learn through their five senses. They want to be able to feel and touch what they are working on. Sensates prefer to be realistic and to think about what is factual. They are down-to-earth and practical.

Sensates find it hard to role-play different kinds of characters. They may often find it difficult to connect and immerse themselves in the role-playing world because it is ungrounded and fantastical.

The Intuitive: Intuitives enjoy thinking about what is possible. They enjoy exercising their imaginations and coming up with creative solutions. They prefer to think abstractly and consider a problem conceptually.

Intuitives find it easy to be in the shoes of very different characters. They are attracted to RPG’s because it allows them to explore different perspectives and they find it to be an intellectual challenge.

Intuitives prefer RPG sessions to be deep and intense, with an emphasis on character and plot development.

Intuitives often grow as a person through participating in RPG’s because, through their characters, they are able to better understand and resolve some of the problems they have in real life.

Thinkers & Feelers

The Thinker: Thinkers are objective and cool-headed. They often pride themselves on being logical, firm-minded and fair. They believe in standards and almost universal laws or rules.

Thinkers are somewhat detached from the emotional and subtle aspects of the role-playing game, due to their objective, analytical nature.

In a game setting, they are probably the ones who know all the rules and are able to set things straight when the players are not clear on them.

The Feeler: Feelers believe that emotions and personal feelings should be accounted for when making decisions. They are soft-hearted and prefer to find common grounds between opposing ideas so that harmony can be achieved. They believe that mercy is far more important than justice.

Feelers are able to immerse themselves in their characters and usually build characters who are idealized versions of themselves. Because of this, they often find that they become easily attached to their characters and are able to feel their character’s pain and joy.

Feelers are attracted to RPGs because the intense interplay of emotions and personal interactions allows them to learn more about themselves. Like Intuitives, Feelers find that RPGs help them grow and understand their real life problems. Furthermore, Feelers are able to vent their pent-up emotions through their characters.

Judges & Perceivers

The Judge: Judges are planners and superb project managers. They have an internal clock that allows them to organize their duties and finish them in time. They like things finalized and set, and are not afraid to make decisions.

Judges are attracted to role-playing because of the logistical aspect. They love the elaborate tables and charts and how the game system is built up. They are less likely to be very attached and emotional with their characters, and they have very little trouble with playing a character with the opposite gender.

During the character creation process, Judges usually wait and fill in for a missing character type or needed skill set amongst their team of players.

The Perceiver: Perceivers are spontaneous. They want to let life live and prefer to leave things flexible and open-ended. They are adaptable and go with the flow.

In role-playing, Perceivers create characters that have the physical traits they would want in real life.

Perceivers play RPG’s because it lets them escape from mundane reality and they tend to be attached to their characters and empathize with them, often venting their pent-up emotions through their characters.

Age & Gender

Age: Young gamers are more likely to prefer one kind of character class or type over others, and often base their characters on their own quirks and motivations.

Young gamers tend to choose character alignments – measurements of goodness; evilness; chaoticness; lawfulness; neutrality – that are different from their own, both as an act of safe rebellion and of experimenting with different moral perspectives.

Young gamers usually see RPGs as an escape from reality.

Older gamers are usually less consistent in character choice and prefer not to role-play characters that are based on themselves.

They are not as drawn to RPG’s because of the escapist and fantastical aspects. Instead, they find that RPG’s provide a good atmosphere for socializing.

Gender: Women and girls tend find themselves more attached to their characters than men and boys are. Women and girls also tend to enjoy the perspective taking aspect of RPGs more than men and boys.

While men and boys prefer RPG sessions to be fun and light-hearted, women and girls prefer them to be deep and intense.

Men and boys are more likely to see dice – or some other form of random generator – as an integral part of gaming, while women and girls see good role-playing and decision-making as more important in generating results.

In designing and developing Ki Khanga: The Sword & Soul Role-Playing Game™, the creators have sought to use the above findings to create a game that meets the needs of all personality types, ages and genders. We have succeeded in this goal and continue to test the game before its release to ensure that it is the best gaming experience on the market.

For more on the game, please visit; and


About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link and Rite of Passage: Initiation. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika and contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk –a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG. Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.

8 responses »

  1. yeltnuh says:

    Great post (of course, I agree with you, so I am biased) and I especially like the top photo. :)

  2. Aleta Karpan says:

    I’m an INTJ female so I must admit I found this fascinating.

  3. […] playing or game-mastering Steampunk role-playing games works for you. Maybe building a mechanical arm or making top-hats gives you relief from stress. […]

  4. […] grew up on science fiction and fantasy, loving both genres equally, however, when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons back in 1981, my greatest love became fantasy. Forced into game-mastering due to the racism of the […]

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