Modern role-playing games are a recent chapter in a long history of role-playing and game-playing. What ramifications do these role-playing games have for the individuals and groups that play them? What possibilities do they contain for human liberation? This thesis attempts to answer these questions through a combination of historical and philosophical inquiry. I ground this thesis in recent historical scholarship on the origin and development of role-playing games, namely the work on Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson. I combine this historical scholarship with the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bernard Suits, and C. Thi Nguyen to establish a theoretical philosophical grounding with which to understand the nature of role-playing and of games in general. These two disciplines of scholarship, along with some sociological and anthropological work, inform my approach to the topic of role-playing games and liberation. I analyze these games with respect to three issues: individual agency, narrative storytelling and community formation, and the culture industry. I argue for the liberatory potential of role-playing games on all three counts. These games enhance a sense of agential fluidity which allows players to better understand themselves and each another, helping to liberate people from narrow-mindedness with regard to identity. The narrative storytelling and consequent community formation within these games establishes a space where people can interact with others in a non-capitalized manner, and some (but not all) of these games can allow for a process of resisting the influence of capital and the culture industry though a direct imagining of alternatives to capitalism. I argue role-playing games can aid in a process of depicting ways to liberate humanity from capitalist domination, both through their structural features of agency and community formation and through the act of directly depicting social alternatives to the world of capitalism.


Shaya, Gregory

Second Advisor

Riley, Evan


History; Philosophy


American Popular Culture | Continental Philosophy | Cultural History | Game Design | Other History | Other Philosophy | Social History


games, role-playing, liberation, critical theory

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis


© Copyright 2023 Peter Barker