Sarah Lynne Bowman

Sarah Lynne Bowman, Ph.D. is a scholar, game designer, and event organizer. She is a Senior Lecturer for the Department of Game Design at Uppsala University Campus Gotland and the Coordinator for Peace & Conflict Studies at Austin Community College. McFarland Press published her dissertation as The Functions of Role-playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity (2010). Bowman has edited for The Wyrd Con Companion Book (2012-2015), the International Journal of Role-playing (2016-), and Nordiclarp.org (2015-). She helped organize the Living Games Conference (2014, 2016, 2018) and Role-playing and Simulation in Education Conference (2016, 2018).

Liminal Intimacy: Role-playing Games as Catalysts for Interpersonal Growth and Relating

FROG 2021 – Talk

Co-Authors:
Kjell Hedgard Hugaas (Department of Game Design, Uppsala University)
Josephine Baird (Department of Game Design, Uppsala University)

One of the most powerful aspects of role-playing games is the ability to slip out of established social frames (Goffman 1986; Fine 1983) and explore identity, whether digital (Bessière, Seay, and Kiesler, 2007; Bowman and Shrier 2018) or analog (Pohjola 2004; Bowman 2010). When a role-playing group supports meaningful self-discovery, it can become a space for magic: a transformational container within which players feel safe to explore new aspects of their consciousness within a liminal space (Bowman and Hugaas 2021). If the group is supportive off-game, that player can feel validated in portraying a new social identity in daily life (Stets and Serpe, 2013), as well as shaping a more empowering narrative of their life story (McAdams, 2011). Furthermore, role-playing games open up new relationship frames related to these identities and the fictions surrounding them. Previous work has addressed the ways in which players may experience such dynamics as erotic (Brown and Stenros 2018), confusing (Waern 2010), or potentially detrimental to existing relationships as a result of bleed (Bowman 2013; Harder 2018). Role-playing is an inherently co-creative activity, where new modes of reality and, thus, relating are experienced, even if these dynamics are fictional. However, we posit that within those fictional dynamics, players can experience sometimes unprecedented intimacy, vulnerability, and connection, which can fundamentally shake not only their self-concepts, but also their understanding of relationships. Integrating principles from transactional analysis (Berne 1996), attachment theory (Levin and Heller, 2011), and other psychotherapeutic concepts, as well as practices in relationship design (Michaels andJohnson, 2015) and authentic relating games (see Authentic Revolution, 2021; Games for Humanity, 2021), this article will explore intimacy within these environments. Role-playing games can hold space for players to catalyze new relationships, practice interpersonal skills such as flirting and sharing, and experience the magic of limerence and integration through connection (Siegel 2010). Furthermore, these containers can help players transform their understanding of intimacy in daily life, whether with specific people or with their own sexual and/or romantic identities. To best harness this potency, this article will conclude with recommendations for exploring intimacy with an emphasis on safety, consent, calibration, transparency, and trust.


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