Folkspeech Among Roleplaying Gamers

I am an avid player of roleplaying games (RPGs), and thus a definite member of the particular subculture they engender. For this paper, I sought to use this subculture as the jumping-off point for an investigation of the folkspeech of a particular group, in this case one little-studied and close to my heart. At first, I set out to interview some friends who are also roleplayers,1 using terms that I expected to be widespread. As it turned out, the few terms I had started with weren't as common as I had thought, nor were my friends quite the fonts of experience I had hoped--or at least their memories weren't as easily triggered as I had expected. However, I was able to get a short list of items common to the three of us, or which demonstrated close variations. I then took this list, and posted a message on two UseNet discussion groups, rec.games.frp.misc, and rec.games.frp.advocacy, both of which are dedicated to non-game-specific discussions of roleplaying games. This produced results far better than I had anticipated. Not only was I able to use many more informants than if I were limited by the scheduling concerns of face-to-face interviews, but I was fortunate to get responses from all around the globe, which demonstrate much better than a local sample would the multiply existent nature of many of these items. The other problem I ran into early on was one of communication: I originally asked for examples of "jargon," and had to revise my request when a potential informant pointed out to me that jargon connotes (if it doesn't denote) formalized terms and expressions, usually well-defined and quite static, and generally stemming from authority, i.e., almost exactly the antithesis of what I actually wanted. The best term I could come up with for conveying my meaning turned out to be "lingo," since I didn't feel that "folkspeech" had the right connotations for the average non-folklorist to elicit the responses I wanted.

Through these methods, I collected several hundred items of folkspeech, and from these was able to find those with the greatest proliferation, weeding the list down to the multiple examples of 18 distinct items. These 18 items together demonstrate what I think are the 4 basic categories of roleplayer folkspeech--jargon-derived folkspeech, folkspeech referring to frame interaction, folkspeech about RPGs, and pop-culture references--and are also some of the most common folkspeech terms. For analysis, I was blessed with a great deal of incidental exegesis in informants' responses, as well as generally thorough examples of context and meaning. Combined with my own experiences as a member of the subculture, I was able to provide what I believe is a quite accurate analysis of meaning and raison d'être for this body of folkspeech. My only concern is that it may be tainted by my forced position of esoteric observer; I can't very well remove my experiences of being a roleplayer in order to get a true exoteric viewpoint. As an attempt to counter this, I had several non-roleplayers read through a draft of this paper, and they helped immensely to identify assumptions I was making, and explanations I was leaving out. Also, I was able to use Gary Alan Fine's viewpoint2 as a semi-exoteric viewpoint, since he was not a roleplayer before writing his ethnography, and, in my opinion, retained an outsider's viewpoint despite his participation in roleplaying games for his research.

But before I can really explain the folkspeech I collected, or justify its place as folklore, I need to explain what exactly a Roleplaying Game is.


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