According to the Myers and Briggs Foundation, there are sixteen different personality types. When I was first taught about their typology survey my teacher told me that we're not static – taking their survey after a span as small as six months could change the results notably. Add in a small list of quirks people might exhibit and it doesn't take long for the possibilities to grow to a huge number. Such would be only a handful compared to the different types of people we'll meet throughout our lives. Thousands upon thousands of different roles exist in the world we will come to know even if we only play a dozen or so on a regular basis (such as brother, clerk, student, et cetera). What's this have to do with role-playing? Everything! Through experimentation, active learning, unmasking and expunging role-playing utilizes this concept to encourage personal growth.
Have you ever decided to talk in a funny accent about a favorite pastime, just to see what others would do? Did you do this after you turned twenty? How about among people you didn't know well? If you have, then you've already engaged in the experimenting portion of role-playing. Those of you who have not are in for a treat. As social settings enforce norms on us, those norms limit our understanding. Say I'm a strictly scientific, non-philosophical and nonspiritual person. How I see the world will be affected by those details. What if I want to explore parts of humanity such as philosophy and spirituality? These social norms (imposed by others in addition to ourselves) would inhibit that if they were strong enough. Role-playing is a tool to step outside those, allowing ourselves to examine unfamiliar manners of behavior. We are not shedding our views by doing so, merely setting them aside to learn about those held by others. Cashiers tasked with up-selling items benefit from role-play training because they get to test different hats (roles) in a friendly environment.
Speaking of testing different hats, there's a lot to learn by putting ourselves into those normally worn by others. Take the case of my character James Spackleson. When he talks it's very abrupt – not rude, just blunt. This was quite the challenge because being blunt doesn't come naturally for me. Don't get me wrong, I've got no problem with bluntness. It's just not me. After role-playing that character for a few sessions I began to better understand the blunt friends I had and how they might perceive the way they talk. Once it became easier to do, I could better appreciate their brevity. The reason I got to learn this is because I experimented with it. Said experiment was successful because it was in an environment friendly to it: All of us were role-playing. This could go for more behaviors than just bluntness. You could learn about the different personality types mentioned earlier via adopting them for various characters temporarily. Think of each different personality as a mask; How would you know what it looks like from the inside without wearing it?
On masks and personalities, much can be said about the unmasking of our personalities. All those social norms that we are locked into through the actions of others, as well as ourselves, can cause portions of us to stagnate. What if I'm a talented novelist but I've been working in accounting for ten or more years? It would be really hard for me to express that artistic ability if I've been neglecting it. The predominance of the accounting role isn't usually conducive to right-brained activities. If I role-play a character who is contrary to my normal everyday accountant then it opens me to the possibility of rediscovering my artistic talent. This also displaces the accountant mask so that others can come to the surface (hopefully all that latent expression, in this case). Even if the Picasso in me remains below the surface, role-playing sets aside our normal masks and lets one just be for a while. We could not be an accountant, a cashier or a manager; instead just being ourselves, expressed in whatever character we wish to portray.
What about people who play evil characters? Do they really just want to be vile? That's where another aspect of role-playing comes in handy. Every novel, play and movie I've experienced all have at least one antagonist each. Most of them have a few of varying importance to the plot. Negativity in it's varying forms builds up in all of us as life happens. Stress can make us snappy, sadness can make us angry, grief can make us seem uncaring. Not many avenues in life allow us to thoroughly express these feelings and behaviors. Creative expression is one that does and it is through this medium such negativity is best expunged. When I'm very upset writing angry lyrics calms me down. It's not that I unleash them onto the world or wish to hurt someone with them; Allowing myself to fully express myself cleanses residual buildup. Role-playing characters with a strong dark side lets people vent. Also, if you are the dungeon master it's satisfying when your players overcome the cruel villain you've been using to taunt them. Remember that not every villain has to be cruelly evil to be effective. Selfish or misunderstood characters can work just as well. Here's a sample villain: Someone went through an ordeal you did but made the evil choice you didn't. Where would they be? Exploring that road can further affirm your own decisions and come up with a villain you could easily relate to. We've all got negative sides to our personalities. Personal growth depends on understanding all parts of ourselves, not just the pieces we like. Role-playing games can provide a safe environment for this to be done constructively. Happy evolving!
Myers & Brigg's Foundation: