Making sense of the magic : legibility, space, and play in tabletop roleplaying games




Harris, Eboneigh L.

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As tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) have become increasingly popular among the queer community, and guided by the tenets of pleasure activism (Brown, 2019) that argues that equity entails access to pleasure, my study sought to investigate the connection between play and pleasure and the sense individuals make of themselves and their environments. My research questions included: 1) how do players negotiate legibility (make sense) of their queer identities within the context of their experiences participating in tabletop roleplaying games; and 2) what do the experiences of queer TTRPG players reveal about the relationships between legibility, space, and play? Drawing from social organization theory (Butler, 2004) and ecological definitions (Ramadier & Moser, 1998), I positioned legibility as the extent to which individuals are able to make sense of themselves in relation to their social environments and I use spatial metaphors, such as Third Space and safe houses, to help define the relationship between identity, literacy, and legibility, and to consider the role of play in facilitating these interconnected and constructive processes. My findings demonstrated that legibility was interwoven into the potent and powerful moments of pleasure experienced by participants, which I referred to as the magic. Additionally, I established the intimate connection between the concept of space and player perceptions of the magic, demonstrating that pleasure is in the experience of “crossing-over.” Then, drawing on player accounts of these experiences, I identified five forces that constitute the magic, components that not only regulate the pleasure possible within the play space, but also maintain the threshold and bounds of the space. I also discussed what players did within the space, or in constructing the space, that can be understood as cultivating these vital ingredients of play and pleasure. In the discussion, I outlined a path and framework for how players experienced personal transformation through play experiences and demonstrated the importance of intentional reflection and integration of play experiences toward the lasting effects of the magic.


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