Friday, December 1, 2017

De-roling: an inflated concept ? [micro-essay, part 1]


The popular culture served us the trope of the actor lost in character. It can be a drama immersion techniques, like the actor's methods de Hollywood. For example, Daniel D Lewis is famous for staying in character all time during the shooting of a movie. It can be a choice of the actor as a temporary personal strategy to escape from his social life. For example, Tom Baker is said to have stood in the character of Doctor Who he played a long time on TV. Finally, it can also be a deliberate choice to blur the lines and play with the opposition character-actor. For example, Jim Carrey played Andy Kaufman who played and blurred roles between his different characters.

Delsarte System of Expression,
Genevieve Stebbins, 1885.
On another note, several psychotherapy techniques are using role play to make experiment perspective taking, role taking (status and positions) and emotions. Yet, in the 70s, several psychodrama techniques started to insist on the importance of de-roling (or deroling) at the end of an intervention, before the debriefing. De-roling is supposed to allow the person to re-establish his own identity by putting a distance to the role (status, expectations, responsibilities,...), to get rid of emotions that doesn't belong to the person and thus avoid a mental state of confusion.

About tabletop RPG

One of the key-point of the moral panic of the 80s around tabletop role-playing games was that a player could be lost in the role of his character. The Rona Jaffe's novel Mazes and Monsters followed and popularized by a tv-movie of the same name, tell the meanderings of a mentally disturbed player.

In the practice of live action role play (larp), the institution of a de-roling phase is sometime claimed to help a satisfying and healthy endgame. It could limit the phenomenon of bleed when emotions of the character are transferring to the player.

Some interesting questions 

While studying the topic, I collected and sorted questions in 3 categories.
Psychology: Does a person playing a role need a de-roling phase? If not, what are the consequences? For what kind of persons in particular? On which aspects of a person: emotions, personality, values,...? On the short term or on the long term?

Social : Can we related that topic to the liminal reintegration at the end of a ritual? How to relate the question of the human ability to fluently switch roles and behaviors depending on the context? Can we measure the influence of people expectations on the person playing a role by the person himself?
Learning : Does de-roling give importance to the activity before (ritualization)? What is the impact of de-roling in a debriefing post role-playing-based learning activity? What is the difference of de-roling and debriefing?

Current research on the topic

There is a few academic studies specifically on de-roling. The existing documents are mainly thesis, non-evidence based books, technical manuals or handbooks and short essays.

The only 5 studies published in peer-reviewed journals (ie. the highest level in term of scientific authority) are theoretical studies:
The fact there is only theoretical studies doesn't help validate the legitimacy of this concept. Ideally, experimental studies should be done to compare and to measure the effects of de-roling. To the best of my knowledge and my recent investigations, today there is no experimental study on de-roling.
[note: I didn't search for studies on debriefing]

[next: details and sources of the current post]

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