Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Theatre

Document Type



Roleplaying Games and Performance calls to mind popular appearances of roleplaying games on stage and screen, like Stranger Things or Qui Nguyen’s popular play, She Kills Monsters. However, inquiry into the way roleplaying games appear in these titles reveals the way they have been instrumentalized to serve the ends of their respective mediums. Scholars writing about roleplaying games also tend to leap straight to analyses of video games, with many words spilled over World of Warcraft while a live site of analog performance sits before them. In this work, I address the tabletop roleplaying game as a medium with insights to offer Theatre and Performance Studies as an object of study.

In this dissertation, I explore the way that tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) use speech and performance to guide players through conventional practices that allow them to imagine together, safely and respectfully. Here, I show that TTRPGs are a medium whose performance shares many qualities with Theatre. Through these qualities, I construct a framework through which I unpack the event of play, its participants, and the conventions that shepherd it. Interpreting roleplaying as the performance of a series of speech acts, I draw attention to the conventions that allow us to collaborate and imagine together through play.

Analyzing on the design of these conventions across a wide variety of these games, I show the way the system of rules created by game designers render explicit the implied social conventions that govern conversation and social interaction. These games design their rules to structure the relationships between players and create tools to promote respectful interaction at the table. This underscores the importance of this site not only for scholarship, but also for practice and pedagogy. Safety tools and the distribution of narrative authority do not merely show that players collaborate, communicate boundaries, and act respectfully and with consent – they show us how. By unpacking rules about safety and consent, and by putting them into practice, theatre practitioners gain a new understanding of what we make, how we work together, and how to move through a social world with safety and respect.



Committee Chair

Sikes, Alan