Academic theory on play, games, and even roleplaying games exists. But there also exists much non-academic work on roleplaying games, including the named theories mentioned in the title, but also (broadly interpreted) discussions of theoretical nature that do not construct a model or classify anything. Examples of the latter are justifications of rules such as getting experience from gold pieces, advice on how to best create immersion, or discussions of stakes setting among story game players or designers.

Does there exist an academic term for these kinds of theories or models in the study of roleplaying games? By "these kinds of theories" I mean theories created by hobbyists in a non-academic context. I am looking for an umbrella term that covers all such theories or all such models.

If the answer is negative, then a generic term for theories created by hobbyists would also be interesting.

As I am interested in academic usage of terms, so please cite and quote academic publications that actually use the term in your answer.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ “Is there a word for non-academic theories and models created by hobbyists” is a question that could stand on its own without any mention of RPGs, so it might be a good parallel question for English Language & Usage. (I don't suggest migrating this there, because it's believable that RPG theorists have come up with an RPG-specific term for this concept, so RPG expertise may give a different answer than English expertise.) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 14, 2018 at 23:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I'd support that there should just be an English Stack question linked from here. \$\endgroup\$
    – lly
    Jul 19, 2018 at 12:05
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You are free to ask such a question, if the answers here do not satisfy your needs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Jul 23, 2018 at 13:41

2 Answers 2


I think they do not have a separate name and are still simply considered "theory of roleplaying", or "roleplaying game theory". When a good model presents itself, the academics simply make use of them, not really caring whether the source is from outside of the academia. For example, section 2 of the article [Bergström 2012], has a summary of the field (as it was in 2012). You can read that they directly cite the web article by Ron Edwards on the website The Forge while discussing the GNS theory and simply move on. Quoting (emphasis mine):

In an early attempt to do something similar for tabletop role-playing, Edwards (2001) put forth the “GNS-model” which has since gained some traction in parts of the TRPG community. ... The GNS-model has been the subject of much debate since its initial inception and is part of a larger corpus of role-playing theory called “Forge” theory (a useful summary of which can be found in Boss, 2008).

I could not infer from the article whether all of the hobbyist models or just a subset are treated on similar footing (though I see no reason to doubt). Perhaps the 2008 work by Care Boss would help, but unfortunately I could not get a hold of it. I have also gone through many of the articles in the issues of IJRP, and failed to find anything further.


[Bergström, 2012] Karl Bergström, Creativity Rules: How rules impact player creativity in three tabletop, International Journal of Role-Playing, Issue 3 (2012) pg 4-17.


Evan Torner uses the term "rpg theorizing", and in the article also mentions "para-academic", fan and designer theories.

Source: Role-Playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations, edited by Sebastian Deterding and José Zagal, publisher Routledge, 17 Apr 2018; article by Evan Torner called "Rpg theorizing by designers and players". Partially available at https://books.google.dk/books?id=ix9WDwAAQBAJ


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