Role-Playing on Twitter

Role-playing on Twitter may be an effective tool with which individuals may seek online support. Play, in general, is not only a method for escaping the difficulties and mundane activities of every day life, it is also a way for us to understand ourselves, our place in the world, and our relations to others (Chayko, 2008). Role-play, more specifically, has been used for education (Riddle, 2008), the processing and resolution of conflict (Houston, Magill, McCollum, & Spratt, 2001), and as a way to hone interpersonal skills in both virtual and face-to-face communities (Jung, 2007). Twitter, specifically, facilitates disinhibition in virtual connectivity (Joinson, 2007), intimacy via written text (Tanis, 2007), specifically targeted audiences (Marwick & boyd, 2010), and connect to communities based on common interests (Zappavigna, 2011).

role-playing-games-rpg-demotivational-posters-1341522698One example of role-playing on Twitter is the individuals brought together by their interest in League of Legends (LoL), a massively online battle arena (MOBA), who have created Twitter accounts posing as characters from the game. Those characters, bound in some way by the lore already created by game developers, interact in a way which allows LoL to become immersive. These characters already belong to communities, based on their lore, however the community of role-players also begin to develop “meta” rules (e.g., social norms) for what is acceptable behavior when acting as a character. For instance, when speaking out of character the role-player must use “//” before the text.

fantasy_roleplayingRole-players use text to indicate physical movement as well. This is consistent with Tanis’s (2007) note that individuals change writing forms and word usage to indicate non-verbal cues when having text based conversations in which non-verbal cues are necessary. When becoming a part of this community, role-players who have been in the community longer, use the direct message function of Twitter to explain abbreviations, meta rules, and work out characters’ story lines (or TL’s). This sharing of information is also consistent with Parks (2011) assertion that communities inherently have a form of information sharing. Additionally, this community allows for strong bonds between players, allowing for informational and emotional support (Tanis, 2007).

Role-playing in online communities, such as the ones found on Twitter, allow us to learn to develop identities (whether our own, or role-played), adhere to social norms and meta rules for communities, become immersed or facilitated the immersion of others into a transmedia story, and provide or find support using online connectivity.


Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities : the social dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. Albany: SUNY.

Houston, S., Magill, T., McCollum, M., & Spratt, T. (2001). Developing creative solutions to the problems of children and their families: Communicative reason and the use of forum theatre. Child and Family Social Work, 6, 285-293.

Joinson, A. (2007). Disinhibition and the internet. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Transpersonal Implications, (pp. 75-92). New York, NY: Elsevier.

Jung, Y. (2007). Role enactment in interactive media: A role-play perspective. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, , 4124-4124. Retrieved from (621722683; 2008-99070-189).

Marwick, A. E., & boyd, d. (2010). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13(1), 114–133. doi:10.1177/1461444810365313
Riddle, M. D. (2009). The Campaign: a case study in identity construction through performance. ALT-J, 17(1), 63–72. doi:10.1080/09687760802649855
Parks, M. (2011). Social network sites as virtual communities. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, (pp. 105-123). New York, NY: Routledge.
Tanis, M. (2009). Online social support groups. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, T. Postmes & U. Reips (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology, (pp. 139-163). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Zappavigna, M. (2011). Ambient affiliation: A linguistic perspective on Twitter. New Media & Society, 13(5), 788–806. doi:10.1177/1461444810385097

Social Influence in Gaming, Social Media, and Social Marketing

Joinson, Mckenna, Postmes, and Reips (2009) discuss three main types of social influence: compliance, norm-based influence, and interpersonal influence. Compliance takes place when an individual molds their actions around what is expected of them in a social situation; they act on other peoples’ expectations. Norm-based influence is when an individual makes a change to their behavior in order to fit in with their in-group, and do so of their own volition. Interpersonal influence takes place when and individual sees themselves as distict, and obtains information or perspective from other individuals which they see as useful, influential, or relevant; we may be persuaded by others whom we see as being applicable to our needs or personal validity.

Evidence of these social influences are readily found in online gaming communities. Barnett and Coulson (2010) discuss the formation of organized groups of players (aka guilds) in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and what motivates players to join them. They note that due to the varying roles that must be played in order to accomplish goals within these guilds, players must trade information while still fulfilling their individual purposes. In this way, players exibit interpersonal influence on one another. Other research notes that players are influenced socially in game play, but do not clearly define whether the influence is compliant or norm-based (Cole & Griffiths, 2007).

An example of compliant social influence was uncovered when studying Facebook group use (Park, Kee, & Venezuela, 2009). Students report using Facebook groups because they felt compelled by fellow students and identified doing so as an in-group normative behavior.

Finally, norm-based influence can be found in social martketing (McKenzie-Mohr, 2000). When social marketers present desired behaviors as social normatives, individuals may alter their behaviors of their own choosing to match the desired behavior presented in the campaign. In this way, the individual avoids cognitive dissonance and is able to percieve themselves as complying with the more desirable behavior; that of the in-group as presented by the campaign.

When we understand how social influence affects behaviors and changes, as well as personal identities, we can not only understand changes in individuals but we are better equipped to use these influences to overcome marginalization, develop various skills, and teach others to follow suit.


Barnett, J., & Coulson, M. (2010). Virtually real: A psychological perspective on massively multiplayer online games. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 167–179. doi:10.1037/a0019442
Cole, H., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Gamers. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(4), 575–583. doi:10.1089/cpb.2007.9988
Joinson, A. N. (2009). The Oxford handbook of Internet psychology. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2000). Fostering sustainable behavior through community-based social marketing. American Psychologist, 55(5), 531–537. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.55.5.531
Park, N., Kee, K. F., & Valenzuela, S. (2009). Being immersed in social networking environment: Facebook groups, uses and gratifications, and social outcomes. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(6), 729–733. doi:10.1089/cpb.2009.0003