Time, place, and personhood in liminal spaces

Helen Woodley (Assistant Professor, Northumbria University)

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons during Lockdown. I was a relatively late joiner to the world of tabletop role playing games (TRPG) and I have to admit I was partly influenced by the Netflix series Stranger Things. I was also deeply influenced by Gadamer’s concept of a shared horizon and the use of liminal spaces which can create opportunities for dialogue so that we move away from solely considering our own perspective. Lockdown had felt so isolating on so many levels and playing a TRPG seemed like a way I could travel (albeit in a theatre of the mind), have meaningful interactions with others, and experience a different way of being ‘me’ for a few precious hours each week. 

The community of players I found slowly moved from acquaintances to friendships and the feelings of acceptance and safety allowed me to gradually develop my character from a generic 2D ‘person’ into someone more multifaceted and alive. Players have many reasons for creating the characters they do but they are all linked to self and identity one way or another. Some players may create a copy of themselves whereas others might want to play an idealised version of who they are. Whatever their motivation, the characters they create become deeply personal and have their own life history and narrative voice. 

My character, Brogh, was really a doppelganger of my own perspective of my academic identity. Playing Brogh as a white cis male was born out of reflections that the academy is often a landscape where people like that thrive and often dominate. It was an acceptance that, in my real academic  world, I often choose to act in the ways I perceive a white cis male would especially when I am in a leadership role. Brogh resembled my academic identity in other ways too. He would appear confident and take a leading role but inwardly feel insecure and uncertain of how he was perceived by others. He often saw a straightforward solution to a problem but became frustrated when others did not readily agree to the course of action he desired. I therefore used Brogh as a way of exploring how I would approach situations in my academic world, especially how my actions were perceived by others, and play around with how I might act or think at different points in time. 

All of this took place in a liminal space created by the other players. Time in this space was elastic and could be stretched or compacted at will. But this space was also deeply grounded in a sense of place. The world which we acted in was both stunningly beautiful and unbearably harsh. The use of maps was key to creating this sense of a real place and it is the use of TRPG maps alongside a developed character that currently fascinates me. I am currently playing with how to map out my academic world in a meaningful way and how that landscape can be used to develop my academic identity in a timescape outside of my physical experience. I feel that this has been beneficial for my own development but am uncertain how, or even ‘if’, it has a wider application. 

  • Influences:
  • Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2010. The functions of role-playing games: How participants create community, solve problems, and explore identity. McFarland.
  • Ekman, Stefan. 2013. Here be dragons: Exploring fantasy maps and settings. Wesleyan University Press. 
  • Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2013. Truth and Method. A&C Black.
  • Kolb, Alice Y, and Kolb, David A. 2010. ‘Learning to play, playing to learn: A case study of ludic learning space’. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 

2 thoughts on “<strong>Time, place, and personhood in liminal spaces</strong>”

  1. Fascinating Patrick. I’m not a game player myself in the sense you describe but can see how it would be great to try out different approaches to things as you seem to do with Brogh. ‘He would appear confident etc…’ is a great sentence. I think we are all doing this type of thing much more now. You mention how it started in the pandemic and I can share that my own auto-fictional writing began then – a kind of me but not me, if that makes sense. Being in a liminal spaces can be so creative.

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