Role play as a democratic process

Hetty Rooth

DeathgameThey chase each other. Dash quickly across the road like aliens on the lookout.

Creep along the walls like fleeting shadows. Mysterious, disguised and carefully planned. The scene is Stockholm in Sweden. The roles are being played out by young people.

Together they are taking part in a live role play, based on reality – Deathgame.

The game has been analysed in a research project on “Democratic learning processes in adult education organisations” by Carin Falkner, Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Science.

The reality game “Deathgame” is a round-the-clock game that was started by a young girl in 2003. The venue is real life and the action is based on seeking out and pretending to kill their gaming partners. This is done using fruit and vegetables. In order to successfully outwit one another they must often deceive, disguise themselves, dress up and stalk their victims.

It’s quite clear that the players are driven by the thrill of the chase and a competitive instinct.

There is also a challenge in learning new and different skills, seeking information, thinking strategically and inventing scenarios.

But what else happens in and outside the game? Where is the educational and developmental element of the game?

Social skills

Live role plays enable you to practise social skills,” says Carin Falkner. “How you develop as an individual is closely related to how you will evolve as a citizen”.

Carin Falkner emphasises the importance of the relationships in role play gaming. The participants in Deathgame all say that they have made friends through the game, which means a great deal to them.

Friendships give life meaning”, says Carin Falkner. “When you have emotional relationships with people, but also with places, you evolve as a person and a member of society. Relationships are a part of the learning process”.

In interviews with Carin the participants described how they had positive and negative relationships with the new places. One sat on a church roof, looking around and soaking up the view for hours. Another travelled to a well-to-do suburb where he felt that he was being stared at and felt uncomfortable.

Having an emotional relationship with a place means that you are creating something significant for yourself in relation to that place. The game becomes a way of creating an identity. It gives your life meaning”

Act of resistance

Carin Falkner also sees a force for change in the game culture. She thinks that role play creates conditions for more self-awareness, but may also be a way to achieving active change and an understanding of the surrounding world.

I see it as an act of resistance that the Internet has increased the opportunities for meeting even if you live in an isolated place or sit alone at home with your narrow interests”.

Through the Internet you can find one another, dare to push the limits and make contact. Find out everything that a sense of community with others can bring.

The game’s discussion forum plays an important role in the educational process”, says Carin Falkner. “There are lively discussions on the forum about how to behave and the rules that apply. Discussions that by their nature are relevant to adult education.”

There was one session, for example, about whether to wear a wetsuit in certain situations outdoors. This subject was discussed at length from the point of view of equality. The conclusion was to finish with the costumes since they are expensive and no-one in the game should be able to win because they have money”

The role of the game leader has also come in for a lot of discussion. The game leader is primarily a person who makes sure that the rules are followed and keeps the game going and settles disputes.

On the forum the participants have, for example, discussed how the game leader handles his or her responsibility.

Whether the game leader does what is required for the game to survive and evolve.

These are important questions that develop a democratic way of thinking”, says Carin Falkner.


DEMOCRATIC LEARNING PROCESSES IN ADULT EDUCATION ORGANISATIONS is a research project being conducted jointly at a number of Swedish universities with Linköping University as the central collection point.

The project has examined formal and informal democratic learning processes in some selected liberal adult education organisations, including the Swedish Study Promotion Association’s member organisation, Sverok (Swedish Gaming Federation).

European InfoNet Adult Education, 19.06.2014