Play The Role


Roleplaying is something I do not especially like. It has always made me feel uneasy and, when I was much younger, the flight response could be quite compelling.

Roleplaying was far from my mind when I enrolled for UBC’s Cultural Planning course. After all, it was entirely online and the subject is somewhat dry and straightforward (although by no means easy).

As it turned out, there was a fair bit of the make-believe. Some of the assignments were didactic in nature, but many others were not.

In fact, many of the assignments centred on a fictionalized city, of our own devising, that would be undertaking a cultural plan. We were required to write visions, missions, values for our cities. We conceived of populations and committees. We charted strategies, actions and budgets to ensure our cities could reach their goals. In the end, a complete cultural plan, although shorter and fictionalized, was comparable to what you would expect to see for any real city.

Each time I sat down to start a new assignment there was a little dread (and a dash of resentment) that I had to create more of my imaginary world. It felt a lot like roleplaying, in particular because my classmates could read what I had conceived.

Each assignment started with a struggle, but once I got going I found them curiously engrossing. In fact, there were many times that I quite surprised myself with what I wrote. Ideas would pop into my head as if from nowhere.

Now, having completed the course, I have come to realize that the assignments ignited in me a little spark of creativity and freedom.

With a little reflection, I came upon two small realizations.

First, I have been doing this same type of roleplaying throughout my career whenever I was required to do something without the requisite knowledge and experience. Somehow I had to ‘make it up’ and get it right. But these were real situations with real consequences and, needless to say, I took this roleplaying quite seriously.

Second, playing an imaginary role without the seriousness is wonderfully liberating. The box in which we put ourselves falls away, the mind clears and creative thinking brings forward new connections and once obscured thoughts.