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I am looking for a professional term, used to describe a situation in which a person imagines that they are someone else. E.g., someone playing a first-person game will imagine that they are within the game, and "super-impose" their personality onto that character. Or, a child might imagine they are a superhero from their favorite story and consider what they would do with the superhero's abilities.

The term "role-play" is related, but not precisely what I am looking for. "Role-play" seems to emphasize the "playing" or "acting" aspect. I want a term that just means, "imagining you are someone else".

  • Emulate could fit. (If you squeezed it). – Timtech Aug 25 '13 at 18:15
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    When do you mean by the word imagine? A simple choice, or some type of disorder? – dcaswell Aug 25 '13 at 20:09
  • Does this person know what they're doing or are they delusional? – Jim Aug 26 '13 at 6:45
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    A term that might appear in a psychology or human development journal would be preferred. The meaning should not imply a disorder or delusion, but a choice. – Village Aug 27 '13 at 5:56
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    To me, there is a discrepancy in your question which might make it hard to pin down a "perfect fit" word . . . "super-impose" their personality onto that character" implies the imaginer's personality takes dominance, while in the 2nd paragraph you say, "I want a term that just means, "imagining you are someone else". - which means the imaginer would assume the imagined person's personality. Can you clarify which of these is more in line with what you're looking for? Eager to help . . . :-) – Kristina Lopez Aug 27 '13 at 19:01

24 Answers 24

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+100

This can be described as role-projection. I.e. "imagining oneself in the role of another".

This usage isn't common, but it exists in the psychology literature. E.g.:

Hirschman (1983) and others (d'Astous & Deshenes 2005) posit that certain traits can influence participation in fantasy-related consumption behaviours, including role-projection and escapism (i.e., to get away from one's everyday life) or other activities involving visualization. Specifically, an individual's preference for using imagination, can predict a tendency to engage in a certain types of fantasy, including both role-projection and escapism.

link

Imaginal Responses mainly refer to role projection and escapism.

link

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Impersonate:

to assume the character or appearance of; pretend to be; to act or play the part of; (Archaic.) to represent in personal or bodily form; personify.

Less common is

Personate:

to act or portray; to assume the character or appearance of; personify.

Impersonate is often used in a negative sense where deception is involved, but this definition shows that personate can be used the same way in legal terms.

UPDATE

Another word that might come across is immersion. The linked article is somewhat convoluted (which is no surprise given that it is posted under the heading "The Gaming Philosopher"), but the general meaning is here:

Fictional identification with a character (immersion) is helped by mechanics that give total authorship over the character's beliefs, desires, decisions and so forth to one player.

So a person having an immersion experience has total control over the traits of the character they are imagining or pretending to be.

UPDATE 2

I have come across another term that is more about one's state of mind (imagination) rather than ones actions (role-playing).

Escapism

The avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc.

Escapism is more a state-of-mind than an action, as it attests to the mental state that may drive one to actually escape their current circumstances. It begins with the visualization of alternative conditions. These conditions might be the environment (a vacation escape usually begins with the visualization of that other place), but one can also turn to an alternative identity.

From this article on the subject, the writer discusses escapism and identity in both positive and (clinically) negative terms. Here is an excerpt:

From a psychology perspective, Baumeister (1991) commented that individuals may be trying to escape their current ideas of “self”. He also suggested that escape may be temporarily achieved by “shrinking” down the self to its bare minimum. … The feeling of flow experience has been described as an enjoyable and focused concentration in which one experiences a loss of self-consciousness (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Hence, being in flow means temporarily escaping one’s ideas of self. From a psychology perspective, Baumeister (1991) commented that individuals may be trying to escape their current ideas of “self”. He also suggested that escape may be temporarily achieved by “shrinking” down the self to its bare minimum. … being in flow means temporarily escaping one’s ideas of self.

It’s not a great leap to say that imagining that one is someone else is a form of escapism. This would be the case whether it's as a short-term entertaining diversion or as a short- or long-term means to avoid reality in one's personal life.

Since escapism covers more than imagining about one's identity, I suggest a phrase such as identity escapism might meet your needs.

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I don't see why Roleplay isn't considered valid here...but if you are looking for another term...

"Acting" or "to act" describes how one can pretend to be another person, and does not necessarily have to mean in media or otherwise.

The word "avatar" describes such a person that one uses to act as another or as a representation of themselves, but doesn't act as a verb.

"Impersonate" can be used if you are acting like a specific person, though not if they are an imaginary person such as a made-up superhero, or if you are acting through them like in a video game.

If you're looking for another hyphenated term, "to act something out" describes the way in which one portrays a certain personality, activity, or other imagined thing.

Hopefully one of these are what you are looking for.

  • I edited your answer because at first read I thought you meant act-out as in tantrums. See the second meaning in the phrasal verb section here. – terdon Aug 26 '13 at 0:17
  • @terdon "to act out (something)" or "act something out" are both acceptable. See first line here. – Mari-Lou A Aug 26 '13 at 4:06
  • @Mari-LouA yes, of course they are. Please read the edit history, I just added the "something" to avoid confusion with the other meaning of act-out. – terdon Aug 26 '13 at 11:32
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I would suggest "to take on the part/role of" as in:

The boy retreated into his own imagination taking on the part of [super-hero] ..

In most games, the player takes on the part of the main character "becoming" the lead in the adventure.

"Taking on" may also imply responsibility:

He was forced to take on the role as Jimmy's father, since the [tragic event]..

EDIT: I also want to add "to fill someone's shoes" which has an impersonating/burden-bearing connotation to it(but it might not be what you're looking for).

EDIT:(2) "Stepping into someone's shoes" is probably better, as it sounds temporary.

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I believe the word vicarious would fit in here.

Adjective
vicarious ‎(not comparable)

  1. Experienced or gained by the loss or to the consequence of another person, rather than through first-hand experience, such as through watching or reading.

    People experience vicarious pleasures through watching television.

4

I would use the word Pretending...

4

How about assume, or one of the other words mentioned in this link.

There's also become. Actors are said to become the part they are playing, as in this tribute to James Gandolfini:

Early on, he ate up space, spreading his legs in the therapy room, with a swagger that got the audience hot for him, inspiring trend pieces on Tony as a sex symbol—but he was even more fearless as the show proceeded, shedding that charm and becoming a golem before our eyes.

  • Would the downvoter like to give a reason? – Mynamite Aug 22 '13 at 20:04
  • Sure -- the OP already stated that "role-playing" wasn't what they were looking for, because it involved acting. And yet you gave an example directly involving acting! :) – starwed Aug 22 '13 at 20:17
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    OP is looking for an alternative term that does not use 'play' or 'act' but which nevertheless means 'playing' and 'acting'. To quote your own comment to user49727 "The question is .... about the perfectly normal act of fantasizing while playing a game." How else can anyone assume a different character without acting of some kind? The confusion in some of the answers above seems to be whether this is done consciously or unconsciously. But thank you for replying. – Mynamite Aug 22 '13 at 20:40
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    You are conflating two separate uses of the word act. – starwed Aug 23 '13 at 18:18
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    +1 for "assume" because you can assume a personality or identity. And I agree, if the person is sane and is pretending or imagining (in his head) to be someone he isn't, it is a form of acting. – Mari-Lou A Aug 26 '13 at 3:20
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You might be able to make visualize or envision fit if, as @timtech said, you squeeze a little.

vi·su·al·ize
1. To form a mental image of; envisage: tried to visualize the scene as it was described.

en·vi·sion
To picture in the mind; imagine.

Granted, neither specifies putting yourself in someone's place, but a quick google search shows they can be used in that way:

Visualize yourself as a superwoman who can easily scale the highest skyscrapers or a marathon runner who outruns all of his competitors. (Source)

 

Envision yourself as a Naval Officer. (Source)

3

A related concept seems to be called experience-taking.

the imaginative process of spontaneously assuming the identity of a character in a narrative

http://io9.com/5910449/how-reading-novels-can-make-you-a-better-person

Researchers at Ohio State University examined what happened to people who, while reading a fictional story, found themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own - a phenomenon the researchers call “experience-taking.”

http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/exptaking.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22448888

I'm not sure this is really what you're after, but if there was another technical/professional term for what you want, I have to believe it would crop up in this literature. The closest I see is immersion.

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The first thing that comes to my mind is "role-playing" but since it is not precisely what OP is looking for so I would suggest the term "imaginative role-enactment" and "role simulation" instead.

3

To masquerade is to pretend you are someone (or something) you are not.

3

or you might consider the following terms

identification

transference

projection

as applied in a psychological context.

Another term that might be applied is acquisitive projective identification

  • I thought of transference too, but that (as well as projection) are the act of imagining someone else in a different role e.g. imagining a psychoanalyst as parent rather than care-giver. – Ellie Kesselman Aug 31 '13 at 6:34
  • However, I up voted your answer, because "identification" is perfect! Per your reference, and others, "identification is a process by which one ascribes to oneself the qualities or characteristics of another person". – Ellie Kesselman Aug 31 '13 at 6:37
  • I agree and that is why 'identification' was my first choice. 'Transference' was second because it has specific psychoanalytic implications, although applied more loosely it can refer to an unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another (see wikipedia). The third word 'projection' signifies attribution rather than acquisiton of personality traits. – user49727 Aug 31 '13 at 10:43
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What you describe sounds like Mitty-esque fantasies. (Sorry it's not one word.) With the emphasis on imagining and not necessarily doing, this reminded me very much of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber.

  • Ahhh. Now what would you call someone who imagined himself to be Walter Mitty? – Walter Mitty Jul 17 '14 at 12:23
  • You, I suppose! :-) – LindaCamillo Jul 17 '14 at 22:48
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A variety of terms are applicable depending on precise context. In general you could use the following:

alter ego

split personality

jekyll and hyde

the technical term is dissociative identity disorder with Munchausen syndrome being a specific instance of it.

If you want an overarching term that includes both conscious and unconscious dissemblers mythomania is appropriate

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    None of these come close to capturing what the OP is asking! The question is not about an actual split personality, or any sort of disorder -- but about the perfectly normal act of fantasizing while playing a game. – starwed Aug 22 '13 at 19:51
  • Please read my post again - most of the terms are applicable for the situation you describe – user49727 Aug 22 '13 at 20:32
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To pose

To pose as someone else, to pretend to be someone you are not.

In his autobiography, Frank Abagnale, perhaps one of the best-known con-artists and impostors currently living in the US, claimed he successfully posed as an airline pilot, a university sociology teaching assistant, a pediatrician and an attorney.

Wikipedia

While he was posing as Pan Am First Officer "Robert Black", Abagnale forged a Harvard University law transcript, passed the Louisiana Bar exam, and got a job at the Louisiana State Attorney General's office at the age of nineteen.

Failing that, it is also possible to say that an imposter; an actor; a fantasizer; a daydreamer; a mime artist, etc. all interpret a role.

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Empathize. vb (intr). to engage in or feel empathy

Empathy. n. the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it

  • This is incorrect. Empathy is almost like sympathy, it is the ability to understand someone's distress, sadness, or even joy. In a sense, you are able to imagine yourself in that person's situation, but you do not pretend to be that person. – Mari-Lou A Aug 26 '13 at 3:03
  • I suppose I should have pasted the Merriam-Webster definition of Empathy instead: "the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it" - I don't know if your disagreement is more word gymnastics or philosophical, but I think you can't identify with another's feelings without imagining you are them. – user50496 Aug 26 '13 at 18:40
  • You can edit your answer and include that definition which, I agree, fits in better but I still maintain that empathy means you are able to imagine a person's situation and feel sympathy for them. You do not have to impersonate that person. If you imagine to be someone you are not, you take on that person's character or social position. For example, obey the order: "Pretend to be a despotic ruler!" What would you do? You would temporarily adopt and act out the mannerisms and speech of a living or dead tyrannical leader. – Mari-Lou A Aug 27 '13 at 4:21
  • You may be misremembering the question after having read it. The question says "to describe a situation in which a person imagines that they are someone else." The Merriam-Webster definition of Empathy is almost exactly this. The only way I can understand your not-useful vote is if you were unaware of this non-archaic definition. – user50496 Aug 27 '13 at 12:27
  • "Or, a child might imagine they are a superhero from their favorite story" Where's the empathy in that situation? We disagree, lets see what the "voters" think, shall we? (I'm not doing too well with my suggested answer either!) – Mari-Lou A Aug 27 '13 at 17:14
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I've seen some really great answers here from this community, some I would certainly never have considered!

In doing my part, I'd like to propose

Occupy

because it refers to taking over the space and taking control (a reference to the superimposing that Matt refers to).

Upside: This is mostly because of the sense of your will taking over that of the character, which removes the sense of acting or playing a part.

Downside: Not entirely sure if it will dredge up associations with the Occupy Movement or with pod persons.

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There is a term in Sanskrit called "parakaaya pravesa". It means entering another body. I have not come across an English equivalent for this but would the word

transmogrification suffice?

Noun 1. transmogrification - the act of changing into a different form or appearance (especially a fantastic or grotesque one)transmogrification - the act of changing into a different form or appearance (especially a fantastic or grotesque one); "the transmogrification of the prince into a porcupine" translation, transformation - the act of changing in form or shape or appearance; "a photograph is a translation of a scene onto a two-dimensional surface"

  • This is incorrect. Transmogrification is not a formal term and it does not connote personality in a specific sense. – user49727 Aug 21 '13 at 13:45
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This seems like a perfect opportunity for a coinage. Have you tried combining some of the suggestions here in a way that might be obvious enough to convey what you're looking for?

Imagine + masquerade = immasquerade?

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I am not sure but this word may be helpful to you

Enact,insinuation, presentment

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Immerse

Specifically:

v. To engage deeply; to engross the attention of; to involve; to overhelm.
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In agile concept , it define personas as "representing fictitious people which are based on your knowledge of real users. "

More detail on below link... Hope this will help too.

http://www.agilemodeling.com/artifacts/personas.htm

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I just thought of introjection as another possible formal term. In strict psychoanalystic sense this implies unconscious identification. I am not sure if this term can be applied for conscious incorporation of someone else's attributes

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I'm astonished that no one has yet suggested fantasize. It seems to match your description to a tee.

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