robin_d_laws (robin_d_laws) wrote,
robin_d_laws
robin_d_laws

Schooled

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On Tuesday I was whisked away to the fetching campus of the University of Western Ontario in London (a.k.a., “no, the other London”) to speak to a class. The course is “Roleplaying Games as Media and Technoculture”, taught by dylangault through UWO’s Media and Information Technology department. My talk with the 14-15 students present was run in the familiar Q&A format, touching on the history of the form, the basics of game design, gamers’ status as early technological adopters. The content reminded me of the free-ranging 2-hour Q&As I’ve done in places like Copenhagen and Helsinki. I want to say that it felt a little different to have participants taking notes as I talked but come to think of it, some of the aforementioned Scandinavians did this, too. And then it wasn’t even going to be on the test! The difference in subject matter wasn’t that vast. In this case there was essentially no industry talk, and lots of time spent providing context and history: explaining Gen Con and its significance, for example.

Only a few of the students were gamers when they signed up. As part of their course work they have to play; most are in 4E games. There’s also a 3.5 game, Paranoia, and GUMSHOE (which is part of the assigned reading.) Familiar bylines from the course pack include Greg Costikyan, Erik Mona, and Michelle Nephew. The pack includes some rules excerpts, too, for example Call Of Cthulhu’s insanity section.

Among the questions I wouldn’t expect to be asked at a gaming event was whether roleplaying constituted a culture. My reply was that this depends on your answer to another question: is culture something that makes you, or something you make? Being a gamer isn’t like having been raised a Catholic or Parisian. Instead it’s an affinity that leads you to seek out like people—a fashioned culture. As evidence of gaming’s status as a culture, I pointed to the distinct cultural differences between the gaming scenes in North America and in Finland. If there are cultural differences, by inference we must also conclude that there is a culture.

It was fun and enlightening to share a discussion of my work and our hobby with a group of interested (mostly) outsiders. I’m not alone in having an ego investment in the idea of tabletop gaming as a field worthy of academic recognition and hope that Dylan is able to make the course a recurring feature of Western’s MIT program.

After the talk I asked him if the final exam required you to survive a chillborn zombie encounter. I was not, it transpired, the first one to make this joke. Although I imagine I was the first to namecheck chillborn zombies specifically.

Tags: 4e, culture, d&d, gaming hut, gumshoe, on the road
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