Both my longtime readers will probably remember how I took that course on researching roleplaying games back in 2009 and reported about it in excruciating detail. Well, the gentlemen Stenros and Montola are back, and this time they brought some friends! On April 10th and 11th, the hypermedia lab at Tampere University hosted the Role-Playing in Games seminar. They do a spring seminar every year, and this year the theme was RPGs. So, we got what Jaakko Stenros speculated to be the largest gathering of RPG researchers in one place, ever. I’m told there were about 50 people present, though I wouldn’t quite go so far as to call myself a role-playing game researcher. Yet. I’ve had published pretty much every kind of text related to roleplaying games except the academic paper. Its time will come and there are bits about Living Greyhawk in my 2009 study journal that could be translated, expanded and refined into something that can stand daylight.
It was a working paper seminar. Researchers sent in their works-in-progress, which were then distributed to the registered attendees via e-mail in advance. There were 17 papers in total. You can see the list of people and their topics at the seminar’s website. At the seminar, they then presented their papers, which were first commented on by the expert commentators and then the rest of the audience. The experts were Torill Mortensen and J. Tuomas Harviainen. The criticism was constructive, the discussion was lively. The papers themselves were very interesting.
This being game studies, of course, it’s all ridiculously inter-disciplinarian. I don’t consider myself really qualified to even have an opinion on half of the papers because they’re so far from my field, English philology. I will, however, note that “The Correct Cthulhu and the Real Batman: Structuring the Power Relations in Cultural Semiospheres” is exactly as interesting as it sounds (which I guess would be deeply subjective, but I think it’s pretty nifty), and that Sarah Lynne Bowman’s “Social Conflict and Bleed in Role-Playing Communities” begs for the subtitle “The Ecology of the Drama Llama”.
For those who do not know, the Drama Llama is a fell beast that rises up from the pumpkin patch and brings drama to all the nice boys and girls. Not the good kind of drama.
Most of the stuff relevant to my interests was presented on the first day, such as Evan Torner’s “Empty Bodies and Time in Tabletop Role-Playing Game Combat”, which was right up my alley, as were the four papers in the Playing with Text sessions. On the second day, the edu-larp stuff was less interesting to me since I’m desperately trying to avoid the career of a teacher and I don’t larp, though Michał Mochocki made his presentation intriguing, and the stuff being done in Brazil is just amazing. Finally, there was Ashley Brown’s “Threesomes, Waterfalls, and Healing Spells: The utility of magic, fantasy, and game mechanics in erotic role-play in World of Warcraft“, which was quite interesting. (Okay, how could it not be? Being academic text, though, it was not prurient in the least. Lesbian Night Elves didn’t come up until the audience comments.) This much I will say… being the GM patrolling in Winterfell or wherever to make sure that there’s no digital nookie being had amongst the snowbanks must be among the weirdest jobs ever.
I can’t give you a link to the papers. They’re works in progress and not meant for public consumption – which is also why I refrain from discussing their contents in greater depth – though there will be a special issue of the International Journal of Roleplaying with a handful of them once they’re good and done. I’ll try and keep an eye out for the others as well.
I will note, though, that I have now witnessed a serious academic paper discussing Harry Potter’s penis. I hear they cut most of it.
What I can give you access to is our Twitter hashtag, #rpig. I really have no idea if anyone who wasn’t there can get anything out of it, but that’s essentially the MST3K track of the seminar, observations on Twitter made during presentations and commentary. More importantly, people used it to post links to articles and books mentioned during the discussion. I find this a fascinating use of the service.
Additionally, there’s Rafael Bienia’s blog, where he has photos of the event from both days. He is also now the curator of the largest collection of photographs of the back of my head in the world. (Presumably also the backs of several other people’s heads, but I can’t be sure and anyway, this concerns me less.) Likely of more interest to the public at large, he has a link collection to resources for studying role-playing games.
For me, the event was an immensely motivating experience. It felt kinda like going to a gaming convention, a feeling enhanced by the seminar being bookended by A Week in Finland events, a pub crawl on the preceding night and the States of Play release party on Wednesday.
It was also a humbling experience (not to be confused with a humiliating experience [Stenros 2007]). They’re a valuable thing to have, every once in a while. There’s still a lot of work ahead of me before I can really engage at an event such as this at the assumed level. Even so, it was awesome.
After the seminar ended, we all boarded a train and headed to the States of Play release party. It’s a great book, and I am proud to have been a part of making it, however small. I will tell you all about it next week. For now, regardless of how much of a media construct Felicia Day is, I feel kinda like this: