IN AUGUST 1979, James Dallas Egbert III disappeared from Michigan State University. His disappearance, his characterization as a science fiction and fantasy fan and player of Dungeons & Dragons, and the subsequent investigation by Texas private investigator William C. Dear spawned newspaper speculations, made-for-TV movies, and urban legends of university students playing live-action role-playing games in the steam tunnels of their school--they became cautionary tales often ending in tragedy, loss, or death. It is this sensationalist and paranoid attitude toward fantasy and science fiction, toward role-playing games like D&D, especially toward live-action RPGs that this focus group will take up and analyze as problematic. Though the Egbert case eventually revealed no causal connection between his disappearance, attempted suicide, and D&D, prejudice and the demonization of fantasy and RPGs became firmly fixed as a cultural logic about the real, the normal, the acceptable, and the responsible.
IN RESPONSE, Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1979 essay "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" argued, "For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy...They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom." How might we understand live-action RPGS or LARPs as more than just a misanthrope's escape? What are the possibilities of LARPs?
OUR FOCUS GROUP, as part of a continuing series on RPGs generated by the Critical Gaming Project at UW, will attempt to broadly historicize and contextualize live-action role-playing games in the US and will focus on the critical question of why this particular kind of gaming and fantasy is of cultural value. We will look at the cultural treatment of gaming, including news and apocryphal tales, films like 1982’s Mazes and Monsters and more recently 2007’s Monster Camp, and scholarship. Most importantly, the focus group will engage in actual live-action game play from basic mechanics to character creation to role-playing to adventuring. The course will meet once a week for 2 hours to engage guided discussion and observation, reflective writing, and play.
THE GAME SYSTEM we will play is Archaea, an independent, high-fantasy live action role-playing and wargaming system developed by Edmond Y. Chang.
Readings & Texts
Darkon. Dir. Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer. DVD. PorchLight Entertainment, 2007.
Del Giudice, Marguerite. "Dungeons, Dragons, and the Fantasy Role-Playing Craze; Which Side Are You On - Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil?" Boston Globe. 20 Apr. 1980: 1. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Fannon, Sean Patrick. "The Birth of a Hobby." The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer's Bible. Prima, 1996. 125-134. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Fannon, Sean Patrick. "Gaming Grows Up." The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer's Bible. Prima, 1996. 135-157. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Gygax, Gary. "Role-Playing: The Foundation of Fun." Role-Playing Mastery. New York: Perigree, 1987. 17-23. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Gygax, Gary. "The Master Player." Role-Playing Mastery. New York: Perigree, 1987. 24-40. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Hall, Carla. "Into the Dragon's Lair: Detective William Dear's Story of a Student Suicide." The Washington Post. 28 Nov. 1984: F1. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Krimm, Teri. "It Was a Tragic End for Teenage Genius." Boston Globe. 25 Aug. 1980: 1. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Le Guin, Ursula K. "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" The Language of the Night. New York: Perigee, 1979. 39-45. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Livingstone, Ian. "The Tragic Tale of a Boy Genius." Herald Sun. 3 Aug. 1991: 57. (Available via UW e-reserve).
Mazes and Monsters. Dir. Steven Hilliard Stern. Perf. Tom Hanks. Videocassette. Warner Home Video, 1982.
CHID 496 D
• Download the PDF version of the
course policies and syllabus.
Requirements & Grading
Although CHID 496 is for credit/no credit and no numeric grade will be reported, for the purposes for the class, you will still need to engage the course material, contribute to class discussion, and complete the assignments. With that in mind, passing with credit will be a reflection of engagement, effort, critical thinking, writing, and participation.
Play Log, or, Plogs (50%)
The majority of the writing you will do for this class is in the form of weekly short, critical, analytical response entries to the class blog:
These single-spaced, 600-700 word writings serve as reactions to, close readings of, and analyses of the readings, films, game, play, and the connections you see, read, and talk about in class. These “journal entries” are more than just summaries or personal reactions and will be evaluated on clarity, coherence, critique, and how well you concisely formulate analyses and arguments. Response entries are due weekly; see the “plog” prompt for more details.
Participation and Preparedness (50%)
Preparedness and participation forms a large component of your final grade. It is essential that you prepare for class, attend class, and participate. Missing class may seriously compromise your ability to do well in this class. Again, negative participation will hurt your participation grade. Participation is determined by 1) your respectful presence in class, 2) your willingness to discuss, comment, and ask questions, 3) your preparation for class, which includes bringing required materials to class and doing all of the assigned reading for class, 4) your engagement in group work and play, 5) your use of the class blog, 6) and your interactions with me and other students. Finally, failure to turn in homework, incomplete assignments, or late papers will negatively impact your participation grade.
Attendance is strongly recommended. If you are absent, you miss the explanation of an assignment,
the discussion of a reading, the chance to play and participate, and overall, the class as a
community of learning. It is in your best interests to come to class. Also, you are expected to
be in class on time. Class will start immediately at the appointed time. In the first minutes
of class I may make important announcements, establish the agenda for the class meeting, begin
immediately with an important lesson, or field questions. Therefore, it is particularly important
for you to arrive on time. If you come in after I start class, even by only a few minutes, you
are late and I will mark you as such. Chronic or conspicuous attendance problems will negatively
affect your credit for the class. If you know you are going to miss class, please let me know
ahead of time (via email), if you can, and we will make any necessary arrangements. And when
you do miss class, always find another student to get class notes and see me in order to make
up missed work in a timely manner.
"If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities."
"Games give you a chance to excel, and if you're playing in good company you don't even mind if you
lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game."
"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's
a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope and that enables you to laugh at
I am available during office hours and by appointment to help you. I encourage you to come see early in the quarter even if it is just to talk about the class, about the assignments, or about school in general. I may ask you to meet with me when I think a conference would be useful. My office is located in the ground floor of Padelford Hall (northeast of the HUB), Room B-33. See http://www.washington.edu/home/maps/northcentral.html?pdl.
I am Available electronically by email and the
Email and the blog are the best means of contacting me. I will do my best to answer your
emails and blog posts, usually within twenty-four hours. If there is an emergency and you
need to reach me, please contact the Undergraduate English office in A-2H&G Padelford.
Furthermore, when time permits, I will supplement my office hours with virtual hours via
AOL Instant Messenger (AIM nickname: EDagogy);
if I am logged in, during reasonable hours, you are more than welcome to discuss the class
or ask questions. Please, when you initiate an IM conversation for the first time, please
identify yourself to me -- also, please be patient because my responses may not be immediate.
Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people's thoughts and writing -- as long as you cite them. Many students do not have a clear understanding of what constitutes plagiarism, so feel free to ask questions about these matters at any time. Plagiarism includes:
• a student failing to cite sources of ideas
If you have any doubt about how to cite or acknowledge another's writing, please talk to me. It is always better to be safe than sorry. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review. For further information, please refer to UW's Student Conduct Code at http://www.washington.edu/students/handbook/conduct.html. Play it smart, don't plagiarize!
If you have a registered disability that will require accommodation, please see me
immediately. If you have a disability and have not yet registered it with Disability
Resources for Students in 448 Schmitz Hall, you should do so immediately. Please
contact DRS at 206-543-8924 (Voice) or 206-543-8925 (V/TTY) or 206-616-8379 (FAX) or
via their website at
I will gladly do my best to provide appropriate accommodation you require.
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