Role Playing Games and Society


Joseph Dumit, Anthropology, College of Letters and Science


Role playing games (RPGs) are played by millions of people every year and in most countries. This seminar will introduce students to different concepts in storytelling game design, the history of roleplaying games, linguistic and ethnographic approaches to how different groups play, and formats, markets and the RPG industry. Students will learn different game mechanics (dice rolling vs. diceless co-storytelling, tabletop vs. boardless, digital and live-action), and analyze their effects on social interaction.

Seminar Goals

Students will read, discuss and experience current trends in game studies in order to: (a) Understand the range of theories about roleplaying gaming and the ways in which it has become a national and international phenomenon; (b) Learn different genres of RPGs, research and discuss approaches to studying them; (c) Learn to make social science arguments about gaming organization, infrastructure, and interventions.


Class will be organized into modules, each looking at a different RPG genre. Assignments will include critical analysis, interviewing or observation, and online research (40%). Scholarly approaches to RPGs will be given as readings each week, and class time will be split between playing and discussion (30%). The final project will consist of a short paper or developing and testing a game module (30%).


The course grade will be based on reading assignments and reflection postings (40%), class participation (30%), and final project (30%). Grading: 100-90 (A), 89-80 (B), 79-70 (C), 69-60 (D), <59 (F)


Taylor Bell is a PhD student in Anthropology studying economic and medical crises in Greece. She holds a MA in Linguistics where she studied the use moral signifiers in roleplaying games and society. She is also a level-18 Tiefling warlock. Joseph Dumit is Director of the Institute for Social Sciences, Chair of Performance Studies, and Professor of Science & Technology Studies, and Anthropology. He studies brains, drugs, media, virtual reality, gaming, improvisation. He has written two books: Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity, and Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health. He is also a co-founder of the ModLab for game studies and game development (where he's currently making a game on fracking), and works with the KeckCAVES on 3D development for science and the arts.