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Researching Analog Role-playing Games: Difficulties and Approaches

Talk by Sarah Lynne Bowman, Austin Community College

Info about event


Tuesday 8 December 2020,  at 11:00 - 12:30


Zoom meeting ID 563 610 6271



Abstract: How can we "measure" an experience as elusive, ephemeral, and bounded as play? How can we approach trying to measure a multi-modal experience such as a role-playing game? Many educators, therapists, scholars, and leisure participants discuss the transformative potential of role-playing games, including digital games such as MMORPGs, tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, and larps such as Vampire: the Masquerade. For this talk, Dr. Sarah Lynne Bowman will discuss the quandaries associated with studying analog role-playing experiences in particular, which feature spontaneous co-creative imaginative play alongside identity exploration through character enactment. The possibilities for emergent play can be multitudinous and unpredictable, which leads to difficulties in studying rigorously the impacts of these games on participants or even what these experiences "are" at their core. Many anecdotal stories and qualitative studies exist, but how can we generalize such experiences when the very nature of these games relies upon subjective, improvisational creativity and complex interpersonal dynamics, some of which may be unconscious in nature? This talk will foreground some of these challenges, while making suggestions about approaches that researchers might take. Bowman will discuss some of the general approaches that scholars have taken, evaluate their pros and cons, and suggest a research path forward for researchers who seek to understand RPGs and  investigate their potential as vehicles for psychological and social change. 

About the speaker: Sarah Lynne Bowman, Ph.D., is a scholar, game designer, and event organizer. She received her Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in Radio-TV-Film. She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas in Arts and Humanities. McFarland Press published her dissertation in 2010 as The Functions of Role-playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity. She served as an editor for The Wyrd Con Companion Book from 2012-2015, is a coordinating editor for the International Journal of Role-playing, and is a managing editor for the magazine Nordiclarp.org. Bowman helped organize the Living Games Conference (2014, 2016, 2018) and co-coordinated the Role-playing and Simulation in Education Conference (2016, 2018). Bowman teaches in the Humanities, English, and Communication. Currently, she also works as the Program Coordinator for the Peace & Conflict Studies program in the Interdisciplinary Studies department at Austin Community College.