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DS106 as RPG, part 1

Dr. Oblivion and Prof. Brian O'Blivion

Today was the start of the summer section of DS106 Digital Storytelling a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) taught out of the University of Mary Washington (UMW) and conducted through their open site ds106.us. If you’re not sure what a MOOC is then watch this video to get a little perspective, but in a nutshell it’s an opportunity for anyone to participate in an online course that is happening at given time. It’s a happening because there are registered students and they will receive credit and a grade, but for the rest of the participants (including myself) it’s their choice to decide what level they will participate.

But the fact that DS106 is a MOOC isn’t necessarily unique. There are other MOOCs out there creating happenings for others to follow and learn from. What’s becoming unique about DS106 is that every day it becomes less of a course and more of a community. And this community behaves in a way that I want to liken to a role playing game (RPG). And actually a particular RPG model that fits into Ron Edward’s Big Model RPG game theory which might define ds106’s RPG creative agenda as “Narrativist” or “Story Now.” These are particular terms and ideas related to the Big Model and I will go into them further, but I wanted to first describe why I see DS106 as an emerging RPG.

One of the generally agreed upon definitions of an RPG is that it is a gathering of “players that assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting.” And for this summer section of DS106, Jim Groom, as the instructor of the course has defined this particular gathering as “The Summer of Oblivion” and has decided to play the role of Dr. Oblivion as instructor of the course. Jim’s Dr. Oblivion is based on the character Professor Brian O’Blivion from the David Cronenberg film Videodrome who only appears to the audience via remote broadcast – never in person, never to be met. And in the spirit of this character, Jim Groom has become Dr. Oblivion’s assistant mediating all contact between him and his students.

Yes, that’s right Jim Groom – the instructor of the course – is playing a character named Dr. Oblivion who is – the instructor of the course. Jim has even adopted the LARP approach, altering himself physically for the role. And what does that mean for us the students? Well I think we might as well be considered players in Dr. Oblivion’s game. He is our game master (GM) and we have agreed to use our characters in the form of digital identities to explore digital storytelling situations. We will use a number of digital tools and techniques to help us build our characters and resolve these situations. And finally the individual moments of play, the results, will be “meat” of the game as everyone reacts to each other’s contributions.

But why do we all wish to play Dr. Oblivion’s game? What’s our agenda for participation?

Coming next post.

10 replies on “DS106 as RPG, part 1”

Sir, this is not a game. No one is impersonating anyone. The similarities of Mr. Groom and myself are not a thing that can be shaped by words. In spirit we are all of the same maker, but the bag of bones mister Groom wanders in is not of the same form as I. Of that you can be certain.

While I appreciate the prose regarding this “class” and the outline of the structure, there is more at play in this “game.” If you wish to discuss RPG constructs and the Halo universe, please do so in a more fitting environment. Like the Bungie message boards.

There is no assistant beyond that of the surrogate Mr. Groom and my reign over him. There is no more. It is not a “happening.” It is not some trivial story. It is NotTrivial! Of that sir, you can be certain.

Michael,
I had not thought it through so detailed, but this is brilliant. I love that you break it all down, and it makes a ton of sense to me. My only concern is that Dr. Oblivion didn’t takes himself so seriously, as evidenced in the comment above. You know he is very hard to work for, but he’s good, very, very good!

Dr. Oblivion you place too much emphasis on the difference between a “class” and a “game.” They can be interchangeable.

What matters is the “agenda” a student/player brings to the class/game and if this community agrees on this agenda. Without some agreement there cannot be success.

As to you and your surrogate. You may wish to be anonymous, but I can find out who you are. As a corporate/dictator I am always watching and never forgetting.

Jim –
Thanks for checking in on this idea that I’ve been considering since yesterday. I’ve have some more to flesh out in the next post, that will hopefully solve some of the dispute between Dr. Oblivion and Alpha 60.

All the world’s a stage.

To the extent that Dr O’s scheming provokes us all to consider how much role playing is involved in the ‘ordinary’ activities of education, he will have done us a (probably unintended) service.

Agreed Ed! I’ve been thinking about the role of Oblivion as a game master (GM) to ds106 and whether he’s actually worthy of the role. Because it seems like that there may be a real need to have a DS106 GM role that can be inhabited by anyone that’s up to the task to lead the many players in the community.

It’s inevitably too much pressure for one person to GM DS106, but the ideals for how one should play the GM are being set right now. And I feel that Dr. Oblivion as a “character” may not be up to the task. I love him as a fun archetype to make posters for and play cat-and-mouse games with, but will he be a role that others can inhabit? Can you become Dr. Oblivion?

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