DS106 as RPG, Part 2

Typical role playing game dice
Typical role playing game dice. By aranarth Pablo Ruiz Múzquiz


Why do we play Dr. Oblivion’s ds106 “Summer of Oblivion” game?

We come to ds106 with different agendas. Some are fulfilling a requirement and looking for a grade (probably a small subset of the registered UMW students). Others chose to observe and contribute to ds106 to learn about digital storytelling and/or what a open online course is and how it works. And then there are those that come to ds106 for reasons that are not so obvious – they wonder why they should bother to develop their own digital identity and then push it through a variety of situations they may not be completely comfortable with.

These proposed rationales for participating in ds106 are actually an effort to make a comparable match to the three “creative agendas” defined in Ron Edwards’s Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationalist (GNS) Theory of role playing games. GNS Theory is an attempt to make sense of how a role play game (RPG) works, and specifically what social reasons people come together to play the game. I’ll admit that I haven’t played an RPG since the early 80s when I built and played D&D characters. But I have been in teaching for some time now and GNS Theory might shed some light on student motives in the classroom.

I’ll layout some of the principles of GNS Theory and try and apply them to an educational context.

The “G” stands for Gamist. In an RPG, these players are focused on competing on an equal playing ground and then proving themselves. Their goal is to win.

The Gamist mindset reminds me of the student that shows up to class and asks the professor, “What do I need to do to get an A.” And that’s all that matters to the student. Tell me what the clearly defined goals are and I will step up to the challenge to get the grade. Edwards has nicknamed this attitude in the RPG community as “Step On Up.” Which makes me think of students who imagine that there are only so many A’s to be given in a class so they need to beat out their peers.

The “N” stands for Narrativist. Role players of this type want to figure out how and why their characters makes decisions. They put themselves in situations where right and wrong isn’t necessarily clear, a Catch-22. Their character’s storylines are constantly changing.

Students that are struggling with their own story, their place, but strive to experiment and build remind me of the narrativists in role playing games. They invest in their studies, but want to know, “what does it all mean.” They demand, “Story Now” which is Edwards’s short-code for the motivation for narrativist role players. Drama, Message, Moral.

The “S” stands for Simulationalist. These role players love to immerse themselves in the creation and management of worlds/spaces that have specific rules guided by a particular genre or set of source material (imagine an RPG built around the American Civil War for example). These spaces are like bubble universes and characters have little free will – they are beholden to the internal rules of the simulation.

These remind me of students that fall in love with a discipline, which is amazing, as it brings a lot of enthusiasm in the classroom and beyond. But as students/scholars immerse themselves deeper and deeper into the unique characteristics of their field of study, their wish to invest in the bigger world around them diminishes.  The “Right To Dream” is how Edwards describes this attitude of the simulationist role player. Perfect spaces. Perfect rules.

So what’s your agenda for playing the DS106 game? And if we come with different agendas can we all play nice together?


3 responses to “DS106 as RPG, Part 2”

  1. […] Additionally, Michael Branson Smith came on to talk about ds106 as a Role Playing Game (RPG) and has at least two excellent posts on this topic so far: part 1 and part 2. […]

  2. […] image of contentment, and that’s actually what ds106 is all about. Whether it’s the active role playing that occurs heavily within the course, or the incredibly awesome tutorials for creating pretty […]

  3. Rosa A. Ojeda Ayala Avatar
    Rosa A. Ojeda Ayala

    Thanks for this magnificent explanation of Jim’s MOOC experiment! As you stated, I came just to observe and learn about these kinds of experiences. I wished I could have had the time to actually get involved. Thanks for sharing!