I originally came across the Etahn Gilsdorf work whilst scanning Henry Jenkins excellent blog: Confessions of an Aca/Fan. You make some interesting points about his work and I agree that the game never went away for many of us. To repeat my comments from the Jenkins blog:
'In inevitably breaking free of the pre-packaged material produced by TSR, the storytellers then have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Tolkien, constructing a world from the base upwards dealing with the myth of creation, cultures, languages, historical timelines and key themes. For my group, this process has thus far taken 8 years and is a likely to be a lifelong endeavour and is quite possibly the most challenging creative task I have ever undertaken.'
Dungeons & Dragons has an excellent opportunity to reinvent itself via the education system.
I have been a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) player for 27 years and have a strong passion for the game; I am an advocate of fantasy role-playing as a tool for learning and a potential catalyst for creative thinking and inquiry led investigation. Based on my experiences as both a player, GM and educationalist, combined with the exciting developments brought by Web 2.0 applications, I have been experimenting with D&D within the classroom environment and have witnessed some fascinating and potentially paradigm shifting outcomes.
In my opinion, the Dungeons and Dragons brand appeal has long been associated with a negatively stereotyped strand of youth subculture and has subsequently suffered a little from ill-informed mainstream reception of the product. Thankfully, the widespread appeal of online MMRPG variants of the product and the rise of sword and sorcery as a universally popular sub-genre has started to challenge this media persona; simultaneously, changes in educational thinking and the accessibility of information and collaboration via the internet has resulted in great opportunities for the brand to reinvent itself within the context of high school education.
Let me explain my thinking with some tangible real life examples. Firstly, it is increasingly common for respected and innovative educationalists such as Henry Jenkins, Ian Dukes (http://web.mac.com/iajukes/thecommittedsardine/Home.html) and Mark Treadwell (www.i-learnt.com) to suggest that the walls between subject specialities in post-11 education begin to fall in order that schools place personalised learning as the focus of their work to enable genuinely creative students to emerge with 21st Century skills and not those associated with the Industrial Revolution. It is in this brave new world that Dungeons and Dragons has so much to offer. I worked two years ago on a Year 8 (12-13 years of age) wiki with two fairly average classes by the standards of my school. I initially set tasks based on a range of activities and offered everyone an access point for the project. Having given the class a brief history of D&D, I then provided the following options:
· Design of the geography associated with a new fantasy role playing world (Some students began to download Fractal Terrains and Campaign Cartographer of their own free will and enthusiasm for the task) This task has obvious links with the subject of geography and mapping software in mathematics.
· The description and real-world counterparts for races within the world (history and anthropology)
· Some short stories giving some brief notes on great heroes and heroines associated with the world and/or specific races/cultures (English/drama and the performing arts as whole)
· Design work associated with the packaging for an online variant of the world and its overall franchise (Graphic design, Media Studies, Business Studies)
· The mapping of a historical timeline of key events leading to the present day events of the world (history, politics)
· Creation of a wiki with everyone promoted to administrator, uploading and evaluating/editing the finished work of peers (ICT, Media Studies etc)
· Everyone created at least one character using the d6 system for use in the world
The reaction of the class was astonishing, particularly from poorly motivated boys who had hitherto offered little during the rest of the year. Many of them went way beyond the expectations of the task and are still happily developing the world to this day, subsequently taking learning way beyond the confines of the classroom walls and into the culture of their everyday life. We already have plans to extend this scheme of work into the year groups above and below year 8 and have had an extremely enthusiastic response from our student body. Meanwhile, many colleagues within school have noted both the enthusiasm and learning shown by students in these two classes. You probably already know that the International Baccalaureate course is designed to favour independence, critical thinking skills and opportunities for internationalism and risk-taking. (See www.ibo.org) The Dungeons and Dragons scheme of work offered all of the above whilst also transcending traditional subject related boundaries, which has been one of the objectives for innovative educationalists for many years.
Media related education is fast replacing traditional ICT as a core option within schools as increasingly, practitioners recognise that the construction and dissemination of media within the media itself, is ICT and the present/future of our society. Within this context, I would like to increasingly incorporate gaming experiences into the classroom so as projects take on real world authenticity working with real clients for real objectives. How col would it be for kids to use their media literacy skills to make book trailers for fantasy, like the one used for The latest Wheel of Time offering, Towers of Midnight? I would have loved this whilst I was a student. The market research opportunities for gaming combined opportunities to extend the appeal of the product and enable first class, critical thinking skills to be harnessed by students seems infinite and tremendously exciting. This kind of synergy would represent a potentially paradigm shifting transformation for both schools and I would speculate, for the D&D brand too.