mercredi 21 juin 2017

Role-playing game groups as hunter-gatherer bands

Hunter-gatherers (HG) were...

  • our basic human social organizations until agricultural revolution (c.-10.000)
  • highly mobile
  • playful

HG Values were...

  • Strongly egalitarian (not like hierarchical chimpanzees)
    • follow the rules willingly and freely
    • freedom to quit the band
  • Cooperation
    • extensive discussions and debates until consensus 
    • relations and exchanges with others bands
    • keep the band together = more stable band = better survival
    • role separation and role interchangeable (not like Neanderthals)
  • Sharing
    • few properties (just "carry-on")

HG Playfulness enforces these values

  • Play is mostly non-competitive
  • Unlike most non-human mammals, play :
    • continues in adulthood
    • is not separated from productive behavior (true hunt/ hunt play,...)
    • is framing a lot of (all?) daily activities
      (ex: monkeys seek for social status, except when playing. HG didn't search for social status at all, because play was framing all their daily life)

HG Playfulness Outcomes

  • Play and humor :
    • reduce arrogance and dominance
    • suppress aggressive behavior
    • promote equality
  • Play helps :
    • passing of culture (knowledges, values, ...) from generation to generation
    • learning and praticing skills
  • Play boosts empathy :
    • share fun with others
    • discover what others like or dislike
    • please others and keep them from leaving

... and RPG gaming groups ?

Our societies and daily lifes are now too complex to be organized like HG bands. BUT when we play in small groups, we use what our brain was trained for millenia :
  • having a fun free shared collective empathic experience of personal freedom with [few/less/no] hierarchy and no unwilling constraints. If negociated skillfully, it enables us to grow temporary or permanent communities.
Nota Bene: even if its now summertime, there is no need to walk naked with a stick to your next tabletop game...

 ***
Gray, P. (2009). Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence. American Journal of Play, 1(4), 476–522. 
Gray, P. (2014). Play Theory of Hunter-Gatherer Egalitarianism. In D. Narvaez, K. Valentino, A. Fuentes, J. J. McKenna, & P. Gray (Éd.), Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution (p. 192‑215). New York: Oxford University Press.

jeudi 15 juin 2017

The first game masters & an opportunity for scholarly rant

Who are the first game masters ? 

  • Agonothetes were referees and organizers of Greek sacred games [Wikipédia]. More specifically, Hellanodikai were ancient Olympics games judges from Elis in charge of rules, standards and traditions [Wikipédia]
  • Aediles were elected romans officials. Plebeian aediles were probably in charge of the Plebeian games (Ludi plebeii). Curulian aediles (nobles) were in charge of the Roman games (Ludi Romani) [360, Lex Furia de aedilibus].
  • ...
  • von Reisswitz (father) introduced a wargame referee for the first time. Known as Vertrauter (ie. confidant) he was helped by assistants. He displayed informations to players and made decisions based on complex rules [1811, Anleitung zu einer mechanischen Vorrichtung um taktische Manoevers sinnlich darzustellen].
  • von Reisswitz (son) improved his father designs and also made the referees as meaningful scenario designers [1824, Anleitung zur Darstellung militaerischer Manoever mit dem Apparat des Kriegs-spiels]. 
  • von Meckel introduced personal judgement instead of static rules for deciding the outcomes of actions taken by the players [1876, Freie Kriegsspiel].
  • Michael F. Korns designed a one-person wargame with game master [1966, Modern War in Miniature]. 
  • Major David Wesely designed a one-person wargame adjudicated by himself [1967, Braunstein].
  • Dave Arneson, a Braunstein player, designed the first role-playing game as we know it today [1970, Blackmoor]. In 1972, he presented it to Gary Gygax who edited and marketed it as Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.
To investigate: the official use of umpires/ referees in sport contests reappeared around 1830-1840. Were there examples before 1811?

Comparing two types of sources

This paragraph is taken from the book War Gaming, written by reporter Andrew Wilson in 1968 for Pelican Book. The quality of writing is extremely poor: no source, short-cuts in the discourse, abusive generalizations and mistakes. I saw other unsourced informations displayed in this book that reused elsewhere as solid facts. Grr!


This paragraph is taken from the article "German War Gaming", written by Milan Vego in 2012 in the Naval War College Review, a peer-reviewed journal (anonymous experts are carefully evaluating the content). The intensive use of citations allows the reader to go check out the informations by themselves. It has also more facts based informations, less short-cuts and the claims are more cautious.

mercredi 7 juin 2017

A simulated night shift in the emergency room increases students’ self-efficacy independent of role taking over during simulation

Stroben, F., Schröder, T., Dannenberg, K. A., Thomas, A., Exadaktylos, A., & Hautz, W. E. (2016). A simulated night shift in the emergency room increases students’ self-efficacy independent of role taking over during simulation. BMC Medical Education, 16 (1). 

Both the students practicing and the students observing the simulations increased significantly their self-efficacy. These simulations are expensive, so its a good way to double the participants and to add more peer-feedbacks.


Self-efficacy is an emotion RPGs can help to improve. Known also as situational confidence, its the feeling of preparedness when people knows they can do things well. Self-efficacy leads to taking efficient actions in challenging situations. Low self-efficacy leads to distress and can contributes to mental health problems.

Note: open access article + open peer review + additional files on methodology + dataset = wow!

vendredi 19 mai 2017

Le jeu de rôle, une autre forme de narration sérielle ? [peer-reviewed article]

Périer, I. (2017). Le jeu de rôle, une autre forme de narration sérielle ? Itinéraires. Littérature, textes, cultures, (2016–2). https://doi.org/10.4000/itineraires.3453

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Game, Another Serial Narration?

Tabletop RPGs are a kind of serial narration based on the principle of expansion. Its fertility and consistency depend on internal mechanisms. There is a transmedia expansion (movies, novels,...) and a publishing expansion (core rulebooks, screen, supplements, modules,...). These expansions are limited by the finances of the players.
The last type of expansion is ludic: a lot of game groups are playing long-lasting and engaging campaigns. Inside these small interpretative communities, the social contrat between the players drives the creativity and regulates the expansion by enforcing its consistency.

vendredi 5 mai 2017

Educational Games for Soft-Skills Training in Digital Environments [book]

Dell’Aquila, Elena, ‎davide Marocco, Michela Ponticorvo, Andrea Di Ferdinando, Massimiliano Schembri, and Orazio Miglino. Educational Games for Soft-Skills Training in Digital Environments. Advances in Game-Based Learning. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2017.
This essay analyzes the outcomes of some digital RPG for training soft-skills, mostly based on interactions with PCs and programmed NPCs. Chapter 2 describes very well all the RPG techniques traditionally used in real environment (from Moreno to now). Chapter 3 lists some general guidelines for designing such games. Chapter 4 observed that the digital RPG has the same effectiveness as a face-to-face experience. The participants appreciated the anonymity but they mentioned a lack of emotional involvement.

The gamemaster is extremely important, especially for his immediate feedbacks and for his expertise during complete debriefings. Rule-based digital games ease the work of the gamemaster, they are suited for more cognitive learning (acquiring knowledge, problem-solving, decision-making,...). Drama-based games, played in a traditional way, are better for emotional awareness, self-assessment and self-confidence.

vendredi 28 avril 2017

Anthropology and role-playing games

A list of links between RPGs and the discipline of anthropology (+ethnology +sociology).

a)  games and role-playing games sessions are mainly small societies with rules, structures and values.

b) a lot of role-playing games have their game design based on retension-fascination where players like to explore and to investigate. Also, a lot of game settings like to run thoughts experiments with imaginary cultures. To decipher the story the gamemaster cooks to them, the players are building guesses and theories based on perspective-taking, and they are negociating differents points of view.

c)  Call of Cthulhu, a major RPG for 40 years, has Academic professor as character profile, with a lot of skills related : Anthropology, Archeology, Cthulhu Mythos, Geology, History, Languages, Library Use, Occult, Psychology, Psychoanalysis (sic)...

d) the sociologist Gary Alan Fine was the first renowned scholar to study RPG players (sociology). Now, several academic scholars are studying RPGs through [anthropo/ethno/socio]-logy : Sarah Lyne Bowman, Olivier Caïra, Nicholas Cragoe, Sébastien Kapp, Nicholas J. Mizer, Heather Shay; Laurent Trémel,...

e) several famous game designers have an anthropology background :
- M.A.R. Barker,  linguistics: Empire of the Petal Throne
- Pete Fenlon, anthropology: Rolemaster, MERP
- John Snead, anthropology: Blue Rose, Exalted, Trinity, Mage
Or they created game settings with a strong anthropological flavor :
- Greg Stafford: Glorantha/RuneQuest
- Greg Stolze: Reign
- ...

f) this spring 2017 an anthropology undergrad course is taught on RPGs (UC Davis)

g) anthropology can help understand RPG what happens at the game table (rituals, liminality, symbolic manipulation,...).

h) a blog about geek stuffs with an anthropological point of view : The Geek Anthropologist