Wednesday, November 7, 2018

15th Class: Experiential

After the previous two classes covering game consensus and situated learning, we come now to the existential development of the role-playing character.  This is the process by which the character consciously or unconsciously shifts it’s original purpose and conception through hundreds of hours of game play.  Essentially, dealing with the world, managing the struggles and difficulties associated with adventuring, the precepts upon which the character was founded grow less and less important, while the existential needs and wants of the character take precedence.  The player will, without awareness, reshape his or her perspective, so that past expectations will be achieved or discarded in favor of a new perspective.  Just as we do with our daily lives.

This. too, is connected with meaning making.  The meanings we created once no longer apply; we have new knowledge now … and with it, new meanings.

From the perspective of playing and managing a role-playing game, we need to ask ourselves, how can we advance this change in knowledge, and thereby advance the habit of characters constantly making new meanings for themselves? How can we encourage player and character growth, together?  Because obviously it is not really the character that grows, but the player’s conception of the character.

Before we can answer that question, we must first understand the principles underlying rupture and reconstruction.  This is a universal phenomenon which we all know from personal experience.

The normal pattern of an individual's life follows a pattern of stability interrupted by rupture, followed by restructuring and then new stability.  Ruptures can be radical, causing PTSD, defying restructuring and lasting in years of oscillation between temporary comfort and difficulty.  Ruptures can also be highly transitory, so that something upsetting that happened a particular morning can be acknowledged, managed and ultimately restructured within hours.  Psychology tends to look at the larger moments of rupture because these are much more difficult to manage and often require outside assistance.

Ruptures are highly variable in type.  Ruptures can result from cultural changes and conflicts, such as war or the appearance of some new ideology or social-changing technology.  Ruptures can result as a change in a person's environment, such as moving to a new city or country, a change in management at work or a recession.  Relationship changes, such as divorce, a death in the family, a child leaving home, new love or a change of interests can be a rupture.  Merely growing older, an increase in health issues or changes in one's belief system should also be included.  Ruptures may happen in an instant, or they may accumulate over a period of years.  We need to recognize here, however, that the origin of the rupture is much less important than the effect the rupture has upon the way the person views their immediate world.

We each move from home to office, from office to entertainment venue, from venue to home, from home to parents home ... and each of these spheres possesses a recognizeable identity for us.  We go where we are comfortable; and the less we recognize the sphere, the more hesitant we are to go there, or let ourselves interact with it.  Going on vacation is stress-inducing because we don't know that sphere and we have reason to question that choice.  A bad vacation can very much be a rupture, one that we will have to deal with while losing that opportunity to relax from our day jobs.  This is one reason why some people never go on vacation.

Ruptures, when they occur, cause uncertainty.  Uncertainty is generally seen to be full of tension and anxiety, but it can also be felt as excitement (again, the thrill of going on vacation, to see something we've never seen, is both exciting and stressful).  Uncertainty can be paralyzing.  It can bring on the oscillation between our coming to terms with what's happened, while feeling despair or depression as we fail to overcome the rupture.  We feel a compulsion to explore, to experience newness, but we are also well aware from our own experience that newness can often have a high price.

Our takeaway here should be that we often deliberately court rupture.  We change jobs for the sake of opportunity, we seek out relationships or to end relationships, we adventure into dangerous places for the sake of newness, we play dangerous sports and other games ... and we do these things because, following the oscillation of the reconstruction process, we grow as people.  We see, we experience, we learn, we advance, we develop new ideas and we come away with new tools and methods of managing ruptures that might occur in our future.  If a rupture occurs, we feel certain that we will handle it and that ultimately that management, that reconstruction, will make us stronger.

Most meaningful activities, the ones we most remember, the ones that bring us the greatest amount of satisfaction, deliberately risk some form of rupture.  The very concept of game-playing is rupture on a micro-level.  Let's take a moment and view a typical role-playing campaign in terms of micro-ruptures.

The players create their characters in an atmosphere of certainty, with free time to conjure up backgrounds, purchase equipment, chat with each other about plans and build up their confidence.  Soon, however, after venturing out, they encounter a difficulty.  They have to reassess; change some of their expectations.  But then they advance, restore their characters, head out again ... and get into some really serious trouble.

Soon, it looks like it could end in a total-party-kill.  Several members of the party begin to identify their situation with inevitable doom.  Another disaster befalls the party and yet they fight it out.  Things swing wildly back and forth.  For a moment, the party is safe; then all hell breaks loose.  Someone's character dies.  Another falls unconscious.  Then something is found - treasure, or equipment - and the dead character is restored and the party advances in ability ... one more difficulty and the party retreats back to town and catches their breath.  There is a moment of comfort again.

But because of their actions, a new rupture is forming.  The enemy has followed the party back to town and now there is a momentous battle.  Magic items are used, some are destroyed; the enemy seems impossible to kill; there's no telling who will win; the party's tension rises, the moment is very exciting ...

We deliberately pursue this format of game play because it reflects our characteristics as biological, thinking entities.  We equate rupture with growth; we equate the threat of rupture with purpose.  And then, following the rupture, we narrate the process of stability-rupture-reconstruction and new stability as a story ... because that is how we are constructed to think.

For those who may be familiar with the term, "the Hero's Journey" described by Joseph Campbell is nothing more than the fundamental structure of human being's adapting and reconstructing themselves psychologically following any rupture that might have occurred in their lives.  Campbell's "universality of theme" exists because every person writing a story is a biological human being.

Our goal is to see clearly how creating rupture is the heart of the campaign structure - much more so than story or heroism.  Story is only the recording of the process; heroism is only the self-perception of how we rose to the challenge.  Both are second-hand descriptors of what is really happening.  We need to lay aside non-specific language and address the functional process directly.  We will continue with this subject, applying the cyclical process of experiential rupture and growth after the Mid-Term exam.

I'll take this moment and say a few words about the Mid-Term, which will be the next class.  There will be four essay questions on the exam - the student should choose only two of the essay questions, then write a 500-word essay on each of those two questions.  For those students who cannot follow instructions, you will be graded on the first two exam questions that I see pass my desk.  Each exam question will be worth 50% of the total mark on the mid-term, which as I said before will be worth 40% of your final grade.

You will be given one week from the time when the exam is posted to submit your answers.  Your answers should be submitted to my email,  You will not receive a grade if you do not submit your answers to my email.  You may, if you wish, submit your answers directly to the blog (splitting your answers up as needed to make it fit), but answers submitted to the blog will not be published until after the exam deadline has passed.  Answers submitted to the blog but NOT to my email address will not be graded and will not be published.

I will be grading each essay according to the following method:

  • F Grade.  Essays which show no evidence of grasping or understanding the course content will receive an F Grade.  Take note that answers that introduce outside, unsupported content not included in the course material run a considerable risk of receiving an F Grade as well (I will consider new material that is sourced on a case-by-case basis, subject to the academic value of the source).
  • D Grade.  Essays that accurately repeat the barest material included in the course content, providing no personal insight, will receive a D Grade.
  • C Grade.  Essays that show an excellent grasp of the course content, yet show little or no personal insight, will receive a C Grade.
  • B Grade.  Essays that demonstrate a strong recognition of how elements of the course content influence one another, offering personal insight, will receive a B Grade.
  • A Grade.  Essays that provide remarkable intuition from the course content and the source material, which surprises the examiner with its acumen, will receive an A Grade.
You will not be graded on your spelling or your grammar.  Remember that a D is a Pass.  I wish the best of luck to all concerned.