Introduction and Overview
The Digital Artefact presented is a video essay discussing the narrative elements and game mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons and analysing how they create the game experience. Rather than focusing on the debate between narratology vs ludology in gaming, I approached the project from the viewpoint of how both narrative and mechanics contribute to the collaborative storytelling process of D&D.
Ideation of the Project
As stated in my first blog post regarding this project, my first concept was to look at how a group of D&D players have created a YouTube by posting their videos on YouTube. The case study I chose, The Oxventurer’s Guild, has remained the same, but rather than looking at how the group community has progressed I decided to pick out a few of their campaigns to anlayse in regards to story and game mechanics.
After some research in another subject, my ideas for the video essay evolved into what I put into my BETA blog post. Based on the week 7 lecture on game mechanics and narrative, coupled with a project I was working on in another subject, I decided on using my background in creative writing to talk about how Dungeons & Dragons is a form of narrative text that could be analysed using literary theory and game mechanics.
Feedback on both these projects encouraged me to lean into creative writing when examining D&D and look into writers that have had experience in playing the RPG in order to get a professional field opinion on the matter. This led me to several articles where writers discuss their experience in playing the game and how the game ha helped them in their writing careers. One author, for example, is Patrick Rothfuss, who has written several fantasy books and stated in one article that being both a player and a DM is already a step towards writing a novel (Pierce 2019 ).
The video essay started to take shape after posting the BETA blog post. My idea became solidified from that and after doing research for another project I was working on about D&D I was able to gather the materials I needed and knew what I wanted the video essay to look like. From there it was simply writing and recording the narration and finding clips and images to fit with the audio in order to create the video essay.
In my analysis of The Oxventurer’s Guild, I referred to three of their campaigns as examples:
- Brawl of the Wild – the DM, Johnny Chiodini, weaved backstory from Luke’s character, Dob, into the quest to help Luke progress and evolve his character’s back story. As he talks about in the first campaign, his character’s sister went missing and he’s been traveling from town to town playing a lullaby she used to sing in order to find her.
- Peak Performance – I used this campaign to explain and define the three-act structure. In this campaign, there is a clear inciting incident with the DM using a recurring NPC to send the players on the quest, followed by a definitive middle and a combat session that leads into the ending of the campaign.
- Quiet Riot – This campaign showcases a variety of the game’s mechanics, including character spells, dice rolls and character health points.
The week 6 lecture on game mechanics was helpful for a foundational knowledge on the topic, but I undertook my own research and found an article by Voorhees written in 2008 on the rhetoric of ludology in RPGs. The article uses D&D as one of its case studies and I used its discussion on character creation and class to discuss the variety of characters in The Oxventurer’s Guild. It was interesting to note that there is a much larger variety of character types to choose from then in the first edition of the game and thus it’s not surprising that no two members of The Oxventurer’s Guild is the same race or class. Each player is vastly different from the others and this is something I was able to discuss in the video essay, regarding how players handle situations differently.
In looking at narrative I was able to use an article that defines the basics of narratology before looking into a scholarly book written by one of the prominent theorists in literary history, Mieke Bal, who used structuralism to analyse the narratives of stories. I took her ideas on visual focalisation and narration in order to apply that to how a DM is an all knowing narrator with knowledge of everything regarding the campaign. They decide what players are able to hear and experience based on their actions and the DM is in charge of guiding the players through scenarios by describing what they need/want to know.
Bal, M & Boheemen, C van. 2009, ‘Narratology : Introduction to the Theory of Narrative’, vol 3rd ed, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, Toronto.
Flanagan, K. 2019, ‘Jaleigh Johnson: Improving Your Writing With Dungeons & Dragons’, [online] Writer’s Digest. Available at: https://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-genre/science-fiction-fantasy/becoming-a-better-writer-through-dungeons-dragons.
Gilsdorf, E. 2014, ‘A Game as Literary Tutorial’, The New York Times, [online] 13 Jul. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/books/dungeons-dragons-has-influenced-a-generation-of-writers.html.
Holcomb, J. 2017, ‘The White Box Essays’, Gameplaywright, Minnesota.
Laycock, P, J. 2015, ‘The Birth of Fantasy Role-Playing Games’, Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds, University of California Press, Oakland, California, pp.31-50.
Narratology (literary theory). By: Kivak, Rebecca, Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, 2019
Outside Xtra. 2019, Dungeons & Dragons Live: BRAWL OF THE WILD! An Oxventure, YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlAFbtB7k4o&t=1s
Outside Xtra. 2019, Oxventure Presents: PEAK PERFORMANCE! A Dungeons & Dragons Oxventure (Episode 1 of 4), YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Fm4vEClte0&t=1s
Outside Xbox. 2018, Dungeons & Dragons: QUIET RIOT! An Oxventure (Episode 1 of 2), YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UofFHldR3YM&list=PLoid6oOAGqMcZ3YWFqABFXbx9l5edm6XK&index=12&t=1s
Outside Xtra. 2018, Dungeons & Dragons: QUIET RIOT! An Oxventure (Episode 2 of 2), YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dB3UWpfTi1k&list=PLoid6oOAGqMcZ3YWFqABFXbx9l5edm6XK&index=12
Outside Xtra. 2019, 7 Ways D&D Players Destroy Their DM’s Plans, YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuTWiKyJ6sI.
Pierce, E. 2019, Playing Dungeons & Dragons Will Make You a Better Writer, [online] Medium. Available at: https://writingcooperative.com/playing-dungeons-dragons-will-make-you-a-better-writer-14058b4a337d
Tidball, J. 2017, ‘Pacing Gameplay: Three-Act Structure Just Like God And Aristotle Intended’, in Jeremy Holcomb, The White Box Essays, Gameplaywright, Minnesota, pp. 174-182.
Voorhees, G. 2008, ‘The Character of Pluralism: The Rhetoric of Ludological Forms in Role-playing Games’, Conference Papers — National Communication Association, p. 1.
Wikipedia Contributors. 2020, ‘Dungeons & Dragons gameplay’ [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_gameplay