Session Title

Theorizing the Problematic Medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons and Popular Fantasy Narrative (A Panel Discussion)

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, California State Univ.-Long Beach

Organizer Name

Ilan Mitchell-Smith

Organizer Affiliation

Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, California State Univ.-Long Beach

Presider Name

Ilan Mitchell-Smith

Paper Title 1

Panelist

Presenter 1 Name

Usha Vishnuvajjala

Presenter 1 Affiliation

American Univ.

Paper Title 2

Panelist

Presenter 2 Name

Edmond Chang

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Ohio Univ.

Paper Title 3

Panelist

Presenter 3 Name

Robert Rouse

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Univ. of British Columbia

Paper Title 4

Panelist

Presenter 4 Name

Susan Aronstein

Presenter 4 Affiliation

Univ. of Wyoming

Start Date

10-5-2018 7:30 PM

Session Location

Bernhard 106

Description

Theorizing the Problematic Medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons and Popular Fantasy Narrative

Medievalisms, that unwieldy conglomeration of medieval and post-medieval attempts to recreate a past that was always already lost, invite scholars to assess the ways in which the past guides the present. In this session, we propose to theorize the medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons by presenting a brief, live sample of a game session, accompanied and informed by continuing metacommentary and analysis by some of the most prominent scholars on medievalisms and their social impact. Interest in participation has been confirmed for Tison Pugh (University of Central Florida), Angela Weisl (Seton Hall University), Robert Rouse (University of British Columbia), and Susan Aronstein (University of Wyoming).

Dungeons & Dragons is a narrative tabletop game (i.e., played in person and not on a computer or console) that makes sweeping use of tropes, images, objects, and locations that are presented and enjoyed as medieval. The version of the Middle Ages concocted by Dungeons & Dragons has seminally influenced the formation of many popular American assumptions about medieval life. The majority of fantasy video games take their cues directly from this game and its world. The novels set in this world (e.g., Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms) have enjoyed considerable commercial success well outside of a gaming readership and have appeared numerous times on the New York Times Best Seller List. Likewise, American fantasy films, television, and comic books draw directly from the themes and tropes of this game world. In this ludic milieu, a wide range of medieval-ish constructions of gender, race, and sexuality are presented, but they are veiled by the pretense of game play, fantasy escapism, and the tropes that have become standard for the genre. As the recent social media wars regarding Gamergate and the Hugo Awards attest, this veiling often conceals persistent desires for the enjoyment of fantasy worlds to be free from the critical eye of social analysis.

This session thus allows a critical dialogue on what precisely transpires under the guise of play. Through the interactive features of the session, attendees will not merely passively watch a gaming experience but listen to and comment critically on the ways in which Dungeons & Dragon’s medievalisms harken back to a lost medieval Golden Age while cloaking persistent issues of Othering of deep relevance to today’s culture. Cultural theorists have discussed the social role that Dungeons and Dragons and its world enjoy in our culture (Lancaster 1998, Borah 2006, Mizer 2014, Shank 2015), but this analysis lacks the necessary insights to be made from medievalists and scholars of medievalism. This panel seeks to address this dearth in critical attention to a primary source for American medieval fantasy.

Ilan Mitchell-Smith

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May 10th, 7:30 PM

Theorizing the Problematic Medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons and Popular Fantasy Narrative (A Panel Discussion)

Bernhard 106

Theorizing the Problematic Medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons and Popular Fantasy Narrative

Medievalisms, that unwieldy conglomeration of medieval and post-medieval attempts to recreate a past that was always already lost, invite scholars to assess the ways in which the past guides the present. In this session, we propose to theorize the medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons by presenting a brief, live sample of a game session, accompanied and informed by continuing metacommentary and analysis by some of the most prominent scholars on medievalisms and their social impact. Interest in participation has been confirmed for Tison Pugh (University of Central Florida), Angela Weisl (Seton Hall University), Robert Rouse (University of British Columbia), and Susan Aronstein (University of Wyoming).

Dungeons & Dragons is a narrative tabletop game (i.e., played in person and not on a computer or console) that makes sweeping use of tropes, images, objects, and locations that are presented and enjoyed as medieval. The version of the Middle Ages concocted by Dungeons & Dragons has seminally influenced the formation of many popular American assumptions about medieval life. The majority of fantasy video games take their cues directly from this game and its world. The novels set in this world (e.g., Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms) have enjoyed considerable commercial success well outside of a gaming readership and have appeared numerous times on the New York Times Best Seller List. Likewise, American fantasy films, television, and comic books draw directly from the themes and tropes of this game world. In this ludic milieu, a wide range of medieval-ish constructions of gender, race, and sexuality are presented, but they are veiled by the pretense of game play, fantasy escapism, and the tropes that have become standard for the genre. As the recent social media wars regarding Gamergate and the Hugo Awards attest, this veiling often conceals persistent desires for the enjoyment of fantasy worlds to be free from the critical eye of social analysis.

This session thus allows a critical dialogue on what precisely transpires under the guise of play. Through the interactive features of the session, attendees will not merely passively watch a gaming experience but listen to and comment critically on the ways in which Dungeons & Dragon’s medievalisms harken back to a lost medieval Golden Age while cloaking persistent issues of Othering of deep relevance to today’s culture. Cultural theorists have discussed the social role that Dungeons and Dragons and its world enjoy in our culture (Lancaster 1998, Borah 2006, Mizer 2014, Shank 2015), but this analysis lacks the necessary insights to be made from medievalists and scholars of medievalism. This panel seeks to address this dearth in critical attention to a primary source for American medieval fantasy.

Ilan Mitchell-Smith