This assignment is likely very different from anything else you’ve done in your other courses. As a result, we’ll be guiding you throughout, and will provide a variety of benchmarks along the way so that you feel comfortable with your progress. We think that this might be an amazing innovative approach, but like many new things, there will be challenges along the way (we will actually be hoping that many of you will provide some constructive feedback on this at the end of course). If it helps, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive the last two years – so far, so good.
We’ll start by putting our learning objectives up front. Overall, the learning objectives are: (i) to compel you to dig a little deeper into the course content, (ii) to better consider and appreciate perspectives outside of your own, and (iii) to imagine how our society might react to the variety of global issues we face.
And to make this as engaging as possible, we’re going to try and meet these lofty learning objectives through the use of game-based learning (i.e. using games!) This means that we’ll also get to “play” what we’ve created at the end of the class.
So, what are we going to do exactly? Well, here it is in a nutshell:
Over the course of the semester, you will be working on a group assignment that results in the research, design and creation of a table top role playing game (ttRPG) module, that actively envisions a narrative scenario of a specific locale on our planet 100 years into the future.
In general, this assignment will be a collective effort of about 8 to 10 students, preferably of varying academic backgrounds. The completed game assignment will be submitted as a group project, but there will be solo pre-work assignments along the way, as well as an opportunity to provide commentary on one other group’s project. All told, a number of aims will be required, each of which will be discussed more fully as they arise in the timeline of the assignment. However, having a wider view of these aims is also handy, so here they are in no particular order. Note that this may look like a lot of stuff going on, but don’t forget that we have scheduled approximately half of our class time to allow your group to work on this.
Understanding how table top role playing games (ttRPGs) generally work, and becoming familiar with the gameplay mechanic (a fancy way of saying the “rules”) that we plan on using. In general, ttRPGs essentially work like an improv situation where a number of players each get to role play a specific character in a particular scene or combination of scenes in a storyline (often called a campaign). Here, however, the overall narrative and control of what actually happens is governed by one special player often called the game master (or GM). Essentially, this player has all the details, information and maps of the game and is therefore able to present situational information as they arise. Basically, the GM determines what happens when characters interact with the scenes although this is also partly influenced by the characters skills, and how successfully players can roll high numbers on dice.
The most famous example of this type of game is Dungeons and Dragons, but if you’re new to this game genre, imagine a host (the GM), telling a few of you (player characters) what the scene is (with a number of details added to help you better imagine the situation), and then asking you to basically explain or act out what you would do if you were the character you are playing. Along the way, the GM provides additional information as you interact more with the storyline, and successes or failures of certain activities (i.e. climb a wall, pick a lock, tell a lie, etc) is partly controlled by how good you are at rolling high numbers with dice as well as judgement calls made by the GM.
Note that we’ll be highlighting the specifics of our game mechanic in one of our classes (we’ll get to play a sample of a game as a class!), and Dave and Allen will also be open to hosting some quick mini games so that the opportunity to try it out beforehand is available to all. This way, we hope the act of understanding the rules of how to enact a game scene, interpret dice rolls and how the GM operates will be very clear. Note that at some point, we’ll need about 6 to 8 players (or one from each group) who feel that they can partake in the assignment as game masters: usually, this is someone who is particularly good at telling stories, so that the rest of the players can more easily immerse themselves in the world that has been created.
In ttRPGs, the setting of the game represents a crucial component. Therefore, one major aim of the assignment is to go through the process of world building, using our ASIC200 content as a springboard. To help focus this process, the details you work on will relate to a specific locale, such as a city or a small geographical area (please provide coordinates if it isn’t currently a place with a specific name), as oppose to a fully realized global picture. You may, for instance, want to do your world-building in “Future Vancouver”, “Future Point Grey”, “Future Tokyo” or wherever really (you can even give it a new name as part of a new historical narrative). In any event, such world building will consider:
(1) Evidence based information around possible climate and environmental scenarios approximately 100 years from now. This would build on climate projection data available through reports such as the IPCC, or possibly via more current peer reviewed climate science literature. This evidence you use will serve as a general framework, but note that these projections have had a recurring history of being too conservative.
(2) Envisioning possible genetic technology advances and their resultant biological enhancements and/or problems (human or other forms of biodiversity). This too, will build off of existing content highlighted in the course around genomics and genetic technology. We’ll be going through a number of recent scientific achievements, but the overarching theme here, is that this technology is progressing at an unprecedented pace. We imagine that for this piece of the world building, you can flex your imagination and creativity muscles and will likely explore themes that feel at times like fully immersed science fiction. Note that when considering biological ideas, things still need to be biologically/physically possible (i.e. they mostly fit within the realistic confines of what is possible in the wide breadth of biodiversity).
(3) Creating a picture of human society in this future world, and especially in your specific locale, where the impacts (both from climate change and genetic technology) are acknowledged in rational ways, such that you can speculate what the resource, civil, economic, political, cultural, technological and environmental stressors might be. This might also include a brief summary of the local history (i.e. how it got to be the way it is in 2118).
(4) Providing examples of members of this future society (human or human-ish as the case may be). Here, each student will be ask to create an archetype character that reflects a (possibly important) role in this society. Furthermore, you will be asked to create a character type that happens to identify itself in ways that are different to things you are most familiar with. For instance, if you are a Political Science student, you will be asked to create a character type that is not necessarily engaged in political science, or even the humanities – say an engineer, or police officer, etc. By doing this, and with the understanding that you will be creating these character types in your diverse group, your group project will hopefully achieve an interesting mixture of different types of societal roles with a variety of skills and weaknesses. Note that these characters that are created should have skillsets, specific personality traits or hidden agendas that feed into the storyline and the setting.
Constructing a scenario or narrative that can be “played.” In ttRPG terms, we would call this a campaign. Essentially, you will need to create a storyline that enacts a series of events or challenges and a final end goal. This is basically what players will role play their characters through. As well, this campaign, and therefore its goal and challenges, need to be fully immersed in the details of your world building. This section of the project will essentially need you (and your group) to provide more detailed information about the specific adventure. We will provide some direction here so that your group’s adventure can be completed in a 2 to 3 hour session (i.e. one class) This will include:
(1) Deciding on what, ultimately, is the end goal of the game. What is the challenge that needs to be met, or the outcome desired by the characters, and what type of obstacles are in the way. In a way, this is asking your group to think about how the story would end. Maybe this final outcome is about securing a valuable resource, releasing intel, rescuing individuals, blowing something up, escaping from somewhere, aiding negotiations, enabling political maneuvering, doing something or learning something that shifts power from the bad to the good, finding a treasure/spare part/key that leads to something desired/necessary, completion of a technological hack, or maybe an outcome that helps society or negates greed or inequity influenced economic activity. So many possible storylines!
(2) Considering whether this campaign narrative is linear or more exploratory in nature. In other words, do players go from place A to place B to place C, and etc until the final place Z (kind of like those video games where you there’s only one path). Or is it set up so that there’s a variety of places the players will need to explore (possibly collecting clues or pieces of a puzzle/key) before finding their way to the final end place.
(3) Having a drawn map of places/rooms/locales that the characters can visit and explore. Here, more intimate locale and space related details should be provided, so as to better inform the gameplay. This will help frame how the players move within your adventure, but will also provide specific information on how characters may interact within the spaces (i.e. there’s a locked door here; there’s a carpet in the center of this room where there may be a hidden trapdoor underneath; players are outside and need to navigate a rickety boardwalk that is partially submerged; this section of town is consumed by polluted fumes, and players will need to think of a way deal with it; a challenge that involves crossing water in a boat, etc). Note that this part may also include specific information about weather patterns that may affect how players can interact with their surroundings.
(4) Having your adventure populated by a variety of non-player characters (or NPCs). In other words, your players may “meet” other humans (or other creatures) in the adventure, perhaps to obtain information or objects, perhaps to create interactions that move the storyline, perhaps for combat situations (must get past these character in order to move to the next step). These interaction should also consider the world building details and will also need to be physically placed within the map/locale details (i.e. this room has three guard dogs, the ballroom is filled with business folks one of which is a person that the characters will need to talk to). These NPCs will also need some basic statistics and personalities so that they can be role played by the GM appropriately.
Playing the game! In general the set up will be that by the end of the term, we’ll have each group completing a playable assignment (world built, campaign worked out, and player characters for use well defined). Then the groups of students, EXCEPT for the student inhabiting the role of the GM, will rotate to another group’s assignment, and essentially play that other group’s game, under the control of a GM that was part of the original design team(and hence intimately familiar with the content of that assignment). This would also ensure that players will get to immerse themselves in a new world set up, without prior knowledge of the game’s details and/or secrets.
SOME ADDITIONAL RULES:
– Please be wary of materials offending other players (i.e. we wish to maintain a respectful atmosphere here at all times)
– If any student is concerned about the behaviour of another student, please contact Dave or Allen as soon as possible.
– Material produced should be rated PG or less.
– No narratives that involve visits from space aliens (i.e. inclusion of unexplained technology, etc).
– Game must be predominantly set on Earth (not in space, etc – if you really want this, see Dave or Allen, and we may grant permission for one game element to be set off earth).
– No celestial events (i.e. meteorite crashing to Earth, etc)
– Game modules may be published on this site (with permission for archival).
1. By Robert McCall (via https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/15818083048)
2. MindWipe!, paperback cover, 1976 by Frank Kelly Freas (via https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/15517031160)
3. Amazing Stories March 1945, back cover (via https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/14374847529)
4. Super Science Stories, December 1942 (via https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/14755706254)
5. Horizons mural by Robert McCall (via https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/16005502435)