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DS106 as RPG, part 1

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Dr. Oblivion and Prof. Brian O'Blivion

Today was the start of the summer section of DS106 Digital Storytelling a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) taught out of the University of Mary Washington (UMW) and conducted through their open site If you’re not sure what a MOOC is then watch this video to get a little perspective, but in a nutshell it’s an opportunity for anyone to participate in an online course that is happening at given time. It’s a happening because there are registered students and they will receive credit and a grade, but for the rest of the participants (including myself) it’s their choice to decide what level they will participate.

But the fact that DS106 is a MOOC isn’t necessarily unique. There are other MOOCs out there creating happenings for others to follow and learn from. What’s becoming unique about DS106 is that every day it becomes less of a course and more of a community. And this community behaves in a way that I want to liken to a role playing game (RPG). And actually a particular RPG model that fits into Ron Edward’s Big Model RPG game theory which might define ds106′s RPG creative agenda as “Narrativist” or “Story Now.” These are particular terms and ideas related to the Big Model and I will go into them further, but I wanted to first describe why I see DS106 as an emerging RPG.

One of the generally agreed upon definitions of an RPG is that it is a gathering of “players that assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting.” And for this summer section of DS106, Jim Groom, as the instructor of the course has defined this particular gathering as “The Summer of Oblivion” and has decided to play the role of Dr. Oblivion as instructor of the course. Jim’s Dr. Oblivion is based on the character Professor Brian O’Blivion from the David Cronenberg film Videodrome who only appears to the audience via remote broadcast – never in person, never to be met. And in the spirit of this character, Jim Groom has become Dr. Oblivion’s assistant mediating all contact between him and his students.

Yes, that’s right Jim Groom – the instructor of the course – is playing a character named Dr. Oblivion who is – the instructor of the course. Jim has even adopted the LARP approach, altering himself physically for the role. And what does that mean for us the students? Well I think we might as well be considered players in Dr. Oblivion’s game. He is our game master (GM) and we have agreed to use our characters in the form of digital identities to explore digital storytelling situations. We will use a number of digital tools and techniques to help us build our characters and resolve these situations. And finally the individual moments of play, the results, will be “meat” of the game as everyone reacts to each other’s contributions.

But why do we all wish to play Dr. Oblivion’s game? What’s our agenda for participation?

Coming next post.

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