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The RPG syllabus

Chrono_trigger1_3 As many of you know, I'm on a sabbatical from teaching this year, but I've begun to feel the itch to return to the classroom, and I'm starting to think about my syllabi for this fall. One course in particular has occupied my thoughts of late, and it occurs to me that some of you might have some useful input to offer.

I'm planning a one-semester seminar course devoted to the history of role-playing games. The class will have a limited enrollment of 20 undergraduate students, and it will meet for a total of 15 weeks. I've created a syllabus for a similar course I've offered for a few years, but since I have the luxury of time, I've decided to throw it out and rebuild the syllabus from scratch.

Here are my content criteria for the course:

  1. Historical scope - I want to expose students to the historical arc of RPGs, reflecting their origins and evolution. I realize I could spend weeks on mimesis, Tolkien, PnP Dungeons and Dragons, etc., but I'm keen to get them playing and studying electronic games as soon as possible.

  2. Breadth - It's important that I provide students with a wide range of RPG games encompassing a variety of gameplay and design variations. The syllabus needn't be a "greatest hits" collection. A classic like Chrono Trigger may or may not make the list depending on how many other Square-developed SNES JRPG titles make the list. Having said that, I definitely think Chrono Trigger belongs on the list! :-)

  3. Impact - I want to assign games that have made a notable impact or illustrate important transitions in the evolution of the medium.

Obviously, time restrictions present a special challenge because many RPGs require dozens of hours to complete. I deal with this by assigning asynchronous work. Various games are assigned to small groups of students at different times, and throughout the semester students present their games to the class in an analytical format. In this way, students can share their experiences, and they often elect to play games presented by their peers even when they aren't required to.

So, which RPGs should make the syllabus? Give me a title or a list of titles. I'm hoping to benefit from your collective wisdom, and I'm grateful for your thoughts and suggestions. This is not a rhetorical exercise. I'm working on a real syllabus, and I'm earnestly seeking input.

Thanks in advance for your help.