Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Jeopardy and hazard

In my two lit classes this semester, I'm doing ... not quite full-on-game-based-learning, but something close to it, with a few competitive role-playing activities, some theater-games-type performance stuff, and, in the case of the Brit Lit survey, a few days set aside for playing actual historical games, and thinking about what they reveal about the cultures that played them. (Plus, we'll be reading a lot of texts that are essentially gamey -- from Anglo-Saxon riddles to the storytelling contest in The Canterbury Tales to George Herbert doing fun, playful things with words.)

It's fun and creative and energizing, and I need that after ten years of teaching these classes -- but it's also deeply scary. I'm starting to understand, on a gut level, how apt it is that our modern English words jeopardy and hazard come from medieval gaming terms. (And Jeopardy!, of course, is a game today as well!) You can't always control how a game will go, even if you're theoretically the one in charge of the game. Just ask Chaucer's Host. The stakes are sometimes different from what you thought they would be; ask Gawain.

I'm hoping that this will all coalesce the way I'm envisioning, on a thematic level -- that we'll have enough time to talk about the physical and moral hazards of play (sometimes the Baron steals your hair; sometimes you're so busy dicing in the tavern that Death catches you unaware), as well as the ways it can work as a proxy for bigger cultural issues and culture wars (Herrick's holiday-games are particularly good for this). I'm not totally sure I will manage to pull this off, because I have a tendency to get distracted while teaching, caught up in the moment like Chaucer's squabbling pilgrims, and often never do reach the bigger points I intended to make; I feel like I lack an inner Parson to illuminate our pilgrimage's larger meaning.

In the meantime, we had a nice lively round of jeux-partis today, which meant everyone at least got used to talking in front of the class and defending a position; and we will be trying our hand at hazard in a few weeks (with handmade replica medieval dice, which are one of the many awesome things you can buy at Kalamazoo).

1 comment:

bndc said...

The new approach sounds fascinating! I hope you will update us about what you are doing in these classes, and how the students respond. I've thought about ways to gamify classes myself, but have never gone all in like it sounds you are doing.