Academia has long grappled with the questions of what kinds of creative projects and activities should be allowed in the classroom, especially with the changing face of technology and student involvement. Introducing an alternative narrative format in creative writing and composition courses is often met with resistance if it doesn’t conform to the traditional format of reading “classic” authors, writing papers, and adhering to a linear narrative structure. Educators wonder why some students may struggle when a group activity is assigned, why certain students sit back and don’t put in the effort and delegate their responsibilities to others who desperately don’t want to fail. Engagement is difficult if they’re not interested in the work, the subject, or each other.
However, the shift in what kinds of media educators utilize in their classrooms has begun a notable trend in changing up how students engage with work and create something new. I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to design and teach undergraduate composition classes over the past year, and found myself grappling with this very issue – how could I help my students engage with the group projects I was assigning, especially since the classes were all online and very few of them had the chance to socialize and get comfortable with each other outside of class time? I found myself falling back on one of my favorite activities: tabletop gaming.
Inherently built upon and reliant on collaboration, tabletop games provide a wonderful alternative to the traditional narrative format by allowing a group of players to contribute equally to the story they’re building, providing instant gratification and rewards for their efforts and engagement. It’s long been a dream of mine to be a narrative designer, and getting to design these small, short-term “adventures” for my students to engage with went well above and beyond my expectations. It’s not just the fact that I knew being on Zoom constantly was mentally draining for everyone (including me), or that as the end of the semester approached and projects piled up my students would find it harder to muster that energy and enthusiasm for yet another assignment. I wanted to change things up and give them something creatively and intellectually challenging while still being fun. My past experience as a tabletop player and writer helped me blend my love of creative writing and narrative design with the pedagogical goals of my syllabus and the class’s learning outcomes, and further solidified my determination to pursue narrative design as a passion – and perhaps eventually, a career. And still, as I continue as an educator, having the chance to see just how much education has changed over the past couple of decades and what I could do to continue pushing curriculum beyond tradition and monotony was an
opportunity I’ll always treasure. It will be a change in both industries I will continue to chip away at for as long as I can.