Diary of a Murderhobo: an Academic Look at Fun in Dungeons & Dragons

Cory Ryan Walden is currently working on his roleplaying-related Masters thesis and has publicly released a paper titled Diary of a Murderhobo: Mapping Participant Divertissement Within Dungeons & Dragons, making it publicly available from his own website for those who don’t have academic access to journals and papers. Corey, a student at Auckland University of Technology,

The abstract for the paper reads:

Permeated and referenced throughout popular culture, Dungeons & Dragons has become iconic as the cardinal and archetypal tabletop role-playing game, spawning its own genre of gaming. The past forty years have seen participants drawn to the game by notions of “fun” or “enjoyment”, however as some sociologists argue, there are elements of tautology to this reasoning. While this critique may offer verity, qualitative research would suggest participant rationale is at least superficially valid, yet evokes a call to further understanding.

This paper offers a preliminary analysis of the underlying motivations for playing D&D examining concepts such as engrossment, identification, play, freedom, self-expression and various adverse affects associated with the game. Theoretically positioning Gary Alan Fine’s Shared Fantasy: Role- Playing Games as Social Worlds (1983) as the primary textual framework underpinning this research, and juxtaposing this with a participant Internet survey (2014), this paper seeks to explore these factors, while acknowledging and maintaining the oft repeated maxim that the game is “fun”.

Over the past few years there has been an increase in academic research into tabletop games of all types rather than just the video games that have grown out from them. What makes Corey’s research important here is that it’s looking at the idea of what constitutes fun within these games, seen through the lens of one particular viewpoint, and offers a foundation from which to investigate and ask other questions at an academic level as well as showing that such research is valid in academia for those who wish to pursue it at other institutions. As games are rooted in the concept of play (as presented by many game theorists) and fun is a huge implicit component of play, this type of research helps validate the legitimacy of academic research into what many consider to just be a simple hobby, where most game research is focused heavily into video game research and the sociological and health implications of those. Also of interest is that Jon Peterson’s seminal work Playing at the World [AL] is cited as a reference in Corey’s paper.

Disclaimer: When I was in graduate school, my research area was in nutrition and I was examining gamification, play, and learning theories on how best to introduce new paradigms using card game models among others to elicit behavior change in a target population. The idea of fun is simple, but generating and maintaining it is a complex challenge.

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