Monthly Archives: October 2011

Roleplaying and Research-the joy of finding details

A few nights ago I was talking with a number of friends online and one of them used a spelling of Yankee that I wasn’t familiar with, Yankies and I went and looked it up to learn about the etymology. My friend, who’s a wonderful woman from Wales teased me about how she loved my dorkiness about words, but for me that’s just one way that I’m always researching. Currently I work as a reference librarian at a university and in my spare time, I roleplay, both of these allow me to indulge my love of researching details and ideas from a variety of sources. In this entry, I want to expand upon how these two things that seem rather disparate actually work so well together.

To start out, I need to provide some context of what I mean when I say roleplaying as I’ve used a number of different systems throughout the years but the general idea stays the same. I began roleplaying at a summer camp with Dungeons and Dragons which is based around dice rolling to decide outcomes combined with in-character discussions. In high school and college, I did Live Action Role Playing where we used rock, paper, scissors to figure out random outcomes combined with improvisational acting for character interactions. Currently I roleplay online on a blogging platform where actions are decided through player discussion and interaction happens in comment threads and collaborative writing. In this form, roleplaying creates for me the perfect balance between improvisational acting and collaborative writing, because as a roleplayer you have to understand how your character might react in a number of situations. A roleplayer has to know their character well enough that they can decide how they will react to various situations but also write it in such a way that the person who’s responding will have something to interact with. A tricky part of roleplaying is how do you make your characters seem three dimensional, actors and writers are faced with this same question and for all three creators the answer is the same, understanding of the underlying motivations and choices the characters make. The type of research that I do for my roleplaying is exactly the same as the kind of examinations I’ve done in the midst of my writing and acting and in my job. How does a character define themselves? How does their day to day life work?

I prefer to play characters that are from other times or other worlds, because as I said in my previous post, the past is truly another world. This means that I’m constantly researching small and sometimes odd details to understand how a character might approach something. For instance in a recent interaction, I had a character from the American West offered a deal for a certain amount of money, I had to figure out how much that amount of money would mean to them. This meant that I looked online at various resources about inflation and what the cost of living was in the Arizona in the 1860s, so that I could have my character decide, no this is too much. Simulations are a common practice in education because they put students into a place where they have to consider if I were living or doing something in a certain time or place how would I react? Roleplaying is the same idea but done as a hobby.

In my daily work as an academic reference librarian, I spend my time teaching students where to find the resources they need and helping them to think about how to approach these resources. For me the hardest part of starting a research project is find a specific thesis that I can investigate and craft a paper around. The beginning of this is the same as when I consider a character or a new story, what do I find interesting and what do I want to know more about? Once I have that then I can do the broad work of what’s out there and how can I go deeper? Most of my undergraduate career and graduate work in New Zealand was based around this idea as I did in-depth textual readings of Greek poets and English literature. The joy of research for me is in the little details of everything from how much was a dollar worth is 1868 or why did Pindar make a certain choice in an ode, because as I understand them then I can truly add depth to my writing.

I would like to try and bridge all these various parts of my life and think about how as a youth librarian, I can show that research is simply a way to get into the hows and whys of the past and the present. Roleplaying is personal for me, because it is something creative that I do everyday and so research is part of my work and play. One of the best ways to teach someone to research is to find what’s personal for them and figure out what are the questions and use those. Roleplaying isn’t going to be the answer for every young person but the idea of going deeper into their interests is and then research isn’t a chore but a way of being curious just with different tools.

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