Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The folklore of roleplaying games

Folklore is a difficult word to define. Scholars throughout the ages have tried to wrap a one-size fits all cover for what constitutes folklore, but most of the time the definition remains too simplistic for such a rich and diverse field. I like the definition folklorist Alan Dundes used, describing it as “any group of people whatsoever who share at least one common factor…a member of the group may not know all other members, but he will probably know the common core of traditions belonging to the group, traditions which help the group have a sense of group identity.”

Doesn't this also ring true for gamers around a table playing a roleplaying game? Indeed it does, and folklorist B. Grantham Aldred once wrote a paper analysing folk identity at the gaming table that you can read an the Folklore Forum.

In this study, Aldred looks at jokes within the roleplaying culture and discovers that there are multiple folk identities that exist in these games. Reviewing a range of live gaming sessions, including a game of Changeling, Aldred found that references gamers use for their jokes can be incredibly intricate and complex, requiring wider knowledge of multiple pop-culture genres to understand.

It's an interesting study and well-worth a read, even if it's nothing ground-breaking to gamers.