New English course explores medieval play and LARPing

December 7, 2018

Full cosplay, foam swords and a bear, oh my! Professor Dorothy Kim (ENG) offered the course “Medieval Play: Drama, LARP, and Video Games” for the first time this semester. Any cosplay and video game lover should jump at the opportunity to take such a unique course.

Kim had previously taught different courses surrounding medieval drama, but they were more focused on a specific outcome, rather than the theory of play itself. “I wanted to consider what else I might do with medieval drama in relation to performance and issues of race, sexuality, gender, disability, etc.,” said Kim in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

She took her definition of play from Brian Upton’s book “The Aesthetics of Play,” citing that “Play is free movement within a system of constraints… play can also explain particular aspects of narrative; a play-based interpretive stance, he proposes, can help us understand the structure of books, of music, of theater, of art and even of the process of critical engagement itself,” Kim said. This drew Kim away from a drama class to a play class. “I thought it would be interesting to also address areas like medieval LARP and medieval video games,” explained Kim.

Scott Grote ’19, an English major, took the class because “I wanted to explore video games as a form of text. Although plot-wise video games can be pretty dull, their notion of interacting with a text or playing with it seems pretty interesting,” explained Grote.

The course is split up into three different categories: Medieval Drama, Medieval Live Action Role Play (LARP) and Medieval Video Games. Kim chose to work with the “York Medieval Mystery Cycle” because “English medieval drama is often organized in relation to urban space and as a long set of plays based on the biblical past,” said Kim.

She went on to explain how Medieval York is the site of one of the most violent and anti-semitic events in English medieval history. “This drama cycle was the organized production of urban middle and working-class businessmen, and so I also wanted to address the issue of toxic masculinity,” explained Kim. “Can we shape these plays and the performance in order to address these issues and also consider the issues of justice in relation to race, anti-semitism, gender, sexuality, disability, etc.?”

Kim also knew she wanted to highlight the issues of toxic masculinity, white supremacy, racialized and religious hatred, gender, LGBTQ and disability issues in the course.

The third part of her course, video games, was mainly based on the interests of the students. Games that are currently being analyzed in their class are Dungeons and Dragons, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Undertale and Skyrim. The class looks at different aspects of the games and analyzes them to view their contribution to the overall game.

Probably the most intriguing part of the class, though, is the LARPing unit. Live Action Role Play, or LARP, is a type of role-playing game in which individuals dress up as characters and act out different scenes depending on the inspiration of the game. “We have talked about the visual rhetoric of the Charlottesville white supremacists which deliberately used medieval images and medieval and classical LARP shields,” Kim said. “We’ve discussed the possibilities of games and play in relation to social justice. We’ve looked at the work of Brenda Romero’s ‘The Mechanism is the Message’ as well as Mattie Brice’s discussions of everyday play as activism.”

After initially seeing the layout for the class, Grote expected the class to feel extremely forced. “I asked myself, how can LARPing really fit into an English class?” said Grote. “But when you LARP, you play out a story, and when you play this story, you have to think about medieval tropes and iconic imagery and why we are so nostalgic for them, despite their often fictional nature.”

For the class, all the students dressed up in full cosplay and did a few LARPing scenes. Kim explained that a lot of her students were adamant about playing in an extremely public place, so they have been LARPing in the Humanities Quad. “I think it was probably the first time we all went out there to follow our adventure (there were some tasks) and seeing a number of the classes who have windows facing us watching us in amazement since my students were in full cosplay (with foam weapons, etc. and yes, there was at least one bear),” said Kim.

Grote’s favorite memory from the entire semester was participating in the LARP. “I really did not expect to enjoy it, but I really got into it. It was fun role playing a character in a fantasy environment. I played as this man who wore a bear pelt. There was this one time I was running away and hiding from everyone. That was pretty fun,” said Grote in an interview.

This course fulfills both the Pre-1800 requirement for English majors as well as an oral communication requirement for the general university requirements. “I would surely recommend this class for any of the adventure gamers out there. Also, if you’re looking for an English class to mix up the text you’re reading, I would definitely recommend this course,” explained Grote. “It certainly employs a unique set of texts.”

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