Posted in extra credit

Pen-and-Paper Role Playing Games in the Digital Age

By Pete R.

There are many useful things that traditional pen-and-paper role playing games can teach children and teens: problem solving skills, collaboration, empathy, statistics, storytelling, general interpersonal skills, and countless more. Artistically minded players might draw their characters or major events in their games; narratively minded players might create elaborate backstories, or take on the role of game master and tell their own stories.

However, kids and teens today are also deeply embedded in technology. Not that people aren’t willing to put aside computers, phones, and tablets and pick up a pencil and paper. But some people are more interested when technology can be implemented. Luckily, there are a plethora of options for this. Wizards of the Coast, which published Dungeons and Dragons, has D&D Beyond, which allows players to create their characters online. Many games that use the d20 system have a system reference doc (SRD) website or wiki, which allows quick lookup of spells and other rules. Such resources are useful for both players and game masters––if you game with a laptop, it’s much quicker just google search the name of a spell than flip through a rulebook.

One of the best resources is Roll20. This website allows players to create characters from a variety of systems, and lets game masters develop everything they might need. While it can be used for high tech in person games, it is ideal for playing with far-flung friends. I myself have led a game of Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons with a group that lives literally across the United States. For teens, this can be an invaluable resource if friends move away but want to keep gaming. It can also help teens who live in more isolated, rural settings find a group that they might not be able to meet with in person.

Finally, technology can make gaming more accessible from the sheer price level. There are countless online dice rollers and plenty of free resources for players and game masters. It’s possible to roll up characters and play a game with nothing more than a smart phone and a wifi connection. It’s not the best option, but it means that cash-strapped students don’t need to shell out any money in order to play.

I’m sure there are many more resources that I haven’t touched on here. The important thing is that distance, isolation, or financial limitations are no longer limitations for teens looking to let their imagination run wild and roll some (possibly digital) dice. And for those who love technology, they can incorporate a whole suite of interesting technological flourishes to their games. And of course, there’s still the opportunity for people to crack a physical book and take out some pencils and paper and play like people have been playing since 1974.

Posted in episodes

Episode 18: Tabletop RPGs

The homework for the episode:
Try out an RPG (or join your regular table for a session)!

We’re geeking out hardcore this week with a discussion on tabletop gaming – specifically pen and paper RPGs (although Martha will be the first to admit to you she now games with a laptop and tablet handy, since it’s WAY too much work to remember all the spells on her Cleric’s spell list). Prior to recording this episode, Martha played in and GM’d at two different Pathfinder tables, which tells you all you need to know about how she spends her free time, really.

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
Martha: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork on audio book
Rachel: The Girls Next Door tv show

Welcome, Rachel!

Pete tells us about the book he’s reading currently, demonstrating that he has more of a tolerance for historical nonfiction than anyone Martha has ever met in her entire life. We all detour for a bit to talk about audio books, which Martha can’t live without and Rachel’s never tried (hint: the key is a good narrator). And then Rachel sends us back to the mid-2000’s with the reality comedy TV show The Girls Next Door, and we all take a moment to be righteously indignant about the Playboy Mansion.

Look, I (Martha) have already spent too much time telling you all that she’s trash for reality TV, so this shouldn’t shock you, really.

We are leaving our three-media homework model to the side for a moment to try something different! This ep, we share our experiences with tabletop roleplaying games, and discuss the values we think they have, particularly in an academic and educational environment. We share games that are particular favorites, what we grew up playing, why we enjoy them – and how we’ve passed that on to the students we interact with.

In an interesting plot twist, it turns out that we all pretty much got started gaming seriously because of Martha’s husband (my path is a little murkier and started earlier than we were actually together, but it is a true fact that many of my early high school gaming memories involve my husband in some way).

Martha mentions Risus, the Anything RPG, which you can find totally for free here.

On October 25, we’re back to the standard format and talking about Sound and Music in Media with friend of the show Dan Karlin! Here’s your homework:

Pete: Blade Runner, 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford
Martha: American Horror Story: Asylum, season 2, episode 10, “The Name Game”
Dan: Mulholland Dr., 2001 film directed by David Lynch and starring Naomi Watts

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook!

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Pre-Reading

Prelude to Episode 18: Tabletop RPGs

We’re doing things a little differently this week: instead of assigning homework and talking about three distinct pieces of media, we have more of a round-robin discussion about tabletop RPGs. For anyone not familiar with the jargon, a tabletop roleplaying game is a game you play collaboratively in a group of people, probably all working to the same goal or telling the same story. You create a character to inhabit, and that character progresses through the course of the story, or campaign. Some examples include Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, White Wolf’s Vampire or Werewolf, Shadowrun, or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, to cherrypick a mere handful out of HUNDREDS of possibilities.

We are joined by special guest and friend of the show Rachel Hilbert, who has been playing games for several years (sometimes with co-host Martha). Some of the things to think about before listening to the episode:

  • What value do RPGs potentially have in an educational environment, such as a library or classroom?
  • How can we use them in an academic/educational way?
  • How have our (your) experiences with RPGs informed how you approach storytelling?

I hope you guys dig the episode – it was fun to mix it up a little bit! In the meantime, here’s some background reading that helps inform our take on RPGs and academia.

Tabletop in the Classroom: How I use RPGs to teach by Udolf Alfisol
Creating An Educational RPG Adventure for Your Classroom by Adam Watson
Creative Tabletop Gaming: ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and Libraries (Oh My!) by Thomas Vose

Posted in supplementary material

Ambition: Not as Unflattering on a Lady as You Might Think

(Written by Martha S.)

Why does Macbeth get to be a tragic figure, and Lady Macbeth the maligned instigator? Why is it a common sight in rom-coms for career-driven women to get “caught” by a romantic lead? Why are ambitious women so frequently tarred as bad people in narratives?

Look, if you’ve been around the blog at all you know I’m pretty passionate about gender dynamics in media – I’ve tried to make it an episode theme, but it feels too big right now, so it’s been back-burnered until I can get a better handle on it. Until then, it’s probably where my mind is going to go most frequently following an episode, especially when we don’t get a chance to touch on it while recording. In our last episode, we did briefly light on the subject of gendered ambition: specifically, that while ambition in general is usually a negative character trope, men are more frequently allowed to be ambitious (or driven, or passionate, or goal-oriented, whatever) than women without being narratively punished for it.

Women are culturally trained to think of all other women as competition. Because the world is constantly comparing us to each other, we grow up comparing ourselves to each other, and are usually trained to find ourselves the one that’s wanting. We’re not allowed to call ourselves the best, or to find ourselves the superior one – in an environment that demands that someone be “the best.” To do so is to be branded stuck up, conceited, a bitch. Ask any girl who’s accepted a compliment on a dating app how fast that turns into “You’re not actually that pretty.”

Media is a reflection of cultural attitude. So we get narratives with harpies, with shrill wives, with backstabbing mean girls, with cold career women who just need the right man to warm them up and put a baby in them. And you get people like me, who are going to shove the opposite narrative at you in the hopes that some day, by boosting these stories, we’ll drown out the people who say that girls can’t be friends.

Without further adieu: narratives featuring girls who are ambitious and also great.

Abigail Rook in the young adult series Jackaby by William Ritter, first book published in 2014. Abigail leaves her wealthy family in England to pursue a life that encompasses more than just playing the piano, getting married, and looking pretty. She is an aspiring archaeologist who becomes an accidental assistant to a supernatural investigator. Abigail’s ambition is interesting because it grows over the course of the series – in book one, she has mostly unformed desires to do something with her life, instead of being consigned to the house. She originally goes on an archaeological dig that ends up being mostly farce, and when she realizes that, she moves on to more and bigger opportunities.

Diana Prince, also known as Wonder WomanDiana’s opening line in the 2017 film directed by Patty Jenkins is “I used to want to save the world.” Indeed, this origin story is not only about a woman dreaming of ending all war – it’s about the only woman who actually can. Her aspirations are noble and lofty, and the narrative makes it pretty damn clear that they’re attainable, as well.

Jane Grey in the 2016 novel My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. This fantastical retelling of the story of Lady Jane Grey imagines Jane as an intellectual who prefers books to boys, who would rather use a sudden political opportunity to actually improve her home country than for personal gain, and ultimately as an alive person (which is less than what history gives her, I’m afraid). Jane discovers she has a taste for ambition when her family uses her as a political pawn, only to discover that she won’t be used for other people’s purposes – no, if she is to have power, she is going to use it the way she sees fit.

Judy Hopps in the 2016 animated film Zootopia, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Judy Hopps is a bunny in a big world full of predators, and she defies all expectations to become the first bunny cop in the city of Zootopia. And she does so in a montage that makes me cry every time.

Peggy Olson from the critically acclaimed 2007 tv series Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner. From the secretary pool to ad professional in her own right, Peggy is a great example of a lady that gets her career AND her man (spoilers for the end of Mad Men, I guess). She is also an example of a character that the internet doesn’t like very much! The internet can suck it, Peggy rules.

 

 

Posted in episodes

Episode 17: Ambition

The homework for the episode:
Pete: The soundtrack to the 2016 musical Hamilton
Martha: Glee episodes 1.01 (Pilot) and 3.22 (Goodbye)
Lizzie: There Will Be Blood, 2007 film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano

The story of one of our founding fathers told in catchy hip-hop verse, chronicling his rise from nothing to his final downfall at the hands of a political rival.

A plucky group of high school students from all social cliques join musical forces to compete in show choir.

A man builds an empire in the oil-rich fields of California, in a so-called epic tale of American capitalism, greed and violence.

Pride cometh before a fall, but does ambition necessitate isolation, violence, and sacrifice? That’s the question on everyone’s minds as we explore ambitious characters from the beginnings of America, to 1900’s California, and to the halls of modern day high school. Only now am I (Martha) realizing that this is the most musical material we’ve ever covered in one episode – perhaps ambition is too large a feeling to be discussed with mere words?

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Paradise, debut album by Knox Fortune
Martha: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Lizzie: Netflix original series American Vandal

Welcome, Lizzie!

Pete takes another opportunity to plug his brother’s music, but when your brother is Knox Fortune and putting out tunes like these, how can you blame him? Martha finally broke down and bought the super-sized book accompaniment to Hamilton, mostly so she can read along to “It’s Quiet Uptown” and cry a lot. Lizzie introduces us to another Netflix original series in the styles of true crime drama, which Martha immediately binged over the course of two days and can ALSO highly recommend. Anyone calling it an eight episode dick jock has thoroughly missed the point of the series, but that’s a topic for another podcast.

Today we’re talking about the potentially fatal character trait, Ambition.

  1. When we talk about characters having “ambition,” how do we differentiate that from goals or drive? Should we?
  2. Is ambition a positive or negative force in the stories we looked at?
  3. How does ambition get gendered in these narratives?
  4. What is the cost of ambition? Does ambition inherently require sacrifice or loss?

We kick things off by discussing the differences as we see them between ambition, goals, drive, passion, and greed. We diverge for a while to discuss Ratatouille, which pretty handily illustrates the shades of meaning there; we all get very emotional about Hamilton, and Lizzie and Martha get emotional over There Will Be Blood (but not really in a good way, TBH).

Other things for you to check out: Hamilton by Ron Chernow, the 2005 biography that inspired the show; the PBS documentary about the making-of Hamilton, titled “Hamilton’s America,” which you can watch on PBS.com with a WTTW Passport account

On October 11, we’re doing something a little different and diverging from our usual format to talk about Tabletop Roleplaying Games withe special guest Rachel HIlbert! Your homework for next episode is to try out an RPG if you’ve never played before – to get started, check out RPG Now for tons of free modules and rule sets.

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook!

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Pre-Reading

Prelude to Episode 17

Episode 17 is a banger, y’all – our guest host Elizabeth Buehler joins us for a discussion on Ambition and how it drives a narrative, what it costs our main characters, and a whole bunch of other stuff (specific, I know – you’ll just have to listen to the episode!).

Some of the questions we seek to address are:

  1. When we talk about characters having “ambition,” how do we differentiate that from goals or drive? Or do we?
  2. Is ambition a positive or negative force in the homework?
  3. How does ambition get gendered in these narratives?
  4. What is the cost of ambition? Does ambition inherently require sacrifice or loss?

As a refresher, the homework for the episode is:

Pete: The soundtrack to a little 2016 musical Hamilton
Martha: Glee episodes 1.01 (Pilot) and 3.22 (Goodbye)
Lizzie: 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson film, There Will Be Blood

As always, you can reach out to us at any time with questions, comments, or ideas at show@homeworkpodcast.com; find us on Twitter @DYDYHpodcast; or chat us up on Facebook.

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 16: Follow-Up, Finally

(By Martha S.)

Good morning, all. This INCREDIBLY DELINQUENT blog post is coming to you courtesy of writer’s block, which is not an excuse – any creative worth their salt will tell you that writer’s block is for amateurs, and that true professionals will strap in and work their way through it. Let’s never mind the fact that I am not actually a professional podcaster, merely a pretender to that throne, and actually get on to the meat of the matter.

We started posting follow-up blog entries to our episodes to explore questions, topics or media that we don’t have time to cover in our hour-and-change episodes. Sometimes, those posts are easy for me to write – the topics we pick are rich, and the constraints of mortal time mean we can’t cover everything we may want to talk about in only 60 minutes. Sometimes, the topics don’t resonate with me as much; not because they’re not Good Topics, Brent but simply because every person has different things they find deeply relevant and can talk about for hours.

Clearly, “You Can’t Go Home Again” is a topic I find interesting, but not resonant, otherwise this post would have gone up on Thursday like it was supposed to and I wouldn’t be sweating like I had a list-minute school essay to write (see what I did there?). I’ve been trying to understand why that is – certainly it is an idea that I, as a 30-year-old woman who went away from college and has moved through four different apartments post-living in my childhood home, have a familiarity with. And I think I have finally come to some sort of understanding about why I find it difficult to write about: I think all stories, in some way or another, include an aspect of this, which makes it almost overwhelming to examine under a microscope.

Think of it like this: changing identity is a core theme in YA literature. Frequently, this involves our main character realizing that the things that have been familiar and comfortable to them (their home, their family, their lifestyle, their sexuality, whatever), is not actually who they are. Cue their search for themselves, whether that’s an introspective or outward search. When they find themselves, the familiar is no longer comforting. Home is no longer home.

Literally all Epic Quest stories feature YCGHA(tm). Literally all Hero’s Journey stories feature it. Any story with a character growth arc will have an element of it. Like the Hero’s Journey (or perhaps in conjunction with? Discuss in the comments), YCGHA is a pervasive theme throughout storytelling.

Where am I going with this? I’m not sure. But it’s interesting to think about, because overthinking things is what we do around here.

(To make this entry not completely a self-indulgent wankfest, here are some supplementary things to read/watch on our theme. They are all excellent stories and I hope you enjoy experiencing them, even if they give you existential angst.)

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, 2016 novel by E.K. Johnston
Firefly,
2002 TV series created by Joss Whedon
Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997 film directed by George Armitage
Outlander,
novels by Diana Gabaldon and TV series developed by Ronald D. Moore
Runaways, 2003 comic series originally by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona
Stardust
, 1999 novel by Neil Gaiman and 2007 film directed by Matthew Vaughn

Posted in classroom connections

Using Video Games in Curriculum

By Pete R.

This most recent episode saw a new media that we haven’t had a chance to explore yet: video games. Both Martha and I have talked in the past about how we would like to be able to incorporate video games into our homeworks and discussions. However, assigning video games is tricky. Many video games take far longer than we have time for in order to complete. Others require a certain level of skill, or simple familiarity with controllers and user interfaces. Many students (and adults) have this skill, but it is a barrier to entry that is different than music, books, graphics novels, film, or television. That’s one reason I was excited when our guest for this week, Cory Ruegg, assigned Gone Home. Here was a video game that required almost no “skill” in the traditional video game sense. There are no skill trees to manage, no quick time events, no firefights or strategy. Just simple point-and-click, mostly intuitive exploration. Additionally, the game clocked in at roughly 2-3 hours to play to completion. That put it on par with most films, and made it quicker than some of the books we’ve assigned.

However, as I was playing it I realized there were still some difficulties in translating it to an effective curriculum. Each player would, in theory, encounter the same events. However, due to the non-linear, exploratory nature of the game, different players might come across different events at different times. This could shade their interpretation of the narrative and its “mysteries” in different ways. I was struck by this quirk of the non-linear structure when I came across one of the diary entries that seems to “spoil” a diary entry that I had not come across yet.

Additionally, the game as a distinct “end”––when the player reaches the attic––that you can come to far before the entire house is investigates. I reached the “end” of the game before I had opened the locker in Sam’s room, or the locked filing cabinet in Dad’s office. I hadn’t even explored the basement, kitchen, green house! If I had stopped playing when I reached the “end” of the game, there is a lot I would have missed out on. And Gone Home is certainly a game about the nuances and little details.

To rectify this, I would highly recommend playthrough videos. We’ve linked to the playthrough video for Gone Home on the initial blog post for the episode, and I’ve link to it here as well. A playthrough video can serve as a “cannonical” text for a video game assigned in a classroom, book group, or other event. I’d recommend assigning playing the game, but then “citing” the game through the timestamp in the playthrough video. The playthrough video can also be used to make sure that everyone has experienced all aspects of the game. Did you miss the sub-story of Katie’s dad and her great-uncle? How about the real purpose to the parents’ anniversary camping trip? All of that comes through in the playthrough video, so there’s no question of some people opening that safe in the basement (hint: what’s the last year on the wall nearby?) and others not being able to (that was the only puzzle I didn’t clue into immediately, and I’m still kicking myself about it).

Luckily, playthrough videos are increasingly popular. Between twitch streams and general youtube videos of playthroughs, most games you might want to discuss or assign are likely available in such a format. It’s a great way to standardize what is inherently an individual experience. It’s also useful if you have people who are uncomfortable, uninterested, or unable to join in the act of PLAYING a video game. They can watch the video and treat it as a film and still access the narrative. Maximize your curriculum’s accessibility!

So by all means, use video games however you can! And if you do, look for playthrough videos to also create a standardized “text” that everyone can refer back to.

Posted in episodes

Episode 16: You Can’t Go Home Again

The homework for the episode:
Pete: The Fifth Elephant, 1999 novel by Terry Pratchett (part of the Discworld series
Martha: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014 film directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Chris Evans
Cory: Gone Home, 2013 PC game available on STEAM

Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Sam Vimes, finds himself in over his head when he travels to Uberwald on a diplomatic mission. Amongst his cohort are a dwarf, a werewolf, and a troll who used to call the cold nation home.

Steve Rogers misses the 1940s. Also he and other vets find solace in each other, until he finds out a missing piece of his past is still running around killing folk in the modern era. SHIELD is there also, but they’re terrible.

A girl comes home from a trip abroad to find her family missing. Over the course of discovering what happens, she learns a whole lot of new things about her sister, her family, and the secrets that they keep.

Home is a construct, but is it one we build, or is it built despite ourselves? We get a chance to play with a new media format, welcome a new guest, and figure out what home means to us in today’s episode.

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: NPR First Listen Live: The National, “Sleep Well Beast”
Martha: Crash Override by Zoe Quinn
Cory: In Defense of Food: PBS Documentary by Michael Pollan

Welcome, Cory!

Martha may be the only one who didn’t know NPR played music. She’s also here to stand on a soapbox for Zoe Quinn and women on the internet, and don’t you even start with that “every story has two sides” thing. (Wikipedia has a pretty good dissection of the whole GamerGate debacle, I recommend it as a starting point. Read it here.) Cory and Martha get excited about Michael Pollan, and overall we’re all having a pretty good time ingesting pop culture. Go us.

You Can’t Go Home Again (…or can you?)

  1. How do we define the act of “going home”?
  2. What is home for our various characters? How does this change through the course of the narrative?
  3. How do characters react to returning “home”?
  4. What causes the inability to return “home”––is it us who change, or home, or both?

“Home” is a nebulous concept that is, by its nature, constantly redefined. We attempt to make sense of what it means to our main characters, and in the process get to talk about format and world building a whole lot. Home is pretty deeply tied to identity for all of our main characters, so we end up looping a little bit back to our very first topic for the show as we explore the struggle to define oneself by an idea that is constantly shifting.

I’m gonna be honest with y’all – I really want you to listen to this episode, so I don’t have a lot of show notes to give you! Here is a link to a YouTube playthrough of Gone Home in case you were not able to play it yourself.

Also, the song Martha poorly articulates is the Dionne Warwick “A House is Not A Home.” It featured in the 1964 film of the same name, starring Shelley Winters and Robert Taylor. Martha knows it because Kurt sang it on Glee once.

On September 13, we’re talking about Ambition with special guest and fan of the show Lizzie Buehler. Your homework for next episode:

Pete: The soundtrack to a little 2016 musical Hamilton, you may have heard of it
Martha: Glee episodes 1.01 (Pilot) and 3.22 (Goodbye)
Lizzie: There Will Be Blood

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook!

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Pre-Reading

Prelude to Episode 16

New media! Heavy nostalgia! The first time for many of us consuming the homework! Episode 16 is gonna be BIG, folks!

Our guest host for episode 16: Cory Ruegg

For episode 16, we’re talking about the notion that You Can’t Go Home Again. What does that mean, exactly? We’ll get into it, along with how our various main characters are defining home and what it means to them, how they react to coming home, and how does that impact the story (hint: usually that IS the story). It’s the first time experiencing the homework for many of our hosts, and we get to incorporate a new form of media, which is very exciting!

The homework for the episode:

Cory: Gone Home, 2013 video game by Steve Gaynor and Majesco Entertainment
Pete: The Fifth Elephant, 1999 novel by Terry Prachett
Martha: 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by the Russo brothers and starring Chris Evans