Symposium: “Roots of Humanistic Game Criticism,” in The Lord of the Rings Online


This Thursday night at 9:30 Eastern I’ll be trying to begin something new and perhaps promising at the Video Games and Human Values Initiative: a monthly symposium (you know, a drinking party) on “Roots of Humanistic Game Criticism” inside the world of Turbine’s The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO).

As you may know, LOTRO is free-to-play (though of course there are ways to give Turbine your money if you should insist), so anyone who has a moderately capable PC and the time and patience to download the game should come along and see if the game and/or the symposium suit him or her. Of course, if you’re already a LOTRO player, it shouldn’t be a problem to pop over to Ered Luin on Windfola to check out the effete nonsense.

We’ll be on the Windfola server (called “world” in the LOTRO jargon). I will be playing on a toon (character) named Trianuil. If you haven’t played LOTRO before, you’ll have to allow ten minutes or so to get through a tutorial in which you learn to kill stuff and pick other stuff up. If you want to be with the VGHVI group, make an elf toon yourself, and join us in the elf introduction.

We’ll have discussion on Ventrilo, which is a free program that you can download and install in something like two minutes. Once you have it downloaded and installed, set up a server as follows: Name:; Port: 4383. Then email me at Roger Travis Jr (no spaces) at gmail dot you-know for the password, or let me know in-game via Tell on Thursday night that you need it. (Press [enter] and type “/tell Trianuil I’m with VGHVI”.)

I don’t plan to force the discussion to go in any particular direction, but here are the questions I’ll be be bringing up:

  • Roots of modern gaming in Tolkien through Gygax-and-Arneson: How did we get from Homer to Tolkien to D&D, Infocom, and Pong to LOTRO and Dragon Age?
  • Emergent play in the current-gen MMORPG: How confining are the tropes of the Everquest model, in comparison to, say, the tropes of homeric epic?

In future months I hope to talk about, for example:

  • the relation of the free-to-play model to the range of possible player performances
  • Tolkien’s myth-making as a ludic practice,

But I’d also  very much like to hear what others are interested in discussing, whether it’s specific to LOTRO or a more general topic in the intersection of games and the humanities.

In any case, please comment here to let us know you’ll be there, and then, in-game, /say “VGHVI” so that we know you’re with us. Our first symposium is bound to be chaotic, but once we get a core group going I’ll be able to keep track of toon-names and Vent log-ins, and this monthly conversation could become something special. Can’t wait!

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