Several weeks ago, we began a new unit in the Medievalisms course that I'm teaching this semester. It's on fantasy and fan culture: First, the students watched an episode of Game of Thrones, read this fantastic review essay in the LRB, and did a bunch of internet research on the fansites and wiki sites around ASoIaF. Then they read Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf. Ethan visited class and led a lively and productive conversation about nerd culture, medievalism, fantasy, and role-playing. The following day, Ethan gave a talk to the larger community about the links between college culture and fantasy medievalisms, and then designed and led an evening D&D class.
My co-professor and I are newbs to RPGs, tabletop or otherwise, and we were entirely uncertain, when we first designed the syllabus, how this part of the course would come together.
It was fantastic.
The first half of this unit, on Game of Thrones and fan culture, got students thinking about the fantasy genre and medievalism. It has been challenging, throughout the semester, to help the students move beyond making arguments about accuracy and authenticity (or fidelity). However, once "accuracy" is off the table, as with fantasy, they immediately started to see the different medievalisms at play. The students were able to take the conversation further when they discussed Ethan's book with him, and they were *amazing* at the D&D session. Every single student got really into it, even the skeptics, and they were thoughtful and incisive the next day. They discussed questions of gender, performance, community and expertise, and medievalism, and analyzed their own experiences with the quest that Ethan designed.
The moral of this story: Engage with what the students are interested in (all of the students are interested in medievalism, having read Harry Potter or watched LOTR; others are intense and frequent gamers or LARPers), and then bring in a really smart person to help you with what you don't know about.