Role Playing Games as Creative Inquiry

Winter Open
Class Standing
Steven Hendricks

RPGs, or Role-Playing Games, are a fantastic integration of story-telling, the material of tabletop games, elegant constraint and rule systems, improvisation, and collaboration. RPGs can also integrate myriad ways of knowing and disciplines by being set in different realities, historical moments, or genres, and, like other forms of play, storytelling, and simulation, RPGs offer creative access to deeply human themes and questions. Our task in this program will be to inquire into the nature of role-playing games as a means of accessing such questions: we'll make a study of the design of role playing games, the playing of games, and intellectual and emotional rewards of serious play in the broader academic context of gaining skills as writers, readers, and makers.

To be clear, the goal of the program will not be to indulge in any existing game-world or to linger obsessively in the obsessive collecting of game paraphernalia or the minutia of anyone's preferred game; we also won't be terribly interested in the social or historical phenomena of games, gaming trends, popularity, or collecting, etc. No, the core of our study will be, in the end, literary: we are interested in story, character, and world-building. Our core assumption will be that RPGs are a form of interactive and collaborative literature informed by broad concepts of game design, and that will be evident in readings, lectures, workshops, and credits. That said, we'll hope to create a community that loves discussing gaming experiences and connecting, perhaps to play together outside of class.

In the program, and in your weekly work, we'll be most interested in the games we can create and literary skills required to do it: stories, characters, and worlds spawned in the context of rules, collaboration, and open-ended play. Classroom activities and homework will engage us in the meeting place of literature and games: experimental readings that border on or access "game" concepts; writing practices that cross between story craft and the clarity and concision of a rulebook; character creation practices that connect psychological depth with the spirit of systems; improvisational story-telling and scene structures that move toward thematic power; and world-building that get us warmed up for the main project of the quarter: designing a small-scale role-playing game. For that project, students will choose to work alone or collaborate. Through critical development phases, workshops, peer-critique, and play-sessions, students will develop self-contained, playable RPGs that involve a specific "inquiry." Students will learn some fundamentals of graphic design using InDesign and Photoshop so that they can produce their RPG as a booklet/PDF in the style of many "indie" games. Emphasis will be on printed, pen and paper-based game design using minimal additional materials (dice, cards, counters, etc.).

This program is coordinated with Greener Foundations for first-year students. Greener Foundations is Evergreen’s in-person 2-quarter introductory student success course sequence, which provides first-year students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive at Evergreen. Students expected to take Greener Foundations should use CRN 20183 to register for a 2-credit Greener Foundations course in addition to this 14-credit program. 

First-year students who are not expected to take Greener Foundations or have been granted an exemption should use CRN 20182 to register for this program. Find more details about who isn't expected to take Greener Foundations on the Greener Foundations website.

Anticipated Credit Equivalencies:

6 - Creative Writing

4 - Game Design

2 - Literature

2 - Graphic Design


Course Reference Numbers
Fr - So (14): 20182
Fr (14): 20183

Academic Details

writing, game design, graphic design, publishing, scholarship


Students may choose to purchase materials, pay printing costs, or incur other optional expenses in the development of creative projects.


In Person (W)

See definition of Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person instruction

Schedule Details
SEM 2 C3105 - Workshop