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5:23pm on Thursday, 5th March, 2015:

Bob and Wheel


Today's CE317 class was about the Arthurian romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

I don't suppose that many of the students who sign up to do our Computer Games degree expect that they'll be getting a reading of a medieval poem as part of their course, but they do. The reason I give it is twofold.

Firstly, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight follows the Hero's Journey (which underpins the theory explaining why people play MMOs). Many stories follow the Hero's Journey, of course, which is rather the point of it. I did in fact used to give two different stories (from the Arabian Nights) that followed it, but they weren't as useful as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight because the latter is flawed: Gawain actually fails one of the steps. This has consequences for the rest of the story, which the students can (sometimes to their surprise) predict because they know the format and what each step implies.

That said, there are still plenty of other stories that also have the would-be hero failing. If that were all there was to it, I might go with, say, the tale of Actaeon and Artemis, in which Actaeon spectacularly fails his Meeting with the Goddess. The reason I go with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, however, is because of its relationship to play. From a gamer's point of view, the message of the story is that people treat life as a game because life is a game. In middle English, the word for game was gomen and the word for man was gome, so a lot can be made of this. Also, the fact that I can add this observation to the end of the discussion reflects the style of the original poem, which has each stanza followed by a bob and wheel to make a meta-point about it. The reflection was just too delicious to resist.

The problem I'm now having is that each year I read up on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in order to refresh my memory, and add to my notes. I used to write them on a copy of the printed handout, but they got so profuse that I had to type them as embedded notes into the text so I could read them. I've since made hand notes on my printed copy of that, and now these have got so large and unwieldy (and at times contradictory) so I'm going to have to do it again. For the third year in a row, I also found myself outlining the story of the wedding of Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, so I should maybe write that up, too.

I wouldn't have to keep doing this if my students didn't keep asking awkward questions.

This is what comes of setting the entrance requirements for our degree so high...

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