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IMAGINED WORLDS: Medieval, Fantastic, Digital

Cancelled for Summer 2020

Overview

NOTE: Remote students will be accommodated due to COVID-19.

From Dungeons & Dragons to Assassin’s Creed, the secondary worlds of RPGs and adventure video games have been particularly inspired by specifically medieval European myths and histories. Such games and worlds have enormous fan bases among tech professionals, who seem to perceive some intuitive analogy between fighting monsters, casting spells, and collecting treasure on the one hand and blocking “trolls,” writing code, and collecting users on the other. “Imagined Worlds” will examine the three-way intersection between 1) the study of medieval literature, history, and popular “medievalism”; 2) the study of transmedial fantasy worlds and their fan communities; 3) the practices of the artists and designers who build fantasy worlds for games, film, and other media. What is it about specifically medieval histories and legends that have made them so adaptable to virtual realities? How have models of community-based authority, with their constructions of “canon” and “lore,” shaped and been shaped by the technical affordances of digital networks and social media? What lessons about life in the digital age are revealed by this striking afterlife of medieval cultural forms, and how can we apply them in our artistic, scholarly, and political practices? Activities will include lectures, research-creation workshops, film screenings, a visit to the manuscript collection at McGill University, and an optional game jam.

Visitors (Confirmed; others may be added)

  • Maxime Durand, Historian, Ubisoft
  • Liz Reich, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh
  • Kavita Finn, Lecturer, MIT
  • Alex Epstein and Lisa Hunter, Compulsion Games

Class structure

The class will be organized around a collaborative capstone project, which will combine Gerald of Wales’ compendium of myth and monsters History and Topology of Ireland with historical records and literature from his time to construct a prototype of an imagined world provisionally titled “Hibernia Geraldi” (Gerald’s Ireland). This project will proceed from Matthew X. Vernon’s reading of Gerald as a “colonized intellectual” to seek inspiration from the heterotopias of Afrofuturist world-building, with their models of how “secondary,” “virtual” worlds might resist and critique colonizer histories in the “primary” world. Hence our goal is not only to research and understand the phenomenon of medievalism in digital culture, but also to construct in response to that phenomenon a praxis of world-building that might expose and resist the ways in which popular memories of the medieval past still contribute to colonial ideologies in the present.

The class will proceed in three phases. First, students will collaborate online to develop a shared framework for collaboration and connection, around their readings of the assigned texts, their own proposed research / research-creation projects, and their contributions to the plans for the capstone project; second, students will come to Montreal for eight days of intensive workshops, lectures, exercises, and public outreach activities; finally, students will incorporate the feedback of the instructor, fellow students, and other collaborators to complete and submit their own final projects.


Learning outcomes

  • Encounter and develop a basic familiarity with medieval travel literature, scientific texts, historical documents, and romance dated roughly 1000-1300, focalized around Gerald of Wales and his History and Topography of Ireland.
  • Survey “medievalism” in popular fantasy fiction and video games, situated in relation to the (explicit and implicit) critiques of Eurocentrism found in Afrofuturist SF and Fantasy worlds and their alternate histories.
  • Develop and apply models for figuring the decentralized, community-based modes of authority discernible in medieval manuscript culture, Oral Traditions, and in fan communities.
  • Consult with professionals from the game industry about the practical dimensions of implementing secondary worlds in narratives and games.

Readings & evaluation


Cost

A limited number of fellowships covering tuition and fees will be awarded to participants based on their applications.


Accommodations

All out-of-town students will be offered free housing at the Grey Nuns' residences.


How to apply

Deadline: TBD

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