Pizza Box Maps and Game Ephemera

I just found out about the Play Generated Map and Document Archive, which organizes and preserves role-playing game ephemera like character sheets, maps, and campaign notes. (So, you know, more or less what it says on the tin.)

From the site:

PlaGMaDA’s mission is to preserve, present, and interpret play generated cultural artifacts, namely manuscripts and drawings created to communicate a shared imaginative space.  The Archive will solicit, collect, describe, and publicly display these documents so as to demonstrate their relevance, presenting them as both a historical record of a revolutionary period of experimental play and as aesthetic objects in their own right.  By fostering discussion and educating the public, it is hoped that the folkways which generate these documents can be encouraged and preserved for future generations.

When it comes to role-playing games, I’m not just a researcher – I’m also a player. This project makes me deeply happy on both fronts.

As a researcher, I’m quite interested in the question of how we get good data about the experience of role-playing. When I conduct my own research, I rely on direct observation and interviews, but I also look at precisely this kind of ephemera to understand how the group works and what they jointly agree to pay attention to. I’ve looked at emails, game websites, maps, character sheets, game-related fiction, art, and more – and I’ve found they all illuminate what actually goes on at the table, not to mention being valuable to analyze in and of themselves.

Until now, there hasn’t been a great centralized resource for this material. I’ve been acquiring it on an ad-hoc basis through personal connections with groups, and developing my own system for categorizing and analyzing it. This, obviously, only goes so far. I want big data, dammit!

As a player, I find myself struggling to document and archive my play experiences. In our group’s long-term games, we generally keep a world-building wiki and write up session notes after each time we meet, but that has limitations. One of them is that it doesn’t include precisely this sort of ephemera. For example, at the end of our last long-term game, we moved from sketching maps on the backs of pizza boxes to using a whiteboard laid across the table. We made the change for a variety of reasons – one group member got a free whiteboard, we had to run an epic combat or two – but there’s no record of it except in our group’s heads.

I’ve got other documentation problems, too. I basically don’t document our short-term or one-shot games; there’s a significant barrier to recording and explaining what happens, especially since short games often include people outside our core group who are less committed to the preservation of play experiences. Plus, I’ve been playing one-on-one games with my husband for more than a decade; we’ll casually drop into and out of play as part of the fabric of our lives, and that certainly doesn’t lend itself to recording without an enormous investment of time and effort.

I’m not sure PlaGMaDa solves all my player-side problems, but it certainly helps.

If your group produces neat material, you should submit it to PlaGMaDa - and if it’s really neat, you should also drop me a line so I can make sure to have a look at it!

2 comments

  1. tim h says:

    Hi there,

    This is Tim Hutchings, I manage the PlaGMaDA archive. It’s funny that you mention “big data” because I see that as the weakness of the archive right now, it’s a lot of stuff but it’s not yet converted into data. A lot of work needs to be put in, key wording and categorizing so that it becomes a searchable, usable database.

    I was giving a presentation on the archive this last weekend and sort of surprised myself when I pointed out that I manage the archive but don’t interpret it – that I’m hoping others will come by and take that task up. I’m just holding the collection basket until the entire thing is handed over to a properly funded collecting institution.

    Thanks for the mention,

    tim h

    • Jess says:

      Oh yes, I can see the work that has to be done with it – but at least you’re making it possible for that work to happen!

      Where did you present on the archive? And I’m totally up for strategizing how this archive ends up at whatever institution I go to as faculty. :)

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