Written by: Michael Botta
Good afternoon, Jags! I am very happy to announce that after some technical difficulties, the Writer’s Block Blog is back online! For our first post of the semester, our wonderful consultant Michael has shared how his experiences as a DM for Dungeons & Dragons overlap with his work here at the UWC. Later this week he will be presenting his topic at the Eastern Central Writing Centers Association (ECWCA) Conference, so wish him luck!
Player- “Can I try to roll for nature to find an animal friend?”
Dungeon Master- “Yes, do you want me to describe the landscape?”
Player- “No, I roll to find a kangaroo and cast animal friendship and jump inside its pouch!”
This is an actual moment from the current D&D game I’m running.
Within Dungeon and Dragons, one player takes up the role of the “Dungeon Master” or “DM,” myself in this scenario, and other players constitute “the party.” These are all role-playing positions, with each person playing at least one part. It’s important to note that while previous editions in earlier decades would often focus on “clearing” dungeons and battling monsters, D&D currently focuses heavily on role-playing. This community of individuals each telling stories creates a narrative that we call a “session,” a series of which make a “campaign.”
A campaign can last for years, as for any session the DM (hopefully) develops a detailed and hopefully illustrative world that the other players will explore and interact with, while the players imagine and live out their characters. Both sides join together and create a game, an expanding world, and a journey with battles, relationships, and ambitions.
So, what the hell does this have to do with working at a writing center?
Well, I feel like I do a lot of the same things when playing and when working. It’s part of why I enjoy my job so much. It is also tempting to just spell out the definitions and metaphors, and this comparison works in a variety of ways. I could spend a very long time delving into these connections (and will at a conference that may have concluded by the time this is published), but for this post I want to focus primarily on the act of playing and consulting. At the risk of making Writing Center work seem unprofessional, I think that I can justly compare the two.
Whether as a consultant or player, I have the opportunity to walk inside another person’s constructed narrative, play my part, and craft a new narrative. Whether or not I operate within a fantasy setting dreamt up by a DM or a research essay assigned by an instructor, I am merely an actor. Both in the colloquial and academic sense, I have a social interaction that defines these activities and a purpose to what I do, a philosophy of what I am as a consultant.
I’ve been told by one of my philosophy professors that “an argument is always made better by examples,” so let us imagine that you come into the Writing Center with a piece of writing. It can be something you wrote for class, work, or for entirely personal reasons, but you come here after making an appointment and going through all the logistical rigamarole. When you walk in, I know nothing apart from what you’ve told me of your context—the kind of writing, your goals, the expectations given to you by your peers or instructors, or what your writing is like in any way, shape, or form. I bring my ability as a reader, my history, my knowledge and impressions, my character, and I attempt to help you with whatever you need. I work with people who are just brainstorming off of an assignment sheet and those who have been locked in mortal combat with the vagaries of their paper for months. I only ever can and do so by relying on the world given to me by you.
This is essentially what I do in Dungeons and Dragons when I’m a player. Yes, the setting is different, the context more free, the rules dramatically altered, and the consulting philosophy more established, but the basics are the same. The virtues are eerily similar, too. To be an excellent consultant and player, I need sensitivity, friendliness, curiosity, clear communication, and most especially a strong understanding of myself. When a DM constructs a world for me, I have to ask questions, plan, and draw on my experience and place myself within the landscape. I ask myself, “What can I do and who can I be to work with this world?” and recraft my consulting philosophy once again in this unique and new setting.