Gamifying Narrative Studies

PROFile: Ryan Clement, Instructor, Department of Rhetoric, Writing and Communication and English, U of W

The bulk of the work Ryan Clement does as an instructor for the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) Rhetoric, Writing and Communication and English departments is in academic writing. 

“I think we’re coming up on probably over 20 different sections of academic writing by this point,” Clement says. 

But despite students being more familiar with Clement in academic writing, his knowledge of writing and literature takes shape outside the U of W campus in relatively nerdy ways. 

“I did my PhD at the University of Waterloo,” he says. “I did English language and literature, but my focus was on the emergence of narrative in games. I looked at how games act as narrative mechanics and how they interact with players and fan communities.” 

Clement primarily looked at board games, video games and sports, to some degree. In particular, he looked at Telltale video games, which are known for titles such as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. The games are narrative-driven and promise the player that the story adapts to their decisions throughout the game. 

In terms of Clement’s work, he examined the supposed adaptability of these stories. 

“I was looking at how these (games) create the illusion of agency,” he says, “where your decision matters, but no, it doesn’t.” 

For board games, Clement looked at Settlers of Catan, among many others. With these games, he would also examine the social and cultural context of the games in terms of their creation, as well as who was playing them, when, how and why. 

Clement one day hopes to teach a course on game studies at the U of W. Should that ever happen, it would be a glorious day for nerdy and geeky students alike.

What is something you’ve learned from your students?

“One thing I have learned is that while old people like to complain about young people a lot, they’re most often wrong.”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“That’s tricky. Right now, my mind’s leaning toward time travel, even though I’d probably screw up the universe somehow.” 

Do you have a favourite board game or video game?

Clement recommends the tabletop game Fiasco. He invokes the game’s slogan, saying “the whole point of Fiasco is that instead of a party on a quest to solve something together, you’re a group of competing individuals with grand ‘ambition and poor impulse control.’”

Published in Volume 75, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 24, 2020)

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