Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, felt right at home visiting Bryn Mawr’s campus last week.
“This place IS Hogwarts,” Gilsdorf told a packed room of Tri-Co students, faculty, and staff who gathered in Thomas Hall to hear him talk about his book.
In addition to his talk, Gilsdorf gave presentations to Susan Gregory Thomas’ creative writing class on memoir writing and to the “Medievalisms” class co-taught by Assistant Professor of History Elly Truitt and Assistant Professor of English Jamie Taylor.
After his public talk, Gilsdorf stuck around and led a group of students in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game Gilsdorf played as an adolescent and that serves as a focal point of his memoir.
"I was amazed by how quickly the students picked up the game," Gilsdorf said. "A few of them seemed hesitant at first, but within the first 30 minutes, the groups really got into playing their characters — hobbits, dwarves, wizards. Before long, they began exploring the dungeon,battling orcs and trolls, casting spells and coming up with some really inventive solutions to the puzzles and traps I'd created. I was impressed by how much fun they seemed to be having.”
Brittani Ivan ’16, was among the D&D novices that took part in the game.
“I didn't know how you created a character, or even how game play worked. I vaguely knew there were lots of dice,” said Ivan, who decided to be a “reckless, relentless elfin warrior.”
However, Ivan threw herself into the game and was quickly hooked.
"I didn’t want the game to end at the end of the night — I wanted to argue with the elf king and storm off to the next grand adventure right then and there. I was part of a fellowship on a life-or-death quest for three hours, and I lived every minute of it,” she said.
Kersti Francis ’13, was another first-timer.
“Although I like 'nerdy' things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, I've never played Dungeons and Dragons — it just seemed too "out there" for me,” said Francis. “Mr. Gilsdorf's visit, both in class and in his lecture on Tuesday, forced me to rethink how I looked at fan cultures and other 'geeky' pursuits. I was surprised at just how fun D&D was — the experience of gaming isn't something you immediately associate with class, but I had a great time. It was an awesome chance to put the abstract discussions we've had in class into practice, and it was a ton of fun.”
Gilsdorf was assisted in organizing the game by four students—Libby Wilson ’16, Mikayla Holland ’15, Erin Saladin ’16, and Jennifer Lopatin ’13—and Professor of English Katherine Rowe.
“I could not have done this without their enthusiasm and good spirit," Gilsdorf said.
Truitt, who organized Gilsdorf’s visit to Bryn Mawr along with Taylor and students, points to it as an example of the sort of interdisciplinary programming that’s highlighted at Bryn Mawr.
“The game night, combined with Ethan's class visit and talk, led to a really productive conversation in class about role-playing, fan culture and expertise, and medievalism,” said Truitt. “Ethan’s visit was a great example of the dynamic, interdisciplinary, innovative pedagogy and community-building work that faculty and students do at the College.”
For more images from Gilsdorf's visit, view the online gallery.