Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

One shot: Roger Travis

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 4, 2009

An interview with Roger Travis, associate professor of classics and Mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut and Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World blogger.

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Roger TravisMMO community connection:

Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World

What do you do professionally?

I’m an associate professor of classics and ancient mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut.

Would you mind taking a minute and talking a little bit about your gaming background (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I’ve gamed since I was very small; played D&D starting at age 10 and videogames since pong. I played NES in college but stopped in grad school and came back to gaming first with Age of Empires on the PC and then with Halo on the XBox. My favorite games these days are Lord of the Rings Online and the Bethesda and Bioware RPG’s.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds–more specifically MMOs? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

LOTRO is for me a way of living the fantasy worlds I loved so much as a child, and of reawakening in myself the ancient world I study. I’m pleased to have brought a great many friends into the game, and so playing is a wonderful social experience as well.  We have a weekly fellowship of Latin teachers, for example!

Would you mind talking a little bit about the Video Games and Human Values Initiative and what you hope to accomplish with it?

The idea of the initiative is to start talking about video games in a way that assumes from the start that they are ancient and valuable, and to go from there to measure and strengthen their vast potential to affect culture in a positive way.

How would you say videogames have influenced you as a teacher?

This semester it’s becoming clear that they’ve changed me forever. My experience in games has shown me that learning, which is always an adventure already, can be a completely transformative and imaginative adventure as well.

You are currently using something known as Operation KTHMA in one of your classes. Would you mind explaining what this is?

I believe that Operation KTHMA is the first course ever taught completely as a role-playing game. My students play as college students sent back by an all-powerful Demiurge (me) to 431 BCE, a crucial year for the birth of history and indeed for the birth of civilization as we know it. Their mission is to save Western Civilization by interpreting Herodotus and Thucydides correctly. That goal follows from an insight I had over the summer that instructional design and game design share certain absolutly crucial elements: both are about learning, and both are about putting that learning to use, whether in the real world or in the imagination. The goals and objectives of the game of Operation KTHMA are exactly the same as the goals and objectives of the course CAMS 3212, as which it is “disguised.”

Okay, now wait a minute. You’re a college professor who actually supports gaming and is even trying to find ways of integrating them into the classroom. I had a professor like you once…but then my alarm clock went off. I’m curious to know though what kind of opposition and/or criticism your vision has met with. Would you mind discussing that a bit?

Not at all. 😀 I’m very lucky to work in a small section of a big foreign languages department. That means that I get to decide what to work on and how to teach. Truthfully, the field of classics is actually always looking for new ways to bring itself alive—or at least there are always certain classicists like that. The old-fashioned ones tend to ignore us, perhaps in the hope that we’ll go away.

Speaking of dreams, what could you envision as being the ideal MMO for use in a teaching environment?

It would be an engine, I think, with a toolbox full of things like hoplite armor. Or, if we’re defining it down into something I could command someone to build, I think I’d have them build an MMO whose world was the Greek islands around 800BCE, with session-play instances a la LOTRO that transported you into various heroic epic stories. I have to say I’ve got a million of ‘em, though!

Who would you chose to be your GM for an epic RPG campaign?

A) Homer

B) Herodotus

C) Virgil

If Homer were a real guy, I’d choose him! Herodotus and Virgil are too focused on their own agendas for my tastes, so let me say the “Homer” (that is, the bard) of the Odyssey would be my choice.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

Start demanding that your courses be taught as games. We need a revolution.

And last but not least, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

I’ve been using d6’s for KTHMA, but I actually just ordered a big bag of every kind of dice so I’ll roll a d20 again soon. The real answer to the question, though, is probably 1989.

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