Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Gamification of Opera Workshop

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Gamification of Opera Workshop

Article excerpt


The author never expected that the hushed gaming invitation from a tenor colleague would lead to the creation of a Dungeons & Dragons inspired opera workshop curriculum three years later. At the time, the group was a secret society of graduate singers who were closet gamers and, more scandalous yet, table-top gamers. It was widely acknowledged during their collective youth that nothing was nerdier than playing Dungeons & Dragons, with the exception of LARPing (live action role playing). Everyone carefully avoided the issue that as opera students they were aiming for a career where they could LARP freely day in and day out as characters in famous operas.

What the author came to discover through weekly meetings with colleagues for dinner and fantasy gaming was that something phenomenal was taking place. These players (two tenors, a baritone, one fellow mezzo, and an informatics professional) were passionately dedicated to the characters they had created in their gaming activities. Every action they took and every word they said was carefully crafted to coincide with their avatar's nature. The wizard, Montei le Beef, would enthusiastically declare his actions with a spectacular lateral lisp while the gnome cleric, Rambert, was constantly landing them in the next bit of trouble by nosing further into the dark and dangerous dungeon. They were odd, mischievous, and beloved characters, and the players would celebrate them to the point of having themed dinners like "Mrs. le Beef s Meat Pies." The author found it to be a celebration of creativity, community, and performance displayed in gaming format that would be magnificent to see in academic performance environments.

The correlation between table-top gaming and opera performance became obvious during a personal development project in an advanced instrumental methods course. The intent was to encourage students to create new ways of teaching that would help them and their future students find heightened success in the classroom. Many students become somewhat disenchanted with the classic format of silently scribbling notes for future regurgitation while listening to ponderous professorial lectures. This isn't to say that all collegiate experiences are this way, but enough are so that most students have difficulty conceiving of a different instructional methodology-in particular, an alternate method that wasn't too juvenile to utilize in the collegiate classroom.

Through examining different teaching methods for K-12 as well as experiencing Indiana University's summer Kodály workshop, a new understanding slowly evolved that these playful activities aren't enjoyable only for children, but are remarkably fun for adults as well. Further contributions to the concept came from a TED talk by Dr. Jane McGonigal titled "Gaming Can Make a Better World." In her lecture, Dr. McGonigal expressed the powerful potential for good in the held of gaming and how it can change lives and our world for the better by building social connection, powerful engagement, resilience, and empowerment.

The next time the gaming group convened to play Pathfinder, a descendent of the 1974 table-top legend Dungeons & Dragons, those words came to mind. The positive sense of community and encouragement, a pride in mentorship, and the sharing of a cherished game that had played an important role in their childhoods and adult lives were clearly observable in the group. Their minds were fiercely engaged by the complex rule structure and fast paced action. More importantly, there was a keen awareness of the need and social expectation to display a confident sense of character. In turn, this powerfully stimulated personal creativity as each new event inspired speculation and situational analysis.

Watching the author's colleagues physically act out the fantastic spells they were casting or the martial arts skills their characters were executing became reminiscent of prior experiences. …

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