Sample Annotated Bibliography: Shakespeare in Legend of the Five Rings

What follows is an annotated bibliography like that students are asked to produce for the AnnBib assignment in my section of ENGL & THRE 3333: Shakespeare: Comedies & Sonnets during the Fall 2016 instructional term at Schreiner University. As with the sample proposal and sample exploratory essay from which it arises (and which it echoes), its topic is slightly aside from that allowed to the students; rather than treating a single work, it treats a more general Shakespearean reconstruction, looking for what prompts continuance of the Bard in popular culture. It does, however, adhere to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for two paragraphs and eight three-part annotations (MLA-style Works Cited citation, source summary, and assessment of utility to the ongoing project), exclusive of heading, title,  and page numbers; the bibliography below conforms to those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

My own involvement with Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) dates back to the beginning of my undergraduate studies; a friend made early in my abortive tenure as a music major introduced me to the game, and I played steadily until moving to New York City in 2009. During that time, I participated in the in-person and online communities associated with the game, helping to steer small parts of its story through that participation and deriving no small pleasure therefrom (in addition to spending no small amount of money on doing so). Because L5R has been part of my life for as many years as it has, I have ample reason to look through its materials from time to time; it was during such a review that I ran again across the character of Shosuro Furuyari, described by various bits of the game’s narratives as the foremost playwright in the fictional milieu. From there, it was a small step to look at how the writer recapitulates beliefs about the Swan of Avon for a late twentieth and early twenty-first century gaming audience.

In pulling up critical materials on the game and its characters, I looked first through such databases as Academic Search CompleteJSTOR, and Project Muse for articles that answered to the search term “Legend of the Five Rings.” Given the niche market for L5R and the relatively limited scholarly treatment of role-playing games, generally, I did not expect to find much–and the expectation was met, revealing only a non-scholarly New York Times piece treating the game. I then expanded my search to “tabletop role-playing games,” opening my research to treatments of the genre as a whole; the search revealed more sources, although not all were useful due to being too early in publication, and others enjoyed privilege of access that prevented immediate review. Many of the latter–those showing up as most relevant by keyword search–were requested through interlibrary loan services and read, largely in the order received. Additionally, following the news that Marlowe has been credited as co-author with Shakespeare of the Henry VI plays, a search of Logan Library holdings for pieces treating the intersection of Marlowe and Shakespeare yielded one source readily available–the Murphy attested below–and another requested through interlibrary loan.

Burda, Paul. “Roll a D20 and the Author Dies.” From Text to Txting: New Media in the Classroom, edited by Paul Budra and Clint Burnham, Indiana UP, 2012, pp. 1-14.

After a brief vignette detailing involvement with a role-playing group, the chapter offers a brief history of the tabletop role-playing game and a definition of the genre taken from Daniel Mackay. Prior scholarship on role-playing games is rehearsed before Mackay’s definition is shaded against other scholarly treatments of performance and orality. The chapter then moves to posit how much of the role-playing game can be treated as literary, comparing rulebooks to theoretical tracts and instantiations of games to literary texts themselves. It also asserts that role-playing games prefigure digital media in terms of enacting deconstructionist ideas—and that they are, in fact, superior objects for the study of such theoretical approaches than the new media commonly supposed to be eminent in enacting them. Why they are is explained in some detail, and implications for teaching are noted before the chapter returns to its opening vignette to conclude.

As a serious scholarly treatment of role-playing games as objects of study, Burda’s chapter legitimates the genre. Further, although the piece focuses most on Dungeons & Dragons, it also explicitly makes mention of less-known gaming properties, which makes its arguments more readily applicable to L5R than might otherwise be the case. At root, Burda argues that role-playing games are art, and one of the things that art does is encapsulate and rework those tropes existent when it is developed. That L5R can be read as reinterpreting Shakespeare, then, becomes eminently sensible.

Copeland, Teresa, et al. “Three Different Paths for Tabletop Gaming in School Libraries.” Library Trends, vol. 61, no. 4, 2013, pp. 825-35. Project Muse, Accessed 19 October 2016.

Working from the position that tabletop games are a useful educational resource and therefore to be promoted as library holdings, the article explicates how three school library staffers in the United States and United Kingdom integrate tabletop gaming into their institutions’ offerings. Copeland articulates how the pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade school for which she works incorporates games into the whole curriculum, focusing on role-playing Homeric epic and related activities. Co-author Brenda Henderson reports on the more time-limited—but necessarily more focused—gaming activities at her school, their social ramifications, and their bridge into community involvement. Co-author Brian Mayer discusses how his institution partners with nearly two dozen school districts to facilitate integrating games into curricular and extracurricular offerings.

The article openly asserts the validity of gaming—including role-playing—as a teaching and learning tool. As such, it helps position games as exerting substantial influence on their players, particularly the younger players who encounter formalized gaming at a time in their lives when they are particularly prone to taking up ideas explicitly and implicitly indicated. The content of games is therefore singularly important—and even if L5R is not directed towards a young player-base, it is likely to be played by younger players. What it says, then, matters—even or especially if the information is inaccurate.

Danforth, Liz. “Gender and Games.” Library Journal, vol. 136, no. 13, 2011, p. 53. Academic Search Complete, Accessed 17 October 2016.

The article argues that libraries should encourage gaming among their patrons, whatever their gender, and notes both difficulties in and possibilities for expanding gaming among feminine library patrons. After a brief introduction, the piece moves through a discussion of the context of gaming and the complexity of the gaming environment before articulating what libraries offer to gaming communities. Notable is the article’s emphasis on the inclusive nature of the library as an institution.

Because the article makes much of the inclusive nature of libraries and positions games of various sorts—including tabletop role-playing games—as activities eminently suited to libraries, it tacitly asserts that gaming is an activity available to be enjoyed by all. As such, its messages are similarly to be made available to all; it follows that those messages, being in a position to reach many, can—and perhaps ought to—exert substantial influence on the beliefs and attitudes of a large section of the populace. Accordingly, those messages become more than merely facets of what is “just a game,” and the view of Shakespeare advanced in L5R becomes one that can potentially mislead myriad current gamers—and gamers yet to come.

Daniau, Stéphanie. “The Transformative Potential of Role-Playing Games–: From Play Skills to Human Skills.” Simulation & Gaming, vol. 47, no. 4, 2016, pp. 423-44, Accessed 31 October 2016.

Working in part from a doctoral dissertation, the article argues that tabletop role-playing games have substantial potential benefits to groups and individuals in that they offer practice in being more fully human. After laying out the scarce but burgeoning critical context of role-playing game study, the article situates its topic in context, presents a set of typical gaming structures, describes the game’s evolution, links game theory and play skills, and explores the transformative potential of the game, citing it as a means to help people construct themselves as more self-actualized and thus better able to face the world.

Daniau offers a perspective of role-playing games as not only therapeutic objects but as formative objects for social growth and change. Such a position privileges the content of the games themselves; if they are to be among the materials used to construct the constituent parts of society, they need to be based in the best available knowledge. If they are not, then, errors are embedded in the most elemental parts of the social fabric; the tapestry cannot help but be marred thereby.

Fine, Gary Alan. Tiny Publics: A Theory of Group Action and Culture, Russell Sage Foundation, 2012.

The author argues that the small groups in which people find themselves are the primary components of the larger cultural groups typically studied, that they are, in fact, people’s principal organizational affiliations. At root, larger societies reenact the dynamics of their smaller components; the study of those smaller components, then, offers transcendent representative generalizability of ideas. In supporting the idea, Fine draws upon several previous studies he had previously conducted, with topics ranging from Little League teams to tabletop role-playing groups to the National Weather Service, laying out the argument in an introduction and nine chapters what the eponymous tiny publics are, how they form, how they function internally, how they interact, and how they extend into larger groups.

Fine is the author of one of the seminal academic studies on tabletop role-playing games, Shared Fantasy, so his comments about such games are of some importance. Additionally, by arguing that small-scale social groups, explicitly including gaming communities, constitute larger groups and that the dynamics at work in the smaller directly and substantially influence the larger, he makes it possible to argue that what happens in gaming groups has larger ramifications for society at large. What they do well works to broader benefit; what they do poorly works to broader detriment.

Murphy, Donna N. The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and the Authorship of Early Shakespeare and Anonymous Plays, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.

Murphy argues that the playwright and otherwise talented Christopher Marlowe is the “actual” primary author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Following a foreword written by Cynthia Morgan, Murphy lays out in twelve chapters and two appendices her support for the idea that Marlowe faked his own death and continued writing under the pseudonym “William Shakespeare” to escape execution. Linguistic data taken from works by Marlowe and Shakespeare highlight commonalities of usage Murphy asserts are too close to be coincidence—particularly given the lack of attestation by newsmonger Thomas Nashe of the person of Shakespeare.

While Murphy does acknowledge that assigning authorship to early modern works definitively is problematic in part because of authorial practices of the time and the limits of documentation, she does present an extensive, peer-reviewed case against the traditional view of the Bard as sole or even primary author—or an actual person at all. While it might stretch credulity to think that a person who would expect execution by English authorities would remain in the area of London—and, indeed, in positions therein that would attract the notice of those very authorities—the book does serve as a useful counterargument to the idea that the Shakespeare presented in L5R is inaccurate. The work, and others like it, lend some validity to the view; if a dedicated scholar holds the view, one who would work with its object at some remove can surely be forgiven for doing the same.

Silcox, Mark. “On the Value of Make-Believe.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 46, no. 4, 2012, pp. 20-31. JSTOR, Accessed 19 October 2016.

Contextualizing its discussion in a history of play since the middle of the 20th century, the article explores ideas of the innate value of pretend play—in itself, rather than as a means to another end—through filtering the ideas of Kendall Walton, Ron Edwards, and Bernard Suits. The article summarizes the ideas in order, emphasizing Walton, but it shies away from making any kind of unifying claim. In effect, the article makes the case that consideration of whether pretend play—explicitly including role-playing games—has value needs to be conducted, likely in places strange to academia.

Along with several other articles, Silcox’s piece serves to situate role-playing games as objects worth scholarly study. Such a claim should not continue to be necessary, as the strong cultural studies motion among humanistic study ought to call for all such cultural products to be taken up as valid objects of consideration. Conservatism within academe, however, still vitiates against treating many less cachet-bearing objects, and broader misconceptions about humanistic study suggest that much of what it treats is folly. Having an argument against such views suggests itself as useful in making a claim about such objects as L5R.

Werner, Kat. “Bringing Them In: Developing a Gaming Program for the Library.” Library Trends, vol. 61, no. 4, 2013, pp. 790-801. Project Muse, Accessed 19 October 2016.

After a brief introduction and background for the author’s involvement in developing library gaming programs the article lays out means for setting up such programs—including those for tabletop role-playing games—and tournaments. It then addresses local impacts, means for assessing effects of such programs, challenges such programs face, and additional resources. In concluding, the article looks forward and suggests that gaming programs can be a valuable source of ongoing community outreach.

Another library-based treatment of role-playing games, Werner’s piece functions much as those of Copeland et al. and Danforth. It marks the role-playing game as a useful educational artifact, which makes the contents of each game—including L5R—vitally important.


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