Universität Bonn

Forum Internationale Wissenschaft

08. March 2024

International Conference on "Agency, Analog Tabletop Role-Playing Games, and Asymmetrical Dependency" International Conference on "Agency, Analog Tabletop Role-Playing Games, and Asymmetrical Dependency"

The "Bonn Lab for Analog Games and Imaginative Play" at the FIW, together with the BCDSS will host an international conference from May 24 to May 27, 2024.

Bonn Lab for Analog Games and Imaginative Play
Bonn Lab for Analog Games and Imaginative Play © Adrian Hermann
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The conference in Bonn – funded by the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS) and the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft (FIW) – is organized by Adrian Hermann (Bonn, FIW/BCDSS), Evan Torner (University of Cincinnati), and Emily Friedman (Auburn University). It builds on recent philosophies of play that understand games as a “unique social technology” and method to “submerge ourselves in alternate agencies” (Nguyen 2020). The “material” or “artistic medium” in which game design takes place, according to philosopher C. Thi Nguyen, is “agency itself” (ibid., 158, 17). Games can therefore be understood as “the art of agency”, as the “designer creates, not only the world in which players will act, but the skeleton of the players’ practical agency within that world” (ibid., 17). As games allow for “the curious possibility of communicating agencies” (Nguyen 2019, 457), they can be considered one of the cultural techniques through which humans record experiences and make them available for communication, indicating the possibility of passing on specific forms of agency between people (Nguyen 2020, 18). Understood in this way, the history of games provides us with a “vast library of agency” that we can use “to explore different ways of being an agent” (ibid., 19; for a more detailed exploration see Hermann 2023). This perspective allows us to establish games as an interesting and important source material for Dependency Studies.

Analog tabletop role-playing games are particularly interesting in this regard. Traditionally, they feature strong asymmetric structures in their design, as a group of players is guided through the game by an almost omnipotent game master responsible for world-building and framework of the narrative (Dashiell 2022; White et al 2022). In contrast, current avant-gardes of analog tabletop role-playing game design (Horvath 2023) experiment with and often emphasize symmetric and equal distributions of creative agency among players (Bisogno 2021; Stein 2021), procedural openness, and a “play ethic” (Kane 2005). In studying asymmetrical dependency through analog play, this conference also centers an intersectional and post-colonial perspective. In particular, the organizers are interested in the emerging global diversity of analog role-playing games and the ways in which current design innovations are shaped by migrant, feminist, queer, and indigenous designers, especially from the Global South (e.g., Brazil, Malaysia, Philippines) (Berge 2021). In their games (e.g., Dream Askew, Brindlewood Bay, Karanduun, An Altogether Different River, BALIKBAYAN: Returning Home) relations of asymmetrical dependency, diverse constellations of agency, and complex (post)colonial legacies are reflected upon and creatively engaged with through the medium of analog imaginative play.

As a BCDSS conference, and as the second international conference hosted by the “Bonn Lab for Analog Games and Imaginative Play” after the successful first conference in June 2023, the international conference “Agency, Tabletop Role-Playing Games, and Asymmetrical Dependency” will be an international meeting of experts and scholars who explore tabletop role-playing games as medium, media, and method.



Baker, Meguey / Baker, D. Vincent (2023): “[AW SRD]: A System Reference Document & Creators’ Guide: First Preview” (unpublished, available through https://www.patreon.com at http://lumpley.com/index.php/window/installment/219).

Berge, P. 2021. Monster Power. Rebel Heart. Gay Sword: Queer Structures and Narrative Possibility in PbtA Tabletop Roleplaying Games”, in Mitchell, A. / Vosmeer, M. (eds.) Interactive Storytelling. ICIDS 2021. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 13138. Cham: Springer, 179–192.

Bisogno, Ben. 2022. No Gods, No Masters: An Overview of Unfacilitated ‘GMless’ Design Frameworks, Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies 3, 70e–81e.

Dashiell, Steven. 2022. DM habitus: the social dispositions of game mastering in Dungeons & Dragons, Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies 3, 3–13.

Hermann, Adrian. 2023. Die Zukunft (er)spielen Tabletop-Rollenspiele, Handlungsmacht und die Kunst des Spielens, in: C. Richter/A. Odenthal (Ed.), Semantisierung in Zukunftsdiskursen: Theologische Analysen krisenbezogener Sprachbilder, Freiburg: Herder, 55–82.

Horvath, Stu. 2023. Monsters, aliens, and holes in the ground: a guide to tabletop roleplaying games from D&D to Mothership, Cambridge.

Kane, Pat. 2005. The play ethic: a manifesto for a different way of living. London.

Nguyen, C. Thi. 2019. Games and the art of agency, Philosophical Review 128 (2019/4), 423–462.

Nguyen, C. Thi. 2020. Games: agency as art. New York.

Stein, Eric. 2021. No dice, no masters: procedures for emancipation in Dream Askew / Dream Apart, GENeration Analog: The Tabletop Games and Education Virtual Conference, 2021. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5156494.

White, William J et al. 2022. At the head of the table: The TRPG game master as dramatistic agent, Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies 3, 46–58.



An Altogether Different River (Aaron Lim, 2021)

BALIKBAYAN: Returning Home (Rae Nedjadi, 2019, Sword Queen Games).

Brindlewood Bay (Jason Cordova, 2022, The Gauntlet).

Dream Askew (Avery Alder, 2019, Buried Without Ceremony).

Karanduun: Make God Bleed (Joaquin Kyle Saavedra, 2020).

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