Brock prof creates award-winning role-playing game

An image from Prof. Greg Gillespie's Borrowmaze role playing game.

An image from Prof. Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze role-playing game.

It may seem like fun and games, but for Greg Gillespie, it’s serious work.

An associate professor in Brock’s Department of Communications, Popular Culture and Film, Gillespie is a researcher and designer of role-playing games, or RPGs.

RPGs are games in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting or through a process of structured decision-making or character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.

Gillespie recently placed second at the Three Castles Design Awards in Dallas for his game, Barrowmaze II.

Gillespie’s interest in RPGs goes back to his childhood.

“I was a gamer in my youth – before gaming became cool and ubiquitous in social media,” he recalled. “I am an admitted Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) geek and learned to play with my classmates in public school.”

Gillespie still plays in a weekly game with friends, many of whom are Brock alumni.


Based on their game sessions, Gillespie created a game scenario called Barrowmaze. It resonated among gamers and was so popular, he ran an online crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo to create the sequel, Barrowmaze II.

Examining Dungeons and Dragons has been an integral part of Gillespie’s study in RPG games and research.

“Dungeons and Dragons has been revised into multiple editions over the years,” he explained. “These editions have become increasingly complex. With the release of the third edition in the early 2000s, the fan base fractured. This led to the creation of the self-titled Old School Renaissance – a community devoted to the return to early D&D editions.”

Since that time, Gillespie said the Old School Renaissance has grown significantly and now has its own publication, online forums and a thriving community on Google Plus.

“I’m interested in studying the concept of nostalgia and what role nostalgia plays within this group of old school gamers,” he said. “I have also advised a graduate student in this area.”

In Dallas, Gillespie’s runner-up finish to an entrant with many years of experience “was a very strong showing for me, as Barrowmaze was my first RPG publication of any type.”

“This award is given once a year to an independent publisher to recognize excellence in RPG design. It was thrilling to be short-listed for the award, so to finish as the runner-up was really the icing on the cake,” he said.

Looking ahead, Gillespie hopes to continue his “study of retrogaming” from the position of what American fandom scholar Henry Jenkins calls the Aca-Fan – a scholar who identifies as a fan (or in this case gamer). The academic fan denies the historically privileged position of the scholar as the external observer.

“Instead, we acknowledge and make explicit our relationship to our research. Stemming from perspectives from anthropology, we attempt to understand gamer subcultures from within, on their own terms,” said Gillespie.

Based on that approach, Gillespie will continue to follow the course of the Aca-Fan by publishing both academic research and independent game publications.

“I want to continue my examination of nostalgia within the old school D&D community and incorporate more fieldwork when opportunities and funding allow,” he said.

Gillespie published two academic articles last December looking at the concept of nostalgia in old school gamer subcultures:
• “Remember the Good Old Days? Nostalgia, Retroscapes and the Dungeon Crawl Classics,” The Journal of the Canadian Game Studies 6(10), 2012.
• “There and Back Again: Nostalgia, Art, and Ideology in Old-School Dungeons and Dragons,” Games and Culture 7 (6), 2012.

Gillespie will be teaching two courses related to gaming this year: the Social and Political Aspects of Digital Games (PCUL 3P26 ) and the History and Culture of Role-Playing Games (PCUL 3P96).

“I enjoy both courses and include classroom interviews with people in the industry whenever possible; for example, in PCUL 3P96 we completed a book review assignment of Ethan Gilsdorf’s memoir Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks and then later that class we interviewed and chatted with him,” Gillespie said. “It was fantastic.”

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