MLA 2017: Abstract

“Grete auctoritee”: Chaucer and Gamification

Our paper is drawn from a collaborative, conceptual experiment in the “gamification” of Chaucer and manuscript studies conducted by the Old Books New Science Lab, directed by Alexandra Gillespie, at the University of Toronto.

The OBNS Lab is working to make open source game engines interoperable with archival materials using the International Image Interoperability Framework. This will allow game developers to draw upon “real” digital surrogates of objects, including medieval manuscripts, and model them within three-dimensional virtual space. Cultural repositories, in turn, will be able to open their collections to new audiences through gamification.

In the OBNS game, the player must reassemble a new “Canterbury tale,” which has been fragmented and scattered among “real” medieval manuscripts at virtually rendered libraries. The player re-enacts the processes of archival research to uncover puzzles embedded within the manuscripts, which reward the player with fragments of the missing text. The player’s final object is to build a unique virtual world reflecting their interpretation of the tale.

Our game explores a variety of questions about medieval and modern authorship, reception, and textual remediation. This paper addresses one such question: in what sense do creators and reader-players experience texts as dangerously incomplete, beyond authoritative control? Our project illustrates how game creators seek to impose value systems by procedurally rewarding some responses and punishing others, while players remain free to distribute their attention according to entirely unexpected schema, in much the same way that the meaning of a text becomes unstable in the hands of a reader. If we imagine Chaucer as a maker of gamelike texts, this paper asks, how does his concern with the transmission of texts anticipate -- and how are his poems’ meanings illuminated by -- a modern, gamified understanding of narrative “auctoritee”?

Julianna Chianelli

Lawrence Evalyn

Adriano Pasquali

University of Toronto