First, I need to apologize to those of you reading this LiveJournal for my wordy and shall we say remedial series of blog posts this week on Playful Historical Thinking. I'm writing those a) to figure out for myself what is worth saying about the topic and b) to find the language to talk about play with an audience whose playing muscles are a little more atrophied. But the people reading this LiveJournal, I'm pretty sure, already get the idea of playing with history without a whole lot of wordy hand holding. Several of you are black belt playful historical thinkers if not world masters.
Which is why I could use your input.
So I know that many of you are familiar with that thing that happens, that pattern recognition / apophenia / confirmation bias thing, when you're doing playful historical research, especially for an RPG you're playing or running or planning to run. You start flipping through books, and Google and Wikipedia, concocting some deranged historical theory, and then suddenly you start finding facts and evidence that are too perfect, that seem to confirm the very goofball theory you just yourself made up! princeofcairo
has written a bunch of "how to" columns on the subject, Umberto Eco built a whole novel around it, and mgrasso
seems to have it happen about once every three days.
What I'm trying to do is to concoct some kind of game, activity, or demonstration exercise for a group of, say, 6-12 academics that would in the space of 30 minutes or so let them have this experience themselves. Basically I want to turn sober professional historians into paranoid conspiracy theorists. Temporarily.
I thought about giving them a bunch of interesting and allusive historical sources and asking the group to come up with a theory connecting all of them, but I worry that if I choose the sources in advance it will seem like I'm stacking the deck, and they won't get that uncanny "nobody planned this and yet clearly somebody planned this" feeling. At the other extreme, I thought about hitting the Random Page link on Wikipedia a few times and asking them to connect all the things that come up--but the random pages on Wikipedia can be extremely random and farflung and it's quite possible they could not be connected. I also wonder if it would help to frame the exercise inside a mini-roleplaying game, but that's a level of artificiality that my audience just might not go for. Maybe I should just run a session of InSpectres?
Anyway, that's my current conundrum. And I know your playful historical kung fu is extremely advanced. Any ideas, suggestions, warnings, conjectures?