Embracing the Fiasco!: Roleplaying Games, Pedagogy and Student Success

Erik Stanley
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico, USA

David Sweeten
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico, USA

Michelle Schmidt
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico, USA


This article explores the relationship between games and pedagogy through the example of the roleplaying game Fiasco!. Fiasco! is a part of a growing genre of collaborative roleplaying games (RPGs) that have important applications in the university classroom. Fiasco! is an innovative game system that upends the traditional model of Game Master-led RPGs to create a collaborative environment for players to create their own stories. This paper explores how the unique model embedded within Fiasco! can be employed as a pedagogical tool for active student-led learning. 

To showcase the pedagogical innovations of a game like Fiasco!, we present classroom applications in English, Anthropology, and Sociology. Our experiences teaching with Fiasco! show how quickly and intuitively the game can be integrated into curricula with significant benefits for student engagement and learning. Roleplaying games that emphasize player agency, like Fiasco!, offer adaptive and innovative strategies for student-led learning in an interdisciplinary setting. Much as the structure of Fiasco! drives player engagement by making each player an equal participant in the generation of narrative content, using Fiasco! in the classroom allows each student an equal stake in developing course material. Beyond individual case studies, this article offers pedagogical inspiration for using Fiasco! in a variety of classroom settings that offer the possibility of an adaptive and interdisciplinary approach to student engagement. 

Keywords: Active Learning, Gamification, Student Centered Education, Teaching Strategies, Interdisciplinary, Roleplaying Games, Flipped Classroom Introduction

Author Bios

Dr. Erik Stanley is an Assistant Professor of cultural anthropology at Eastern New Mexico University. He received his PhD from the University of Virginia in 2015. His theoretical research interests in socio-cultural anthropology include pedagogy and popular culture, digital humanities, museum studies and student engagement, anthropology of science fiction/fantasy, human-environmental relations and the anthropology of religion. His ethnographic research focuses on the Mopan Maya of Belize, C.A. and is concerned with the transformation of cacao (Theobroma cacao) from a ritually and culturally important plant to a global commodity. His publications include the article Monilia ( Moniliophtora roreri ) and the Post-Development of Belizean Cacao in the journal Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment as well as Religious Conversion and the Decline of Environmental Ritual Narratives in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. For more information on his research, please visit https://enmu.academia.edu/ErikStanley

David Sweeten is an Assistant Professor of Early British Literature at Eastern New Mexico University whose primary scholarly work focuses on the intersections of economic thought, marriage, and gender in Middle English texts, including a chapter on inter-reliant economies and social capital in Wynnere and Wastoure, entries on wealth and money in The Chaucer Encyclopedia, and a larger book project on the economics of marriage, gender, and agency in late Middle English literature. In addition to his work in medieval literature, David Sweeten has also taught courses on fantasy fiction, comics, composition pedagogy theory, and critical theory. Each semester, his composition courses heavily focus on fandom, popular culture, and gaming to reach students where they are and develop stronger critical analysis, research, and writing skills. More information can be found at: https://enmu.academia.edu/DavidSweeten 

Michelle Schmidt is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Eastern New Mexico University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2018. Her research interests include popular culture as pedagogy, community and environmental health, and transnational economic development. Her pedagogical research focuses on the implementation of active learning strategies in the classroom. She presents annually at the Southwest Popular/American Culture conference on using popular culture, media, and games to teach sociological theory. Her ethnographic research in Belize, C.A. focuses on the intersection of modernization with Indigenous agriculture, food, and health systems. She has an article in Agriculture and Human Values entitled Cultivating Health: Diabetes resilience through neo-traditional farming in Mopan Maya communities of Belize and a chapter Commodification and Respect: Indigenous contributions to the sociology of waste in The Handbook of Waste Studies. More information can be found at: https://enmu.academia.edu/MichelleSchmidt 

Suggested Citation


Stanley, E., Sweeten, D., & Schmidt, E. (2022). Embracing the Fiasco!: Roleplaying games, pedagogy and student success. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(4). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-4/embracing-the-fiasco-roleplaying-games-pedagogy-and-student-success/


Stanley, Erik, David Sweeten and Michelle Schmidt. “Embracing the Fiasco!: Roleplaying Games, Pedagogy and Student Success”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 4, 2022. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-4/embracing-the-fiasco-roleplaying-games-pedagogy-and-student-success/

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