Vanderbilt Literature Professor To Teach About MMOs Through Lord of the Rings Online

If you're looking to learn a bit more about the world of MMORPGs, there's a course you're going to want to take. It's hosted by Jay Clayton, a Professor of Literature over at Vanderbilt University. Don't worry about having to pay for it - near as I can tell, it's entirely free. It's also hosted primarily through the MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online.

"Drawing on centuries of romance narrative conventions, the twenty-first century gaming industry has become a creative and economic powerhouse," reads an excerpt from the course description. "It engages the talents of some of our brightest writers, artists, composers, computer engineers, game theorists, video producers, and marketing professionals, and in 2012, it generated an estimated $64 billion in revenue. Anyone interested in today's culture needs to be conversant with the ways this new medium is altering our understanding of stories. Join me as we set out on an intellectual adventure, the quest to discover the cultural heritage of online games."

Intrigued yet? I know I certainly am. 

The six week program - known as "Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative" - is structured as a University-level English course. Its main focus is on Tolkien's original works and their relationship both to Peter Jackson's films Turbine's MMO. Using this relationship as a basis, Clayton will be walking students through the changes that occur when narratives are transformed  Clayton is exploring the changes incurred in the form and structure of stories when they're translated from more traditional mediums into the online arena. He'll also be looking into the literary history of Lord of the Rings, going all the way back to Romantic literature and addresing such great works as Spenser, Keats, Tennyson, and Browning; among others. 

The course is designed so as to appeal to both video game newcomers and genre veterans; the standard program consists of short lectures, small seminars, and in-game sessions.


Now, it's worth noting that, although the use of Lord of the Rings Online (which, I might add, is free to play) as a teaching medium is among the most fascinating elements of what Clayton's doing here, it's not a strictly necessary one. Students can, if they so choose, sign up for an alternate course track, which takes place outside of the game. As for me, I think it's time I downloaded Lord of the Rings Online again. I've some learning to do.

Those of you who are interested in signing up as well can visit the course's Coursera page. Make sure you read (and watch) The Fellowship of the Ring, if not the whole trilogy, before you enroll. If something like this has indeed caught your eye, I'd actually go so far as to question why you've not done so already.  

Oh, one last thing: I'll be publishing an interview with Professor Clayton later this week. Keep your eyes peeled, folks. (Update: See interview here.)