November 27, 2016

Author’s note: While working on this post, it was brought to my attention that the binary I created here could be read as arrogance. This is not my intent. I am here exploring something which I feel a great amount of self-consciousness about.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how Dungeons & Dragons applies to my life, probably too much time. Originally created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, D&D is a game of imagination…and math. Friends gather around a table and create characters while one person (the dungeon master) shapes the adventure. There is a lot of dice rolling, and the choices that a player can make are limited only by the player’s creativity and how generous the dungeon master is feeling.

The thing that I like about D&D more than anything is that it is a game which you can really make work for you. How you play the game has quite a bit to do with what type of character you select for the play session. You can learn a lot about yourself by the character that speaks to you. For example, there are two different types of spell casters that stand out in opposition to each other: the wizard and the sorcerer.

The wizard is the know-it-all class in D&D. I don’t mean that in the snarky sense of “know-it-all.” A wizard, through intense studying and preparation, has access to more spells than any other character in the game. They can identify magical objects, and specialize in different types of magic to get some really cool benefits. The drawback is that a wizard requires a lot of planning. Before heading off into the world to slay monsters, and settle trade disputes, or pick out patio furniture (there really is no limit to what you can do in D&D), the wizard picks some of those spells and prepares them. For the remainder of that simulated day, those are the spells that the wizard can use. Didn’t prepare water breathing before that meeting with the mermaids? Good luck holding your breath.

I see a lot of wizards in the kind of work that we do in the academy. Scholarship is studying intensely, getting all the right information, and using it at the precise moment it is needed. There is a lot of planning that goes into all of this. That planning pays off in the form of great arguments that advance the field. Scholars get recognition and prestige for doing this well. However, just like going to a mermaid summit without water breathing, make an argument without bringing in that all important scholar which our field recognizes as fundamental, and you are left treading water. There is a lot to admire about the wizard in this sense, and I like the analogy which I have created linking it to the scholar. I see a lot of people in Texts and Technology that support this connection in big ways. I can see how many of my peers are wizards. I can see how academia is designed for wizards. There is just one problem. I don’t think that I am one. I’m pretty sure that I’m a sorcerer.

If the wizard is intense preparation, then the sorcerer is instinct. They just know how to cast spells and can do so without the preparation required of a wizard. When heading off on an adventure, a sorcerer has access to all of his or her spells. This can be a lot of fun. Big gang of goblins: cast a fireball. Trapped in a maze: cast detect doors. That kind of freedom certainly helps in the earlier stages of college (to keep the metaphor from above going). I never had to study for very long or prepare that hard to excel in school. It just came naturally to me.

The downside is that sorcerers have access to considerably fewer spells than wizards. If a wizard has access to twenty or thirty spells, then a sorcerer with the same skill would be lucky to have ten. Because the talent comes naturally, a sorcerer can do most things that any specialized wizard can do, but the sorcerer can never be as great at one school of magic as that wizard with the specialty. Jack of all trades. Master of none.

This is the conundrum in which I find myself within the academy. I see many of my peers and mentors and am convinced that they are wizards. They are amazing at digging gold out of so many books, and I imagine massive wizard libraries in spiral towers. Meanwhile, I have some pretty cool insights about texts now and again, but I often feel lacking by comparison. There is a considerable amount of anxiety that arises when I make this comparison. It makes me wonder if there is room for a sorcerer in the academy. A sorcerer certainly has a lot to learn from wizards about planning, but maybe it is a two-way street. The thing about D&D is that you play it as a group. An adventure is successful when a lot of different skillsets come to the table (pun intended). Our program (being interdisciplinary) recognizes the value of different ways of approaching problems. There are a lot of wizards in academia, and we absolutely need them. Is there room for a sorcerer? I hope so.