Doctor of Philosophy
Supervisor: Drs. Arlene Oak and Dinesh Rathi
Dissertation title: (Im)material Worlds: An Exploration of Information and Materiality in World-Building for Tabletop Roleplaying Games
My PhD research looks at how people engage with and make sense of fictional worlds – for instance in tabletop roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons – through talking with each other and using objects as they play the games. My broad area of interest is in how people use information, the forms it takes, and the environments it creates (e.g., objects such as game pieces, fictional settings such as invented places). Fictional worlds are imagined, yet they are interacted with in the “real”, material spaces of people’s everyday lives. Examining what happens during tabletop roleplaying games gives me the opportunity to explore these interactions. How do people build worlds in roleplaying games? How do they interact with each other and share understandings about these worlds? This interdisciplinary research is situated in both Human Ecology’s area of material culture studies (MCS) and in library and information studies (LIS).
To undertake this research I am recording and observing games to capture what happens in moment-by-moment play, and I am also interviewing participants to get their reflections on their gameplay after it takes place. Analyzing this data will enable me to examine the social, discursive (talk and text), and material aspects of information use, as they are located in place and time. My research takes a “big and small story” approach, influenced by the social science perspectives of ethnomethodology and narrative methods. World-building and sharing practices are information-rich, and so examining them provides an opportunity to explore the use of information as it crosses and blurs borders between reality and fiction, and between materiality and immateriality. Interactions with fictional worlds are a part of many different activities embedded in everyday life (reading, television watching, gaming, etc.), and in my research I explore the ways in which these worlds are shared, adapted, created, and valued by those who interact with them.
Publications or other research contributions:
Stobbs, R., & Oak, A. (2018). Word-building and world-stealing: Taking, making, and playing across fictional and material borders. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 55, 904–905.
Shiri, A., & Stobbs, R. (2018). Community-driven user evaluation of the Inuvialuit cultural heritage digital library. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 55, 440–449.
Stobbs, R. (2018). Narratives of fact and fiction: Examining studies of information experience and the interpretation of data. Proceedings of the 46th Annual Conference of CAIS / Actes Du Congrès Annuel de l’ACSI, May 30-June 1, 2018, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Retrieved from
Stobbs, R., Shiri, A., Farnel, S., Cockney, C., Rathi, D., & Campbell, S. (2017). A community-driven usability evaluation: The case of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region digital library. Proceeding of the 45th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science (CAIS) / Actes Du Congrès Annuel de l’ACSI,
May 31-June 2, 2017, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Retrieved from https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/ojs.caisacsi.ca/index.php/cais-asci/article/view/1034
Farnel, S., Shiri, A., Rathi, D., Cockney, C., Campbell, S., & Stobbs, R. (2017). A community driven metadata framework for describing cultural resources: The Digital Library North project. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, 55(5), 289-306.