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The Battle for Middle Earth: Storytelling and disciplinarities

The hand of Sauron. Wikimedia Commons.
** The following blog might contain some light gaming language**

When the fellowship of The Ring left Rivendell, I suppose we all thought that that was a group very well equipped to deal with Sauron. They had Legolas’ bow, Gimli’s axe, Aragorn’s sword, a wizard and four hobbitses after all. Of course, they also had Boromir but at that time they had not really sold the whole mount Doom idea to him.

In principle, and to some extent in practise, what the Fellowship formed was an interdisciplinary group. Every member of the group had quite a specific expertise and that was each fellow’s contribution to the cause. At this point I will invite you to consider every weapon offered as a different discipline.

The challenge they were facing was quite straight forward. They had to throw the One Ring in Mount Doom and destroy Sauron.

I suppose, in terms of environmental challenges, Sauron was the kind of challenge we were facing 30 or 20 years ago. A straightforward, however big, important or urgent of course, problem that had quite a (seemingly at least) straightforward solution. Perhaps a good example of this was the quite well-known phrase of dealing with greenhouse gases, the “dilution is the solution to pollution”, that is until we realized it really really wasn’t. Another good example could be plastic and recycling until of course we realized microplastics were pretty much everywhere.

I believe that our own Battle for Middle Earth is somewhat different than that of the original Fellowship’s, and we are facing a rather different enemy. So, let’s take for instance climate change.
Climate change is not Sauron. Climate change is Sauron’s older, angrier, evil(er) brother; on steroids. For the sake of this blog I will be calling him The Beast because it is sufficiently dramatic. I think the biggest problem we have with The Beast is that it has so many heads and faces; it is a much more complex problem that requires a more complex solution (or approach?).

So, let us consider something slightly different than a group of elves, humans and hobbitses.
If you are or have ever been a gamer, especially a gamer of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGS) like World of Warcraft (please do not start WoW if you are in the middle of your studies, trust me) you know that the storylines begin very much the same way.

You appear in a place by yourself, you do things in order to gain experience, learn the game and become stronger but after some levels the game becomes so difficult and complex that you need to start forming groups in order to get anything at all done and gain the required experience to reach higher levels. At this point we are still in a traditionally interdisciplinary environment which invites experts from different disciplines to form a coherent and consistent group.

When I started playing WoW and after of course, not reading the guidelines like at all, I decided I wanted to level up as a holy paladin; a healer of sorts. Naturally that was impossible. The function of the healer is to heal other members in the groups they join (called raids) so of course a healer is not equipped to do enough damage in order to gain experience and level up. I therefore had to change my function and become a retribution paladin; basically, a paladin that can do a lot of damage.  So, what I had to do was change my discipline in order to address the challenge of advancing in the game.

Furthermore, if you have ever been addicted to gaming (never have I ever) then I am sure you have probably tried playing with other characters, more than just your main one. And it was those players were the absolutely stellar players. The ones that had faced the challenges and the boss fights from more than one perspective and viewpoint. That is when you really had everything you needed, you knew every trick and every strategy; every angle. That is when you were playing from a holistic perspective.

I think that what our Battle for Middle Earth requires is a Gimli with a bow, an Aragorn with an axe and a Legolas with a sword. I suppose some would describe this as crossdisciplinary approach, but in all honesty, I prefer to imagine a Gimli with a bow. And as much as I can imagine Gimli’s face if he were ever told he had to be trained to be ‘elf-savy’ even he would have to admit that this would have come in handy in several occasions!

What is very interesting is that is the challenge that must define the approach. We cannot pre-decide on an approach and tell ourselves that this is it, this is how we are doing things from now on because that is how your entire raid group gets wiped in a boss fight that required a screwdriver and you kept poking at with a hammer.

Whether an approach should be cross, trans, intra, multi, inter – disciplinary it will be decided by the challenge. And my feeling, both as a scientist but also as a gamer is that in order to defeat our very own Beast we are going to need an even greater flexibility in the approaches we take. We are going to need that deep understanding of someone who has played the game from several roles and pathways, who is equally competent in several of them and who can throw down their bow and pick up an axe in an instance.

So yes, Gimlis with bows, Wonder Women with Xena’s weapons and Captain Jack Sparrows with…well nothing, he was perfect really.

And let the games against The Beast begin!

If you are interested (or as confused as I am) about the different disciplinarities this is a good article I have found.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Eleni Michalopoulou, a Doctor of Philosophy student in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol.
Eleni Michalopoulou

Like this blog? Why not read more about our research that is related to Middle Earth:
Scientists simulate the climate of Tolkien’s Middle Earth (includes research papers written in Elvish and Dwarvish)

Watch the talk by Professor Dan Lunt on Past, future, and fantasy climate change - from the mid-Cretaceous to Middle Earth

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