University of Notre Dame
I’ve always been a competitive person.
When I heard I was going to play a historical role-playing game with stakes that involved being “torn limb-from-limb,” of course, I was eager to win. Even in an Honors class, I stood out as an aggressive Type-A. The way I carried myself in class, my experience in public speaking, and my genuine interest in history made me an ambitious and disciplined student. But it also painted a target on my back. My classmates saw me as someone who couldn’t be trusted. Maybe some of them even thought I was a showoff.
Assigned the role of noble Lafayette, I was to lead my moderate faction to victory in the French Revolution, while fronting a temporary alliance with the Jacobins. I was not an especially likable player. In fact, I was one of the first people my classmates decided to kill off, three whole sessions before the game ended.
It is tough to imagine how I could’ve done any worse…but that’s the subversive wisdom of Reacting to the Past.
The Reacting pedagogy does not simply reward the book-smart student for memorizing key dates or knowing obscure trivia. Reacting rewards those soft skills that are so hard to teach using traditional methods.
Reacting teaches lessons in likeability; persuasion; networking; listening; knowing when and when not to speak; and, of course, dealing with failure despite doing your best. These are the lessons that students who are probably accustomed to academic success need to learn the most.
I was lucky to face this challenge at the beginning of college. In Reacting, sometimes “winning” was driven by the luck of a die roll. Other times, it just depended on who ate lunch with who the previous week. Networking, strategizing, and compromising with others offered the best chances of success.
When I played my second game, I prioritized building connections with other players. I made strategic concessions when necessary. I found more creative and less straightforward ways to build a coalition that supported me. And I did win, though, even if I hadn’t, it would have been okay.
Law school is not totally unlike the public squares of Revolutionary France, and I don’t just say that because I fear a very public slaughter each time the professor cold calls the class.
In an environment where everyone is extremely competitive (and scared), traditional measures of “success” are always less certain. Ambitious people experience an unfamiliar lack of control. People can fail, and they can fail hard.
In real life, success can be unpredictable. Sometimes the most important “knowledge” or “skill” involves the way we respond to this uncertainty. What can we actually control? What is our plan B? Where is success most possible? In what ways can we form relationships that will help us achieve our goals?
A normal college class hardly ever raises these questions. But Reacting does.
Today, my ability to relate to people and engage in a productive conversation is as crucial to my success as my ability to write a decent 20-page memorandum. As a young professional, both skills can be important, but the value of the former cannot be understated.
Sometimes, the most impactful interactions are the casual ones you can have with the professor after class or with the alum at the football game. I listen to others, I follow up, I do my best to keep in touch. I also try not to equate my total worth with my ambition or my academic achievements, and frankly, I am all the better for it.
I’m finding that adulthood comes with plenty of invisible lessons no one ever bothers to teach you out loud. Reacting gave me a head start in navigating some complicated professional dynamics. When you’re working at a large law firm in the city, it sometimes pays to put on a competitive front. Most other times though, it can be better to simply get along.
And, frankly, I’ve found that delivering an argument in front of a federal judge can be less scary after you’ve delivered one in front of a bunch of bloodthirsty 18-year-old Honors students.
So, what else can I say, except, Viva la Revolution, and long live Reacting to the Past.
About the Author
Courtney Klaus is a third-year law student at the University of Notre Dame, where she serves as President of the Moot Court Board and Managing Symposium Editor of the Notre Dame Law Review. She has been recognized nationally in appellate advocacy, winning Second Place Oralist at the Frank A. Schreck National Gaming Moot Court Competition and Best Oralist at the Notre Dame 1L Moot Court Tournament. Courtney earned her bachelor's in history and communication at Newman University, where her love of Reacting games inspired her to become a student intern for RTTP and to write her own game for her honors thesis. Courtney delivered a speech at the 2019 RTTP Annual Faculty Institute, which was published alongside remarks from Mark Carnes in Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy.
Blog Author Questionnaire:
One word to describe faculty: Inquisitive
Two words to describe your school: Inspiring, Unique
Three words to describe students: Competitive, Crazy, Hilarious
Four words to describe favorite games: Thought-provoking, Challenging, Creative, Immersive
Five words to describe Reacting: Empathy, Wisdom, Communication, Collaboration, Fun