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Four Years at the Mount

Senior Year

The Mentor, the Mount, and the Moment

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(1/2015) Over the course of my four years of undergraduate studies here at Mount St. Maryís University, Iíve realized the sheer amount that the university has given to me. Like for many students, it has provided me with all the things I could want, but it has given me above and beyond what I could have ever asked for out of a university. In particular, Mount has provided me with the ever-important gift of opportunity, that strange little word that can mean anything from a simple moment, to a thought. However, in the case of Mount St. Maryís University, opportunity came in the form of the people that I met. The people at the Mount seem to have a pull that stretches beyond the county lines, crisscrossing throughout Emmitsburg and surpassing the physical space our campus occupies, reaching out into the world far beyond the mountains we call home.

I felt that same pull when I visited here for the first time as a college applicant. When I began my school search, in what seems like another lifetime, I will admit that Mount St. Maryís was not my first choice. I had spent the majority of my life prior to college in and around the campus, whether it was for religious retreats, or simply a place that I passed by on my way to and from Gettysburg. It was too close to home, too familiar for me, and I thought I wanted a different kind of adventure. However, the school extended a nice financial package and boasted a robust group of programs and so I chanced a visit to look at it from a new perspective. Within 24 hours I had made my decision; I had chosen to find adventure and opportunity in my own backyard.

And boy, am I glad that it worked out differently than I had planned. The young man who left high school and went to the mountain has been radically changed by the people he met there. While there are many individuals among the Mountís talented pool of professors and staff who deserve praise, no one changed my life quite like Dr. Greg Murry. I first met Dr. Murry on a random sunny day while I was walking out of Patriot Hall. I had long heard about him; his love for history, and his vast popularity with students were already well known to me. What I didnít realize was how much we had in common. Over the course of one semester together (during which I operated as a student/teaching assistant in his History Based Games Class), we joked about everything. Regardless of the subject or the time period, the two of us found opportunities for humor everywhere, from the possibility of domesticating bears, to the importance of cavalry in taking cities. All joking about the virtues of four-legged mammals aside, "Doc" (as I affectionately call my personal Yoda) and I found fertile ground for our friendship in the concept of linking our love for history with our love for games.

Throughout the course, we watched as students battled on boards with dice and cards, moving with an enthusiasm that echoed the great battles of old. Eventually those games, and the conflicts fought for fun, turned into questions, and those questions became lessons. Suddenly, the process by which students arrived to their victory became just as important as the victory itself. With every passing day, students grew closer and closer to connecting their enthusiasm for victory with their interest and appreciation for the subject matter. By the end of the course we were designing our own games and steadily groping towards understanding. It was something that piqued my interest and I wound up approaching Doc about doing something with games as part of my senior honors project. We rolled around a few ideas but over the course of a week, none of them captured our imaginations the way that we wanted.

At first I felt despondent. We took more time to think and a weekendís worth of reinvention and research on ideas yielded nothing concrete. The following Tuesday I walked into class only to find Doc perched on one of the desks drinking water out of a mason jar. Doc turned to me and said, "So I have this idea for a book." I should have known that innocuous statement had untold potential. Docís idea was ingenious: why not create a western civilizations reader? A book that covered everything from the fall of the Roman Empire, to the Third Crusades, and back to the First World War and onwards. However, the teaching mechanism of the text wouldnít lie in discussion questions, or randomly assigned readings. Each period of human history would have a corresponding game to initiate students in the time period they were reading about. The project was ambitious to say the least, and Doc was a full-time historian but only a part-time game enthusiast. Thatís where I came in. My senior project had been ambitious in its own right, but despite my acumen with games, I lacked the historical know how to make the project truly succeed. Together, we had the necessary skills to make the dream work.

And thus began both my senior honors project, and a Karate Kid-esque mentorship. Every week we would labor in his basement coming up with new ways to bend the laws of time and space using anything and everything available to us. Games became the mechanism by which we traveled across the centuries and the means by which we would bring the past to our classes. This year we were able to test the games in class and watch as students embraced cultural mindsets.

In education and in game design, there comes a moment where someone, whether a student, a play tester, or a fan, says something and you realize that in that moment theyíve got it. During our playtest of our game, Ahead of the Curve (a game of subterfuge and allegiances set during the French Revolution), one of the players spent the better part of 5 minutes arguing for why they shouldnít face the guillotine (in this case, expulsion from the game), only to be executed anyway. The student sitting in front of me turned and said, "Thatís real sick bro, making people beg like that for the game," to which I could only reply, "It is sick until you realize people did that for their actual lives." The look on his face turned to stone, and in that moment he got the point.

Without Mount St. Maryís being here, I would never have had the chance to transcend time and space. I would have lost out on that moment, and never met the man who made it possible. To the Mount I say thank you for giving me the greatest mentor I could have wished for, and to the man himself, I say thanks for everything, Doc.

Read other articles by Kyle Ott