Harlem Unbound By Darker Hue Studios To Be In Special Collection Of Museums

In another step towards the acknowledgement of tabletop role-playing games as a legitimate art form, Chris Spivey of Darker Hue Studios has announced that three museums are making Harlem Unbound, his Call of Cthulhu supplement set in the era of the Harlem Renaissance, part of their special collections available to students, scholars and other academics for study.

It isn't unusual for libraries to have special collections of role-playing games, as there already are a few universities and public library systems that have RPGs as part of their collections, but this was the first of this kind that I was able to find in a museum, outside of those dedicated to play or games.

The museums that will house the supplement in their collections are the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Smithsonian Institution Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey. The Newark Museum specializes in the "arts and natural sciences," the Smithsonian Institution Anacostia Community Museum "explores social issues impacting diverse populations of the DC metropolitan area to promote mutual understanding and strengthen community bonds" and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's foremost art museums.

Spivey had this to say about Harlem Unbound being acquired by these museums, "I am humbled and grateful to know that so many people are getting a chance to experience the history of the Harlem Renaissance through gaming. Being accepted into these museums is truly an honor, and I'm proud that Harlem Unbound shines a light on the African American experience."

If you've never used a special collection at a library or museum, what does this mean exactly? The game book itself won't be under glass, out where visitors can walk by and see it. Special collections are typically themed archives that are usually available only by special appointment, and sometimes requiring special credentials (proving that you are with a research or academic institution, typically). You don't check out special collections, they have to be used in facilities provided. Sometimes use of special collections requires special handling, or even supervision by an employee or archivist at the institute. It also means that, unlike games that end up in general collections, there is less of a chance of the books being stolen and a greater chance that others will be able to see them.

Special collections are a boon to researchers because they allow researchers access to a deeper field of information than they might normally have access to, because of financial or temporal reasons. I think that this is an important step towards developing a body of critical study of role-playing games. We have made some stumbling first steps towards real criticism in regards to role-playing games, but the gains are not enough, considering the length of time for which RPGs have existed as a form.

If you haven't picked up Harlem Unbound, I cannot recommend it enough. As someone who studied Literature, the era of the Harlem Renaissance is greatly untapped by tabletop gaming. It is a rich period full of engaging, larger than life figures whose impacts continue to this day. I wrote about the supplement as part of series at the beginning of the year of games that I want to play in the New Year. It is one of the best horror game supplements to come out this year, and it is one of the best supplements for the Call of Cthulhu game in recent years. The book definitely deserves this status as a part of the special collections of these museums.

Hopefully Harlem Unbound is the vanguard, and more museums and libraries expand their special collections into the realm of tabletop role-playing games. And hopefully this means that we will see other designer upping their game to produce materials that are worthy of this level of study. It only benefits tabletop role-playing games in general to get this sort of academic notice. Role-playing games are as much of an art form as books, comics or fine art, and they also deserve their place in sun beside those forms that have already been recognized.

Spivey did not have a definite date on when the books would be available at the museums but said that they should be available soon for viewing and study. If you're interested in checking out the book, it is available in PDF from the OneBookShelf sites, or directly from the publisher at the Darker Hue Studios website.

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William Mize

This really is wonderful news, and, as you said, WELL DESERVED. The supplement is a treasure trove of information, ideas, background and possibilities for the Call of C'thulhu gamer, or anyone else curious about the time who might want to include some in their current campaign. I'm glad this article is here.

- Bill

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