In Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux’s Metagaming, the title term is defined not as “games about games,” but as “the only kinds of games we play” (Boluk and Lemieux). The decision to buy the game, to play it, and to play with a friend are all metagames that we take part in. What struck me most about this introduction was their description of the commodification of games and then how this related to the Richler Reading Room: “After all, not only is a game easier to package and sell if it can be neatly reduced to its physical equipment, but any play that occurs in, on, around, or through videogames instantly becomes advertising for a product” (Boluk and Lemieux). If we view collecting as a metagame, Concordia University as a player, and Richler as a brand then the Richler Reading Room can be seen as a metagame being put on by the university. Similarly, any class, tour, or public event in the room can understood as a chance to sell and profit from the Richler brand.
If we take a moment to consider what the Richler room is meant to do according to the articles that covered its opening then it becomes even more evident that Concordia as an institution is playing a carefully orchestrated metagame. In Léo Charbanneau’s “Concordia Gives Mordecai Richler a Room of His Own,” as well as several other articles, Alan Shephard is quoted as saying that “the creation of the Richler Reading Room ‘will ensure that his works continue to be analyzed, celebrated and critiqued for generations to come.’” The president of the university is stating that this reading room will keep Richler’s legacy alive in ways that it might not have prospered without it. Further, Richler’s wife, Florence, is also quoted in Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins’ “Concordia honours literary icon” as saying that her husband’s “legacy will be immeasurably strengthened” by the room. As Walter Benjamin puts it, a collector wishes to “renew the old world” (Benjamin 61) with their collection. Concordia is renewing Richler’s legacy with the creation of this room. In the Desjardins article, Jason Camlot makes a comment that adds to the idea that Concordia is strengthening Richler’s legacy so as to benefit from this man’s celebrity. Camlot is quoted as saying, “From now on, every creative writing student will be able to say ‘I studied in the Mordecai Richler Reading Room.’” One can suppose that the ability to study in this famous author’s reading room might appeal to those who hope to have greatness rubbed off on them by being within proximity of Richler’s possessions. It is very possible that choosing Concordia as a place of study may be swayed by this possibility; Concordia may be counting on that.
I am inclined to believe that Benjamin is correct when he posits that a collection loses its original meaning when the owner is lost (Benjamin 67). The Richler Room is no longer Richler’s collection, but Concordia’s collection of Richler’s things. We can no longer experience the collection as Jacob Richler describes it in his article entitled “Mordecai Richler’s 5,000 Books.” We are not privy to the sprawling book cases in the family cottage that have taken over every room in the house nor can we laugh at the way in which leaving for “an ill timed trip” meant losing your room to Richler’s book collection (Richler). It is not Mordecai Richler that is coming alive in his possessions in this university setting (Benjamin 67), it is Concordia as an institution while they play a metagame. The room is being presented as Richler’s and his “booklike creations” are on display to validate this room as a personal collection (Benjamin 66). This presentation is part of Concordia’s metagame and upholds their creation of the reading room as a “magic circle” (Boluk and Lemieux).
There are many ways that we could view the Richler Room. We could see it as the University wants us to in their metagame. It is also possible to view the room in a way that is informed by Boluk and Lemieux. They write in their introduction of Richard Garfield, that
After treating each game as an individual, autonomous conflict (and losing more and more), Garfield (1995, 87) realized that his relationship to other players, to the larger social structure in which games are embedded, and even to the physical or economic constraints of certain rules functioned “not as ends unto themselves but as parts of a larger game” or ‘metagame.’ (Boluk and Lemieux)
Thus, we can understand the institutional influences at play in the room and continue to participate in the metagame. This knowledge would allow us to use the room and play the metagame, and potentially “win.” Our interactions with the room would allow us to appreciate it as the metagame wishes us to, but also in a subversive and productive way that would allow us to ask questions about power, institutional influence, and much more.
Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. 59-67.
Boluk, Stephanie and Patrick Lemieux. “Introduction: Metagaming, Video Games and the Practice of Play.” Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames. Manifold Edition. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
Charbanneau, Léo. “Concordia gives Mordecai Richler a room of his own.” University Affairs, 15, Jan. 2015. www.universityaffairs.ca/news/news-article/concordia-gives-mordecai-richler-a-room-of-his-own/.
Desjardins, Sylvain-Jacques. “Concordia Honours Literary Icon.” 28, Nov. 2013. https://www.concordia.ca/cunews/offices/vpaer/aar/2013/11/28/concordia-honours-literary-icon.html
Richler, Jacob. “Mordecai Richler’s 5,000 Books.” Maclean’s.ca, 23, Nov. 2013. http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/my- dads-5000-books/.