This week’s published piece is “The Dungeon Master,” written by Sam Lipsyte. Lipsyte has published stories in many notable publications, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and McSweeney’s, and has written several novels. He teaches at Columbia University and is working with HBO on an upcoming comedy.
In this story, several teens navigate their troubled lives in the frame of gaming.
1. Consider the use of language in this story. I don’t mean diction, but the way the characters communicate with each other. There are several levels at work: that the Dungeon Master has a “secret language” that he’s been “treated” for, the language of the game itself, which n00bs wouldn’t know, and teen lingo (“chucked a spaz in Spanish”). Not to mention the way Dr. Varelli speaks, and how the protagonist’s parents communicate things he doesn’t understand, which yet communicate to the reader. What affect does the use of language have on this story? How is this related to other themes in the story?
2. What do you think this story is suggesting about being “middle-track”? How do the comparisons to the sponsored, after-school gaming group and the glimpse of these kids’ futures inform the story?
3. What do you make of the theme of death in this story, and how do you see the comparison bewteen the game-deaths to the death of Cherninsky’s sister? The conflation of the two?
4. What does the dragon symbolize? the game in general?
5. What did the dungeon master want to teach the protagonist?
(Hint: You can find Lipsyte’s answer in this interview.)