Creative Guts

Joe Acone

Episode Summary

In this episode of Creative Guts, co-hosts Laura Harper Lake and Sarah Wrightsman chat with artist and educator, Joe Acone! We invited Joe on the podcast to talk about gamified teaching. A self-described nerd, Joe pulls from role playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, and applies those concepts in the classroom! Today, Joe works alongside Creative Guts’ Vice Chair, Becky Barsi, at The Derryfield School in Manchester, NH. In the past, Joe has taught at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Framingham State University, and LaSalle College. In addition to his full time job at the Derryfield School, he’s also teaching a course on world building at Manchester Community College. In this episode, we’ll also talk a bit about how Joe balances his passion and creativity in the classroom with his own art. As an artist, Joe works primarily in oil and digital, with a bit of illustration, too. He’s not a writer, but he’s also sort of a writer! Check out Joe at and on Instagram at Listen to this episode wherever you listen to podcasts or on our website Be friends with us on Facebook at and Instagram at This episode is sponsored in part by the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts. Thank you to our friends in Rochester for their support of the show. If you love listening, consider making a donation to Creative Guts! Our budget is tiny, so donations of any size make a big difference. Learn more about us and make a tax deductible donation at

Episode Notes

In this episode of Creative Guts, co-hosts Laura Harper Lake and Sarah Wrightsman chat with artist and educator, Joe Acone! We invited Joe on the podcast to talk about gamified teaching. A self-described nerd, Joe pulls from role playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, and applies those concepts in the classroom!

Today, Joe works alongside Creative Guts’ Vice Chair, Becky Barsi, at The Derryfield School in Manchester, NH. In the past, Joe has taught at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Framingham State University, and LaSalle College. In addition to his full time job at the Derryfield School, he’s also teaching a course on world building at Manchester Community College.

In this episode, we’ll also talk a bit about how Joe balances his passion and creativity in the classroom with his own art. As an artist, Joe works primarily in oil and digital, with a bit of illustration, too. He’s not a writer, but he’s also sort of a writer!

Check out Joe at and on Instagram at

Listen to this episode wherever you listen to podcasts or on our website Be friends with us on Facebook at and Instagram at

This episode is sponsored in part by the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts. Thank you to our friends in Rochester for their support of the show.

If you love listening, consider making a donation to Creative Guts! Our budget is tiny, so donations of any size make a big difference. Learn more about us and make a tax deductible donation at

Episode Transcription



[0:00:00] LHL: I'm Laura Harper Lake.

[0:00:01] SW: And I'm Sarah Wrightsman. 

[0:00:02] LHL & SW: And you're listening to Creative Guts.

[00:00:18] SW: Hey, friends. Thanks for tuning in to Creative Guts. 

[00:00:20] LHL: On today's episode, we're talking with Joe Acone, artist and art educator that's doing some pretty unique stuff in the classroom.

[00:00:29] SW: We're going to get right into this episode of Creative Guts with Joe Acone. 


[00:00:37] LHL: Joe, welcome to the Creative Guts podcast.

[00:00:39] JA: Hello. Thanks for having me. 

[00:00:41] LHL: We are so excited to have you on because I think this is going to be an extra nerdy episode. 

[00:00:51] SW: It's going to be boring for me. I don't even know what they're talking about. 

[00:00:54] LHL: Well, that's the thing. You're going to learn.

[00:00:54] JA: We'll teach you the ways. 

[00:00:54] LHL: Just like some of our listeners.

[00:00:58] SW: Yeah. Wow. 

[00:01:01] LHL: Sarah, she can't even speak. She's so alight with excitement.

[00:01:05] SW: Yes. That's what's happening.

[00:01:06] JA: The wisdom and knowledge you're about to gain. 

[00:01:07] SW: That's what's happening over here. 

[00:01:09] JA: I'm so excited for you. 

[00:01:12] SW: Joe, why don't we start with sort of broad strokes? Who are you as a creative? Will you introduce yourself? 

[00:01:19] JA: Yeah. Absolutely. I am, I think first and foremost, an art teacher. I think as a creative, that rings the most true to me. I would also say a portrait artist, whether I like it or not, has just kind of threaded through my work kind of consistently. And I feel like I have some theories as to why. But, yeah, yeah. Artist, portrait painter and art teacher. That's kind of the – 

[00:01:43] SW: What mediums do you work with most of the time? 

[00:01:45] JA: Oil. Oil painting and digital as well. It's a mix. Probably like the low tier on like this, if I were to make a hierarchy, would be illustration as well. There's like a range. 

[00:01:57] SW: Very cool. And have you always been a maker? A creative person?

[00:02:02] JA: Yeah. I would say so. I mean, God, if I go all the way back. My dad and I had a public access television show when I was a kid and we would do crazy special effects in the apartment. And my mom would hate it. Because we would be setting off black powder, little piles of black powder to create plumes of smoke and stuff. Yeah, we were doing skits and stuff when I was a kid. Yeah, creativity has been there for a long time. 

[00:02:27] LHL: That is awesome. And as far as art and teaching, is that when you were in high school what you wanted to do? Or did that come a little later? 

[00:02:34] JA: That was not at all on my radar. I kind of like – I don't know. I feel life kind of nudged me into it. During college, I was really just gunning for illustration. I was focused on sort of genre art, book covers, book publishing, games as well. Again, games coming back. And at various times people were like, "You know, Joe, I think you'd be a good teacher." And I was like, "Nah. I'm good. I'm going to focus on drawing cool characters, and making cool narratives and trying to get my work out there." But, yeah. Through various times in my life, I just kind of found opportunities to teach. People were kind of pushing me into it. And here I am.

[00:03:15] SW: Yeah. At some point, you must have leaned into it. Because now it's like the primary way you introduce yourself.

[00:03:20] JA: Yeah. Well, we know we were joking about games at the beginning. But actually, I think games are a huge part of why I can teach. I think I cut my teeth on teaching through running games of Dungeons and Dragons. And I have this whole thing about why running a game, like a role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons is just very similar to teaching. Because you kind of know where you want kids to go. Kids players to go. 

And the players of this game, you have a narrative. You have an idea. You have these concepts you want to kind of thread through. But you have to improvise based off of what they want to do. You get really good at kind of steering. Just kind of going off on tangents but then eventually folding them back in. And then you offer these incentives in the game in regards to gold or experience points. You can level up. And it's like the more I describe it, the more I'm like, "Yeah, points for accomplishing challenges like an assignment." And it all just kind of threads through. And that kind of threads through my art practice, too, is the way I think about most things is in terms of games. Yeah. That's kind of like a big sort of fundamental part of my philosophy. 

[00:04:38] SW: Can you say more about that last part? 

[00:04:40] JA: Sure.

[00:04:41] SW: About gamifying your art or incorporating games into your art outside of teaching? 

[00:04:45] JA: Well, yeah, in the most fundamental, easy-to-grab way, it was great inspiration for making artwork. I mean, all the stories and things that I would try to illustrate was a huge component of just trying to make these epic moments with these heroes fighting monsters and tense conflicts. But even in grad school I feel like – I don't know. Maybe it's just me. But I broke up with painting, and illustration and all the things that I was kind of familiar with. And I was dabbling in sort of performance art in kind of in a non-theatrical sense.

[00:05:22] SW: Are you a writer, too? 

[00:05:24] LHL: I mean, as a DM, I would say. Yes. 

[00:05:27] JA: I don't know. I think so. I mean, I do like writing. I write a lot for school stuff. And I take what I do write at school very seriously as far as, like, my unit plans, which again sounds very nerdy. I'm nerdy in so many ways. But, yeah, it's all writing and research. And I think in terms of – I learned in school once this quote that I've never forgotten, which was from Flannery O'Connor. And she said, "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say." 

[00:05:57] SW: Ooh. I love that.

[00:05:58] JA: And I'm like, "That's so true. It's just gray matter and mush until I actually see it and can respond to it." 

[00:06:03] SW: Yeah. Well, there's this through line of stories, and characters, and stuff and everything you're saying. 

[00:06:09] JA: Yeah. I don't write fiction stuff. Yeah. Just because it's a whole craft and I know I'm not – I don't think it would work out very well. But I like writing prompts and things though, too. 

[00:06:19] LHL: I'd love to learn more about your gamified learning.

[00:06:24] JA: Sure.

[00:06:24] LHL: Because when I first heard of you before I even saw you or met you, Becky Barsi, who is on our board of directors and a former guest, is your coworker. You guys work at the same school. The Derryfield School in Manchester. And so, she was telling me about this really awesome guy who was shaking things up and coming in and had this amazing idea for gamified teaching and how it inspired her to rethink how she teaches and everything. 

[00:06:50] JA: First of all, shout out to Becky. She's such a powerhouse. And it's such a joy to be able to have her as a coworker. I just want to make sure I shout her out. Because she inspires me all the time. And she's just the real deal, man. 

[00:07:02] LHL: I feel like you two working together must be a feedback loop. Because you're both just very inspiring, creative people who have all this energy for educating youth and celebrating art.

[00:07:12] JA: I hope that I give back a percentage of what she gives me. Because, yeah, she's just in the weeds every day just hustling. And I'm just, "God, I don't know where she gets the energy that she has." 

[00:07:23] LHL: Yeah. She's sunshine a lot. Yes.

[00:07:26] JA: But. Yeah. I forget. Before I got to teach at the Derryfield School, I was teaching at a range of different colleges. I've taught at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Framingham State, LaSalle College. And then I taught at Manchester Community College as well. I was their Fine Arts Program Coordinator for a bit. 

And luckily, over the course of my time there at MCC, they gave me a lot of opportunities to be able to kind of start to create curriculum. And that was the first time when – actually, that comes back to some of the writing stuff. I never really got permission to write for an actual school. 

I started developing stuff and one of the things that I kept coming back to was this idea of creating content for – what's the need to know for a young up-and-coming artist? And I always felt, too, the stuff I learned in grad school would have been so useful for me to know in undergrad. I always tried to kind of embed that in. And at some point, I created a course at MCC. I called it Intro to Creative Practice. And in that course, I created this gamified framework. 

And it's gone through different iterations since I've started. And actually, I left and some other folks have taught it. And I actually just recently taught another iteration of it at the school. That was awesome to come back and see how it's changed and kind of continue to contribute to that. 

The course, as far as this game of it goes, I started doing a lot of research into different grading schemes. The idea of additive grading became a thing. I didn't realize it was. I'm sure there are people who were actually educated in education probably know about this. But it's this idea of gaining points over the course of the class. 

When you start a course, you have a grade. And then you kind of, like, have to protect that average over the course of the term. And so, really, it starts high. It starts at like 100. And the second you get a grade under 100, your grade goes down. It becomes just like this management of trying to keep it as high as it can and kind of fight the average. 

I became aware of this idea. What if you started at zero? This isn't my idea. This is all throughout the education field. But this idea that you start at zero and work your way up, which can be really stressful for students, especially kids who literally become paralyzed at the sight of a zero in their grade book. But it's okay. Because I gave them a lot of options. 

The idea was I created sort of a menu of options that kids could choose from. And it was a choose-your-own-adventure model where if you wanted to do some sketches, you would get like 25 points for a sketch. And depending on how – max 25 points. You wouldn't always earn the full credit for it, right? And kids would, like, level up during the course. And if they got to level 20 by the end of the course, they got an A. 

And I broke it out based off of creating things, writing things, researching things and then being in the community in some way or supporting the class. Yeah, it just became like this whole suite of options. And some kids like really, really dug it. They were like, "Oh." I had one kid come up to me, the first class and he was like, "I'm going to try to break your game." And I was like, "Dude. Go for it." He's like, "Yeah, I think I'm going to earn this in a class." 

[00:10:47] LHL: I've played with some players like that.

[00:10:49] JA: Yeah. Right. Yeah. The mid-maxers.

[00:10:51] LHL: Yeah. 

[00:10:52] JA: The munchkins. Yeah. He didn't break the game. He tried. He tried. But he was a good sport about it. Yeah. Luckily, too, I had a lot of freedom to be able to mess around. And I feel like that's a huge part of teaching that like people – because I feel like very much an outsider as a teacher. And I know I wasn't formally trained to teach. But I spent a lot of time just like tinkering. And I'm still tinkering. 

Becky will talk about that a lot like. The stuff that we have long conversations and usually in the margins between classes and then we get frustrated because we have to go teach the actual classes we're talking about. Yeah, I get a lot of joy out of that. I think that's why from a design and art standpoint, the structures of classes really light me up. And sort of the social aspect is really exciting to me. And I also happen to draw and paint, too. I get to do that around drawing and painting. 

[00:11:42] LHL: Sounds like a dream. I want you to be my teacher. I want to go back in time and take classes.

[00:11:46] SW: I think this gamified thing would work really well on me.

[00:11:49] JA: Yeah?

[00:11:50] SW: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:11:50] JA: Oh, good. 

[00:11:51] SW: I'm totally the kind of would love to watch my – starting from 100 and going down would bother me. But starting from zero and going up, I think I'd be into that. My brain would like that. Yeah. 

[00:12:00] JA: Sure. 

[00:12:01] LHL: We should get you into Pathfinder.

[00:12:03] JA: We're going to sell you – 

[00:12:06] SW: Put that on my list of things to do.

[00:12:08] LHL: Yes.

[00:12:10] JA: Yeah. It's interesting though, too, because you can't please everyone. And your kids are play testers. It's kind of a challenge. And luckily, admin have been largely very supportive of some of these things that I've been playing with. And as it turns out, behind – as you peel back the onion, we're all just kind of tinkering and figuring things out, which I feel like is just a good example of like what happens in life as like an artist and a student. 

You're just like, "Yeah, we're all just kind of figuring it out." 

[00:12:38] SW: Yeah. I did not know that when I was younger. I thought that by the time I was the age that I am now that I'd like – 

[00:12:44] LHL: Have all the answers? 

[00:12:45] SW: I'd have it down more or less. No. I'm still tinkering, and evolving and growing every single day. And I'm like, "When does that end?" It doesn't. It never ends. That's what I'm figuring out. Yeah. Yup. 

[00:12:56] LHL: Are there themes, or adventure settings, or other things that are Incorporated in your lessons? Becky told me about the alien stuff.

[00:13:07] JA: Yes. Okay. 

[00:13:07] LHL: That's what I'm getting at, I guess. Is it the gamified part of it as well is sort of being on an adventure together? 

[00:13:15] JA: Yes. We started. When we first started working together, we had a class called Visual Foundations where the goal of which was to teach kids sort of some essential visual communication skills. And we were like, "Well, let's try to gamify it a little bit." And it went crazy. We were like, "Let's make this Mystery Science Theater 3000." 

[00:13:36] SW: Oh. My favorite show. 

[00:13:38] JA: But as like a class and teach kids art principles at the same time. We had a ball planning it. Actually, executing it was a challenge. Because we ran up – it's like you're testing things and you realize like kids, "Oh, high school freshmen don't necessarily want to buy into role-playing as aliens. What the heck's up with that? You were just in 8th grade and you love this stuff. And now, oh, you're too cool for school. Now you're in high school. Right?" 

[00:14:02] LHL: Yeah. And then they'll hit their 20s and want to play again. 

[00:14:05] SW: No. I've worked with college students and they're exactly the same. They just look at you dead in the eyes and you're like, "Okay. That's fine. Don't play into my game." 

[00:14:13] JA: Yeah. You have to like opt-in, I think, in order to make that work really well. But Becky has since taken that structure. And she's reskinned it to be pirate-themed. And she does that in the middle school. And the kids love it.

[00:14:25] LHL: Oh, yeah. Yeah. 

[00:14:27] JA: That went really, really well. 

[00:14:29] LHL: With the aliens, I believe the prompt was for – if aliens arrived to teach them what art is. What is the pirate version of that? Or is there like – I guess what ship are we sailing on here? 

[00:14:44] JA: You know, you just reminded me of a bunch of stuff. It's been a minute since I've really dug in and thought about it. Let me go back to the alien thing first.

[00:14:50] LHL: Yes. Absolutely. 

[00:14:51] JA: And I actually probably shouldn't speak to all the pirate stuff. Because Becky's really taken it and run with it. You should have her back on just to talk about pirate gamification. We're actually going to be presenting about it at the National Art Educators Association Conference.

[00:15:06] SW: That's so cool.

[00:15:07] LHL: Congratulations. That's awesome.

[00:15:09] JA: Yeah. Yeah. We're so jazzed. We have to get our stuff together and plan it out. And, yeah, we'll be up in Minneapolis in April. The themes in the original iteration of that course that Becky and I planned, the alien-themed one, was based around this idea that Becky and I were abducted by aliens. And when they asked us what we did for a living, we told them that we were art teachers. And they were like, "What is that?" And we're like, "What is what?" They're like, "What is art?" 

And so, we were like, "Okay. Well, you don't know what art is?" And they're like, "No." And they're like, "What is it? Is it a weapon? What is this thing?" And we were like, "It's really complicated actually." And so, they're like, "Okay. We're going to send you back. And we want you to report back information about art to us. And we're going to make you –" I'm forgetting the exact term. But we basically were agents that could commission other agents to help educate them on what art was. 

The students were agents and they formed little pods. And they each had roles. One of them was like the chronicler and they would like write – they would be in charge of compiling the information we came up with and reporting it out to me or her. And we would then "beam it up to them". And we would get reports every class, which was really probably my favorite part. We would get these reports back from them. Like, "We are really excited about what you've just told us about what color is. We are worried though, because it is overstimulating our workers and we can't get them back to work." We would get these weird little reports that I had such a ball writing. We would work together and just like – and then we made this whole sub-narrative about like this defector named Grobnar who was rebelling against the supreme intelligence. The kids didn't give a – about most of this, I should say. 

[00:16:51] SW: Oh, man. They're going to look back and regret so much not being tickled by all of this.

[00:16:56] JA: It was so fun. And so, the class culminated in like an event where Grobnar was who we were communicating with. And then they fired Grobnar and we didn't know what happened. So, the supreme intelligence started talking to us. And we were like, "But what happened to Grobnar?" And then, suddenly, we would cut these effects into our slideshows where static would come up and be like, "Hey, this is Grobnar. I'm stuck. I need help." And they'll be like, "What are we going to do?" We're going to beam a bunch of colors up to them and then Grobnar is going to escape. 

And the end of the class ended up being this thing where each group could conceptualize what Grobnar's escape looked like and we would illustrate it. There would be like different moments of he would distract the guards. He'd set off an explosion. He'd hijack a ship and fly down to earth. And they could come up with – over the course of the term, kids would earn coins, these credit coins that we had these omega symbols on them and everything. It was super sci-fi. It was all fun. And the group that had the most coins could determine what the canon ending of the story was.

[00:18:00] LHL: Oh, my gosh.

[00:18:03] JA: Yeah. 

[00:18:04] SW: I just want to point out that, alternatively, you could have said like, "Okay, class. Please write two to three pages on what is art. 12-point font, Times New Roman, double spaced." That's the alternative that we're talking about here.

[00:18:17] JA: I know. I know, right? Yeah. God. Come on, kids. It was so much fun. We really had a ball with that. But they actually ended up phasing that class out just because it just like wasn't working very well. But, damn, Becky and I put a lot into it and we really enjoyed it.

[00:18:35] LHL: Yeah. So cool.

[00:18:36] JA: Yeah. That's that plus the stuff at MTC was kind of where I've been tinkering and playing. A big part of my sort of creative energy goes into me thinking about how I want to structure my courses and what content I want to show. And I have to say, this term right now is one of the best terms I've ever had. Because I'm now teaching a class called The Art of World building. Yeah. Dude, it's so much fun. 

I have this game called Microscope, which is a timeline-building game. And you just use index cards. It's super minimal. And we come up with a logline for a world. And enough kids signed up. I actually have two sections of it that I'm running. We're developing two different worlds in two different classes. And we came up with log lines for a world and we create a timeline. And kids can basically create a period between – they create different periods. And so, it could be large swaths of time. Like the Industrial Revolution or the Renaissance but in this fictional world, right? 

And then they can create events. And then we end up creating all these events and time periods. And we developed wide as this – as long as this table all these cards to come – and the characters start to show up. And the whole goal of the class is to create a world that we then make art for, concept art for. We generate writing for. And then we create physical objects and props. The school has like 3D printers and we have laser cutters.

[00:20:02] SW: Oh my, God. 

[00:20:02] JA: Yeah. And so, I'm deep in the throes of it right now.

[00:20:06] LHL: It sounds like an Art Station challenge. When they have – make the environment, the keyframes. All the objects. Oh. 

[00:20:15] JA: The kids I have in my class, they're not all hardcore artists. But that's okay. And it's awesome actually. Because they bring a totally different perspective. And I got kids who can't draw but they can write. And they have good ideas. There's a kid right now who's doing this stuff where he was really excited about this character we all came up with. And it's a big collaborative experience. He's like, "I want to really focus on this character." He becomes a content lead on that specific character. And he's like, "I'm going to go home this weekend and I'm going to film a bunch of skits of his descent into madness." 

[00:20:47] SW: Oh, my God.

[00:20:48] JA: And I'm like, "That's so dope." Yeah. By the end of the class, we hope to have like a dossier that we can break out. And it becomes kind of this legacy project that we can revisit later on. If a kid wants to write a graphic novel, we can be like, "You can come up with a content on yourself. Or you can pull from this world and recontribute to it." We're just going to keep – the goal is that it's going to be like this living document. Yeah.

[00:21:12] LHL: It's like a library of all these kids' collective imaginations building upon building upon buildings. 

[00:21:20] SW: Right. For the kids who aren't artists, why are they taking this class?

[00:21:26] JA: Good question. Some kids were lit up by the idea of it. The description we kind of talk about breaking down worlds and a lot of sort of speculative fiction about like what if this happened? And we talk a little bit about what worlds exists. And how do they exist? Lord of the Rings, Avatar.

We kind of break out, talk about the works that sort of embody those worlds. And then from there, we're building a world together. They are accessing it. And I get kids who start and they're like – because I have kids who are hardcore interested and they're there to like nerd out with me. And then I have this one kid who's just like, "I don't know anything about any of this stuff." 

But as soon as you give them something, they opt into picking something. Then I kind of nurse them along while the other kids who are really into it are like off to the races. And so, the goal is, by the end of it, everybody's involved. And it's been working. I'm super pumped. Talk to me in a couple months when – hopefully, we'll have some actual physical stuff.

[00:22:26] SW: Cool. It's like you can't think of like an example of world-building that isn't inherently deeply creative. Like movies, or stories, or ro-playing games, or whatever. It's really, really cool. 

[00:22:38] LHL: And tabletop RPGs is essentially this. 

[00:22:41] SW: Yeah. 

[00:22:42] LHL: And, back in the day, the nerdom of it. You're a nerd. You're a dork. You're a dweeb. But if you watch movies, if you read books, if you listen to music, people are building their own little world. It's just a different version of it. You're doing it more collaboratively. And so, I feel like a lot of mainstream media has made it more acceptable to be supremely nerdy with those types of things. Like with Stranger Things having D&D all that kind of stuff. 

[00:23:10] SW: Coolish. 

[00:23:11] JA: Coolish. 

[00:23:12] LHL: Coolish. 

[00:23:12] JA: No. It's really cool. It's really cool.

[00:23:15] LHL: Do you have kids that are outside of school playing D&D, Pathfinder, et cetera?

[00:23:19] JA: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And they come up. I feel it's a secret society, people who play. And there are definitely students who as soon as they mention something about like a D20, or character, or something. And then I'm like, "Hmm, I see you." 

We also are running a Dungeons & Dragons exploration block. I'm actually get to play D&D as one of my classes with these kids. My class schedule, it's busy but it's stacked with cool stuff. I'm having a blast right now. 

[00:23:48] LHL: At some more alternative schools, they have like D&D classes essentially. Because it's critical thinking, and storytelling, and teamwork, and math. There's so much math.

[00:23:59] JA: It's everything. It's collaborative. It's improvisational. It's tactical if you want to get down to those weeds. And, yeah, you can develop a lot of story. Some kids that I'm working with that have never played before, they're just like kind of – my goal is to make it really accessible to them and try not to like be like, "No. You wouldn't do that." Just kind of "yes, and" it and have fun. Yeah, they're coming back to me with back stories they've written on their own. And it's like getting kids to write at all is a pain. The fact that they're like, "Yeah. This was dumb. But here's this character that I came up with." Sweet. Sweet. 

[00:24:36] SW: Oh, it's so fun.

[00:24:37] LHL: Yeah. I feel like when I started Pathfinder, I want to say six or seven years ago now, and it's totally changed my life. And I feel like it's given me a little bit more confidence in public speaking and talking with people and everything. And, yeah. And it's such a fun thing. Once a week, my husband and my friends, we get together, we have a standard set thing. It's our version of church, I guess. You know? But it really does open up so much. 

[00:25:02] JA: It becomes a ritual. And you get together with people. And, yeah, it's been super powerful. And, for me, I think, too – because I grew up in a really turbulent, difficult place. Just my family dynamic was really challenging. Being poor and in a rough area. And we were just – I think I really needed an escape like that to like make it work. And I just happen to stumble into this stuff. 

My family were not – I didn't like inherit it. I'm so envious of some of these kids whose dad was into D&D. My dad wasn't like not even remotely interested. But we were setting off black powder in the house. That's – yeah.

[00:25:38] LHL: That's cool. Yeah.

[00:25:39] JA: But I just think it kept me out of trouble, I think. Yeah, it kept me engaged in creativity even when I wasn't thinking about trying to be engaged with creativity. 

[00:25:50] LHL: I think it gives you this element of you can do things. Because movies and books are amazing. And I consume them in abundance. But you're consuming really and maybe you produce something after the fact. But you're really just taking something in that someone has made. But when you're gaming with people in this kind of improvisational way, you're building upon it and you become the writer, and the storyteller, and the actor and everything. That you feel more ownership in going forward and making things. I feel like there's some connection there.

[00:26:22] JA: There's that switch that goes on in your head. People talk about this. This was a part of like what got me interested in non-theatrical performance in grad school was like – I was really trying to break into researching play in games, in like serious games. And the power of that and the potential of that. 

When people play a role-playing game, they talk about it. They don't talk about it I saw this happen. They don't talk about it in the abstract. They talk about it like it happened to them. And that's a really powerful thing. I think you create this sort of theater of the mind and you can do anything you want. And when you unlock that potential, it's a very visceral experience. Yeah, highly recommend, by the way. Yeah.

[00:27:06] LHL: It's very hard to explain. But I know exactly what you mean. I played in a session where my friend, who is a man, and my husband, who's a man, my husband played as he was the NPC of the ghost of my friend's dead wife who had come back after this big, giant hurdle, this character development. And I was crying from their interaction. And it was I wasn't even looking at my husband. He had become this ghostly woman. And it was so beautiful. 

And our friend, Nick, who played this very anime, kind of dark character. Wicked. But kind of on purpose. He's aware of it. And the whole campaign, he was one note. And all of a sudden, it all changed and it just took my breath away. And, oh. If you know, you know. It just hits. I've cried many a time at games.

[00:27:56] JA: Yeah. I've made a lot of people cry. I just recently made some people cry and I felt really bad about it. They were like, "She didn't deserve that." I was like, "It was the dice, dude." 

[00:28:04] LHL: Have you done a total party kill? Have you ever done that? I've never experienced it, truly.

[00:28:09] JA: If I ever did anything like that, I'd probably run it back. Because it was probably something I messed up. Yeah.

[00:28:15] LHL: That's a hard pill to swallow. 

[00:28:17] JA: Yeah. 

[00:28:19] SW: I'm curious, with all that you do and all of your creative energy that you're sinking into the classroom, what it looks like to you to find time, or make time, or be intentional about like painting and working on your own art, too. 

[00:28:34] JA: Yeah. Making pictures. That's something that I don't make enough time to do, honestly. I do that in school a lot. I'll draw, and demonstrate, and work with students, and sketch and do all that stuff. But it's not as creatively satisfying as doing it for myself. But when I do sit down to be creative for myself – you know what's funny? I feel I'm really contradicting myself. It is writing. I will sit and like – I think I think in bulleted lists and I start blocking things out, and making plans and conceptualizing. 

The stuff that really lights me up creatively is world-building, in developing modules. I feel like I have this perpetual document that I'm adding to in building and sort of describing these systems and charts. God, it's so dorky. But it's something that I love the opportunities that generating a hundred random things that could be in someone's backpack and then just like rolling it at the table and figuring out like, "Oh, they had a rotten piece of mutton in their backpack and a stuffed doll. Why is that a thing?" And trying to roll with it. Yeah. It's so dorky. But, yeah. I keep coming back to that. Game design has been a real play space for me.

[00:29:51] LHL: Do you get to play? Are you the forever DM? Because that's what my husband runs into, which is why for Christmas I'm going to be DM-ing a game just to give him a break. 

[00:30:02] JA: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I'm the forever DM, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But it's all right. 

[00:30:08] LHL: Well, maybe I'll hook you guys up and you can take turns so you guys can each play in each other's one-offs or whatever. 

[00:30:12] SW: I love that idea. 

[00:30:16] JA: Yeah. A little cross-pollination. It'd be nice.

[00:30:16] LHL: Yeah. That'd be so fun.

[00:30:18] JA: Yeah. I look at role-playing games as like an opportunity. I feel there's like a medium in there that needs to be celebrated and explored more. And I do that in little ways in my classroom. Actually, now, lately, more overtly in this world-building class and all that. But I think looking at it as like a very serious medium is just kind of at the core of, again, some of the things I'm interested in.

Another prompt I came up with in grad school was I created this sort of event where I had people come and I was like, "Here's this bonfire. Bring three objects. Two objects you want to burn and one object you don't want to burn. And then we're going to roll dice to determine what goes in the fire." 

[00:30:59] LHL: Wow.

[00:31:00] JA: God, it was so much fun. Because as soon as I say that to people, they're like, "Oh, what would I bring? Oh, God. I don't know. How high stakes are we going to go?" And the folks that showed up, I was like, "I'm going to be here from 10 in the morning until 8 at night. Come, bring something. Bring the stuff, and we'll roll and we'll find out." And I was like, "You can set your own odds. Do whatever you like. And here's some dice. And we'll figure it out." 

And people came. And some people brought like really high-stakes stuff. For example, my friend's girlfriend at the time, now wife, brought a keychain that her I think late uncle whittled for her when she was born.

[00:31:37] LHL: Oh, my gosh.

[00:31:38] SW: Oh, my God.

[00:31:39] JA: And that went on every set of keys she got over the course of her life. It was like moved one, to the next, to the next. And she put that – she actually came as a part of a date almost, which kind of – 

[00:31:53] LHL: Yeah. It wasn't even like deep stakes for her in a friendship with you.

[00:31:56] JA: Yeah. She was just coming along and she was like, "I want to participate." And so, she brought a couple throwaway things in this keychain and rolled. And it came up the keychain. And I wasn't – I didn't like take the keychain from her and say like, "Listen, we got to burn this right now." I took a step back and was like, "It's all you. Whatever you want to do." And she just didn't hesitate. She grabbed it and put it in the fire.

[00:32:19] SW: What? 

[00:32:19] JA: Yeah. She just tossed it right in. And I documented the whole thing. I have footage, and photographs and things of it. Because I wasn't sure what I was actually going to produce from the event. But that was – 

[00:32:30] SW: What? 

[00:32:32] JA: I know.

[00:32:33] LHL: I really do – I can't believe it and I can also really understand it on a certain level. I'm a hoarder and I have a million things in my house. Including a million tiny, little notes, and cards, and little gifts, and little, tiny, itty bitty things all shoved in drawers in my office. And I was going through them and I was like, "If I die tomorrow, no one gives a shit about this." I don't know. There's some existential dread I think tied up in this. But the thought that this isn't permanent. And what we're holding on to. Why are we holding on to it? And what is the actual – are you not going to think of said person who gave you that thing? That letting go. Being prepared to do that is – in theory, I'd like to think maybe there's some level I could do that. But I feel like there isn't for certain things, for sure.

[00:33:19] JA: Yeah. No. For sure. I feel like that's a ritual that people do on the – it's like something I've heard of. But what we did as a sort of a b-side to the project was the next day I went and I collected ashes from the fire. And using a silicone mold, I cast – pun intended, I cast the dice in these dice forms and I mixed the ash with resin and created new momentous that contain the ashes from the event. And I gave them back to the participant. The project was called Transmute. And I did it a couple times. And so, people got their stuff back in a way. But we kind of had this experience together. 

[00:33:58] SW: That's super cool.

[00:33:59] LHL: Yeah. That's beautiful and has some melancholy tied in there. It's just all kinds of things. I really like that.

[00:34:05] JA: I remember one person brought a bra because she was like, "Every good feminist needs to burn a bra at least once in their life." So many things. Yeah. It was fun. 

[00:34:14] LHL: I love it. 

[00:34:15] SW: Oh, my gosh.

[00:34:16] LHL: It is time for rapid-fire questions. 

[00:34:19] SW: Okay. Rapid-fire. Quick questions. Quick answers. What other artist has influenced you the most? 

[00:34:26] JA: I mentioned Félix González-Torres before. He was huge. Also, Rirkrit Tiravanija. An artist who he's known I think really well for an art piece he did back in the 90s called Free where he made pad Thai for people in a gallery in Chelsea. And that was the artwork.

[00:34:41] LHL: What type of character is your favorite to play? I know you don't get to play much. But I'm sure you have. Do you have a class that you always love to play or – 

[00:34:49] JA: It depends on the edition. But old editions was Wizard. Because you could just hatch together some real wonky things. But in the recent edition, 5e, it's been Fighter. 

[00:34:58] LHL: Oh, okay. Cool.

[00:35:00] JA: Battle Master specifically.

[00:35:02] LHL: Oh, nice. Nice. Nice. Do you do accents when you play tabletop role-playing games?

[00:35:06] JA: Yeah, definitely. I definitely do. I'm not doing it here. But, yeah. I absolutely would. Yes. 

[00:35:11] LHL: Oh. That was going to be my follow-up. But off recording, we'll do that. 

[00:35:13] SW: What's your favorite color? 

[00:35:18] JA: Chartreuse. It's also a drink thing. It's like an herbal additive that they put in drink sometimes at fancy places. And it's awesome. It's very floral and – 

[00:35:28] LHL: Oh, very cool. What's your favorite scent?

[00:35:32] JA: Wood stove. Yeah, it's got to be wood stove. Runner up though is basil. I love the smell of basil. 

[00:35:36] SW: Oh, yeah.

[00:35:38] SW: What's your favorite sound? 

[00:35:40] JA: Running a bread knife through a loaf of bread. 

[00:35:43] SW: That's a first. Like a nice crusty loaf.

[00:35:45] JA: A crusty loaf. Just like – yeah. 

[00:35:48] SW: I'm with you.

[00:35:49] JA: So satisfying.

[00:35:51] LHL: What's your favorite texture to touch?

[00:35:53] JA: Water. Yeah.

[00:35:54] LHL: Love it. I love it. I think that's a first as well. 

[00:35:57] SW: Yeah. Right? What's the most inspiring location you've traveled to or visited? 

[00:36:02] JA: I wish I could say someplace like super – well-traveled or something. But I remember in middle school, we went to a place called Nature's Classroom. I don't even know where it was. It was at some camp in New Hampshire, I think. And it was on a lake. And I remember, I got up before everybody and I went outside. And I looked out at this lake in the morning and it legitimately took my breath away as, like, a little seventh-grade boy just looking out at this lake. And I was like, "This is the prettiest thing I've ever seen." 

[00:36:31] LHL: Wow.

[00:36:31] SW: It looks like it's in Hancock, New Hampshire, which is in the Southwest, I think.

[00:36:35] JA: It's probably not even that awesome. But to me, when I was there, it kind of – 

[00:36:39] SW: It looks pretty cool.

[00:36:40] JA: Yeah. It blew my mind. I should go back and see if it's the same impact. Yeah. 

[00:36:40] SW: You should.

[00:36:45] LHL: You should. What is the last new thing you've learned? 

[00:36:49] JA: Does relearning count? 

[00:36:51] LHL: Yes.

[00:36:52] JA: Because my wife and I have been working through all kinds of stuff lately. At the housing market and wrestling with some challenges. Some real-world challenges. And so, I've recently relearned that my wife is a badass. 

[00:37:03] SW: Oh. Oh, my God.

[00:37:06] JA: Shout out to her.

[00:37:06] LHL: I didn't think you could get even cooler, Joe. But you just did. 

[00:37:08] SW: Oh, that's a different answer. Damn. All right. 

[00:37:13] LHL: Our clincher question. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self? 

[00:37:17] JA: Read more. 

[00:37:18] LHL: Oh, such a good one.

[00:37:20] SW: Yeah. 

[00:37:20] JA: Read more, for sure. I get so much out of reading when I do read. I'm not well-read. But, yeah. I just wish I had a denser trail of books in my history.

[00:37:30] LHL: Mine would be to record everything you've read. Keep a list. Because I've read a lot that I don't remember what I've read. And I see an apocalypse book and I'm like, "Have I read that? Oh, yeah, I have." 

[00:37:41] JA: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:37:43] LHL: The covers are all the same. 

[00:37:44] JA: A friend of mine records like everything. At the end of the year, he does, like, an unwrapped of his life. And he talks about all the podcasts he listened to. New music, movies, books. I'm so jealous of that. 

[00:37:57] SW: Yeah. No. Yeah. I know. I read a really great book six years ago and I don't know what it is. And I've tried Googling for it a bunch of times and I'm never going to figure it out. I'm never going to figure it out.

[00:38:06] LHL: Oh, my gosh. The mystery. Oh.

[00:38:08] SW: I know. It's okay. Maybe it's meant to be that way sometimes. It's temporary. It just floats off in your memory.

[00:38:16] JA: That's right.

[00:38:17] LHL: Joe, it was an absolute joy to talk with you. 

[00:38:19] JA: It's been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:38:21] LHL: Yes. Thank you again, Joe, for being on the show. And with that – 

[00:38:25] ALL: Show us your creative guts. 

[00:38:33] SW: Another huge thank you to Joe Acone for joining us on the podcast. 

[00:38:38] LHL: That was amazing. 

[00:38:39] SW: Right? I don't want you to get too excited. But it sort of, like, changed the way that I think about role-playing games.

[00:38:47] LHL: Yes. That's what I was hoping and I predicted. But I was worried it might not. I didn't want to get too excited.

[00:38:52] SW: The two of you made it sound so smart and creative. And I can't believe the stuff that he gets to do for a living.

[00:39:06] LHL: Mm-hmm. Really big kudos to the administration at the Derryfield School for being accepting and encouraging of what he's doing. I think it's a big testament to their open-mindedness for non-traditional education that I think works. Because, the traditional system, it only works for a certain select type of learner. And to Branch out and have more things like this, Joe, your passion, and excitement, and dedication, everything you are putting your whole heart into. Making these kids use their imaginations. And that's really powerful.

[00:39:40] SW: Yes. That's so true. And that's so important. And I said during the episode, the alternative to what he's doing is write a two to three-page paper, you know? 12-point font, Times New Roman on like what is art. But the stuff that he's actually doing in the classroom is going to be stuff that kids not only remember and learn from. But they're going to be talking about it in 20 years and be like, "Oh, yeah. I had this weird teacher when I was in high school." Whatever. Blah-blah-blah. It's amazing. 

[00:40:06] LHL: And Becky Barsi has been sharing some of this with me for a while now. And it's so amazing. But then talking with Joe and learning about a lot of the thesis project he did. That was so powerful. And I feel like he's just always tapping into these different ways of thinking and communicating, which at the heart is what art is about. And it really was just adding another awesome layer.

[00:40:29] SW: Yeah. And he seems like really, really, really fulfilled, which is just all you can ask for.

[00:40:35] LHL: Yeah. Because I do hear that from a lot of public perception and just from people that teaching is exhausting. And there's so much unseen work that goes into it. And so, having that kind of passion must fuel him to continue on and keep building and growing awesome things.

[00:40:51] SW: Yeah. And how lucky those kids are to have him as a teacher.

[00:40:55] LHL: I wish I was in his class. Thank you again, Joe, for being on the show and being the teacher that you are, the artist that you are. And I'm sure the DM that you are. And I can't wait to see and hear about all the cool stuff that you're going to be doing in the future with your classes and with your own awesome art. Yeah.

[00:41:13] SW: Yeah. If you want to connect with Joe, you can find him on Instagram. His handle is Joe Acone. 

[00:41:18] LHL: And as always, you can find those links and more in the episode description and on our website, You'll find us on Facebook, on Instagram @CreativeGutsPodcast. 

[00:41:29] SW: This episode is sponsored in part by the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts. Thanks to our friends in Rochester for their support of the show. 

[00:41:35] LHL: If you love listening and want to support Creative Guts, you can make a donation, leave a review, interact with our content in social media, purchase some merch, whatever you're able to do, we appreciate you.

[00:41:47] SW: Thank you for tuning in.

[00:41:47] LHL: We'll be back next Wednesday with another episode of Creative Guts.