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Dungeons & Dreamers Review

 

Dungeons & Dreamers: A Story of How Computer Games Created a Global Community. Second Edition. By Brad King and John Borland, ETC Press, 2-14.

 

dungeons-and-dreamers-530x795Revising their 2003 first edition (subtitled: The Rise of Computer Game Culture from Geek to Chic ) Brad King and John Borland set off on their own adventure to show just how far role playing games have gone from the tabletop beginnings of Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s to the massive multi-player online games of today such as World of Warcraft. In doing so, they craft a bridge of history that explores how tabletop gamers of yesteryear went on to become the programmers and entrepreneurs who delivered many of the best video game and group-player experiences of the last twenty years.

 

Specifically, the book looks at Richard Garriott, the major mind behind the game series, Ultima, as well as John Carmack and John Romero, both creators of Doom and Quake (among other popular and well-received games). The authors provide a pretty consistent exploration of these game designers and eventual CEOs of game companies including their trajectory from early origins in table-top gaming, to finagling their ways to access computers, to learning about and orchestrating computer networking, to their earliest game-design gigs. It also explores their gaming successes and failures.

 

Gamers will be delighted to discover pieces of their history that they might not have known about, such as the origins of video game conventions like QuakeCon. However, gamers might feel some loss because the book focuses more on the people and less on the game-content. By contrast, though, the authors discuss the premise, the philosophical viewpoint, and purpose of many major games, which helps ground non-gamers will often inform and perhaps surprise them if they do not realize how much thought is put into the gaming experience.

 

However, the book can feel a bit lacking at times when contrasted with other books that cover gaming history such as Blake J. Harris’s Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation, which puts readers courtside for a play-by-play, word-by-word account of the Sega/Nintendo rivalry. It also does not hold up to Jeff Ryan’s Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, which provides a strong and detailed historical account of the Nintendo franchise. Though quite enjoyable to read, Dungeons & Dreamers does not necessarily provide the level of critical thought that the gaming culture may be looking for at this point.

 

This lack of critical thought can be seen in the new subtitle, A Story of How Computer Games Created a Global Community. Because the narrative focuses so much on the major creators and some major game-players, it doesn’t often enough discuss or connect with whom that global community is and what they represent. What does it mean now that there is a global community of video game players? The book ends in the 2000s looking at World of Warcraft and Second Life as the major contributions and representations of that global community coming together in gaming form, but did not bother mentioning Minecraft, a game that shares overlap with Second Life and has been even more widely accepted into the mainstream culture.

 

The authors do make some efforts to provide some critical discussion by including a whole section about the history of criticism towards video games and linking this to similar censorship campaigns such as those directed at comics in the 1950s. Here, they also call upon Henry Jenkins and his efforts to reconsider the culture’s understanding of what is going on in video games between players and environments.

 

In the end, Dungeons & Dreamers is a work of love, not necessarily of critical analysis about the origins of online gaming that trace back to the 1970s. Readers interested in tabletop or video games will certainly enjoy what it has to offer and the revised edition comes at a propitious time given the recent reboot of Dungeons & Dragons and a modest surge in sales. The book may not be as essential to academics though, they, too, will find some portions of the text useful.

 

Lance Eaton

North Shore Community College


2 Comments

  1. Brad King says:

    Hello Lance:

    Thanks first and foremost, thanks for reading and reviewing. We appreciate the feedback and thought that we’ve received in the last year.

    There are a few points I might make:

    We tried to be clear in the introduction of the book that we were focused on a very specific type of game: the computer game. As such, we avoided video, console, and arcade games, and pointed out several of our favorite books on the subject. This meant we left out many types of games, including Minecraft, which came out very late in 2011 and has spread across multiple platform.)

    We had long discussions about how to parse out this framework as far back as 2001 when we were first approached the write the book. Maybe our definitional result was a bit less strict that it should have been.

    We also sought to tell the seminal story of the people who set about to connect folks together, and as you rightly pointed out, were less interested in the business side of things. This was always conceptualized as literary nonfiction, and not an academic book. As such, “A story” is the literary mechanism that is used to denote that this wasn’t an all-encompassing story of games, but instead one thread in a much larger story about the various strands of games that have spread across the landscape in the last five decades.

  2. […] Popular/American Culture Association book review: Gamers will be delighted to discover pieces of their history that they might not have known […]

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