Decent week. I got a good bit of work done, in that I finished a very long book, Playing at the World, which clocked in at 720 pages. But man, it was tiring…I think I might just spend the next week doing nothing but relaxing, because I’m not gonna have much time for that pretty soon. Classes start on the 26th…
Nothin much this week.
Damn, Star couldn’t find much time to work on Dragonar, she was MAD busy over the course of the week. Hopefully this comin weekend she’ll have more time…
Not much this week. Though I am getting re-hyped for Phoenix Point, largely cause from what I’ve heard, my friends who invested in it have really gotten a good return, more than 100% so far (someone who put in 500 bucks got 975 a little while ago, so they made almost double their initial investment). I checked out a CDGC vid from one of the Snapshot guys, there’s a bit of new footage that looks really cool:
They also released an August development update, making it sound like things are going really well:
Aw, man…as much as I loathe Epic, I might get it just to play the next Phoenix Point demo, which is coming in September 3rd. Well, actually, that does remind me, I’ve got a pretty busy schedule coming up:
August 23: Next chapter of Berserk, finally!
August 30: Next Blasphemous demo!
September 3: Phoenix Point Backer Build 5!
September 8: IT chapter 2!
Though of course, after the 26th, all that will have to vie with my college studies for my attention…
Playing at the World by Jon Peterson. You can pretty much classify this book as a much, MUCH longer and more in-depth rendition of Ewalt’s book, Of Dice and Men, which I reviewed last week. It’s a general history of D&D, but has a TON more detail than Ewalt’s smaller text did, clocking in at a hefty 688 pages, not counting the index and bibliography,
Like I said, it’s essentially a much more in-depth version of Ewalt’s book, at least the first parts in Of Dice and Men. Ewalt was definitely right to recommend it–it’s as exhaustive as you could possibly want. It goes into much more detail about just about every aspect of D&D touched upon in the first few chapters of Ewalt’s work. There’s a huge amount of additional detail on Gygax’s gaming background, the formation of TSR in order to publish a refinement of David Arneson’s Blackmoor game, the origins of that game itself in the context of gaming societies like the IDW, Avalon Hill games, and so on. There’s an extremely lengthy discussion of all the ways Lord of the Rings influenced and set the stage for a game like D&D, why Gary Gygax wanted to de-emphasize the aspects of LOTR that found themselves into D&D and focus more on how authors like Michael Moorcock, Poul Anderson, and Robert Howard influenced the setting, how those men were themselves influenced by the division between the fantasy and scifi markets in the mid-20th century, and so on. Then there’s an incredibly detailed description of wargaming all the way from Chess to 18th and 19th century Prussian kriegspiel, with a lot of extra biographical information on Reiswitz Sr. and Jr, and after that, how games of diplomacy in the 1950s convinced Arneson and Gygax to attach a roleplaying system to a probabilistic dice-based wargaming system, and how that roleplaying system had its antecedents in games of pretend played since time immemorial. The last chapter explores how D&D became so popular during the mid to late 70s, such as how the game initially struggled to find good advertisements in widely-read gaming periodicals but gained massive popularity by word-of-mouth among science fiction fans, curiously enough. Chapters 3 and 4 discusses the gender makeup of the fandom in more depth than Ewalt’s does, by the way, which simply mentions it a few times in passing. The main narrative of the book ends with Arneson’s departure from TSR, the rise of competing RPGs, and development of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. The epilogue, however, doesn’t mention much of what happened to TSR after that, such as the decline of the 90s or Gary’s departure from his own company, though it does briefly touch on the Satanic Panic of the 80s in relation to the larger question of how fantasy can blur with reality. Rather, it explores the relationship between D&D and computer games, particularly how these forms compare and contrast and what is possible in one realm and not the other–for instance, how computer games were more accessible to those who already had personal computers but no peer groups to play a pen and paper RPG with, but which were also circumscribed and less open-ended than D&D could be. The historical narrative Peterson provides in all of his chapters is tied in with equally technical but extremely probing analysis of the various game systems, for instance how the use of dice encouraged the designers of kriegspiel to pay more attention to probability in their games, and how D&D was influenced by those considerations as well.
The sheer amount of information Playing at the World contains is its greatest strength, though it’s also a drawback at times–occasionally the narrative can get a little boring and difficult to keep with. The background information on fantasy literature and D&D was great, but do we really need to know how the conceit of gold coins as currency as reward came not only from Treasure Island, but also Fritz Leiber’s work? But I suppose it’s better for the reader to get a little tired of reading on occasion than it is for them to be underinformed. The only other critique is that there’s a dearth of biographical information on Gary himself, at least comparatively. Peterson is right to note that too much biography could make his narrative seem biased, but there are a couple of episodes of Gary’s life I think would have been good to mention, like how he enjoyed exploring caves and abandoned places as a youngster.
Another minor quibble–in some parts of the book it’s hard to tell which sources he’s drawing from. For the most part, he does an excellent job of telling you which primary sources he’s looking at in each paragraph with abbreviations in brackets, and his footnotes do a reasonably job of telling the reader which books (on the history of chess, Kriegspiel, fantasy literature, etc.) he’s summarizing. However, the narrative dose touch on more general American and European history at some points, and those parts struck me as a little weakly sourced. I am definitely not faulting Peterson for his citation practices; extremely granular footnotes-every-paragraph are necessary for dissertations and specialized academic monographs, but would make a book like Playing at the World unreadable. However, I think organizing his book section in the bibliography by theme (history of miniature gaming, history of science fiction and fantasy, general 1960s American social/cultural history, the history of the Napoleonic wars, etc.) would have been very helpful.
But these are minor critiques–as far as I know, Playing At the World is absolutely the most in-depth examination of the history and social context of D&D. You’ll need to read Ewalt’s book for more description of how the game developed and how TSR changed over the years, since Playing at the World doesn’t go any farther than the 80s, but for the sources the game drew from and off of, there’s nothing better.
Just as a note: I wanted to review Empire of Imagination, but I found out my copy of the book was an advance reading copy sold to me by mistake, so I didnt feel it was right to review it. However, I contacted the seller (more-than-words, here’s their storefront) and they apologized profusely and gave me a full refund, even years after I made the purchase! Very nice folks.
Not much this week, busy readan I suppose.
1: Make sure they’ve received my health insurance waiver – They seem to have gotten it and taken the charge off my bill, so this is DONE!
2: Make sure they acknowledge I’ve completed orientation – I checked and they might do this in a few weeks, so I’ll keep an eye on it but I consider it DONE!
3: Actually pay my bill–DONE! Got the health insurance issue solved and everything.
4: Get my student ID card – DONE!
5: Start studying off the syllabi–the more prepared I am before classes start, the better. — Nope, still nothin.
So yeah, this week was much more productive than the last. Still can’t access course syllabi, though, but no biggie. On to the next…