Playing at the World

Playing at the World

I've just finished reading Game Wizards by Jon Peterson, it was quite interesting and it plays nicely with The Rise of the Dungeon Master, Empire of Imagination, and Of Dice and Men.

It was on top of the pile, so I read Game Wizards before Playing at the World and The Elusive Shift or maybe I simply wanted to quickly go through the Gygax-Arneson war and then consider the wider history next. Spinach first.

I started reading the fat tome that Playing at the World is. I was surprised it wasn't published by MIT press like its two younger siblings, but the Acknowledgments state:

In keeping with the tradition of self-publishing exemplified by gaming fandom, this work was written, edited, typeset, illustrated and published by the author with the help of some friends.

It made me look at the tome with increased respect. Good reading time ahead.

Here is a teaser from the Introduction, enjoy its concision:

Ultimately, this study will conclude that freedom of agency is as much a necessary condition for inclusion in the genre of role-playing games as role assumption itself. To play a character is to dictate the actions of an imaginary person, and self-determination is inseparable from personhood.

Dungeons & Dragons also linked to role-playing games a set of common mechanisms adopted by virtually all its successors. It established the goal of personal progression, a character's improvement through experience, as the ostensible substitute for victory; the game is otherwise without win conditions. Its manner of measuring progression, though experience points and levels, set a widely-followed precedent, one that now admits of innumerable variants.

Another key ingredient in Dungeons & Dragons is dramatic pacing, achieved by transitioning between three different game modes: a mode of exploration, a mode of combat and a mode of logistics. Time flows differently in each of these modes, and by rationing the modes carefully a referee guides the players through satisfying cycles of tension, catharsis and banality that mimic the ebb and flow of powerful events.

I'd love a poster of that last paragraph.