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A Little Light Reading

July 24th, 2012 by Troy Goodfellow · 9 Comments · Books

As anyone that has gone through the dissertation process knows, one of the great fears of every graduate student is getting halfway through a research project and then seeing a dissertation published at another school on a topic very close to if not identical to your own. At the very least, it means adding one more giant source to your literature review, but it also means that any possibility of a book contract afterwards is limited and that, even worse, you aren’t nearly as clever as you think you are.

Having spent a lot of my life surrounded by university politics and personalities, this really doesn’t change much even once you leave grad school, but once you have tenure or research leaves or assistants to help pore through the crap, it takes some of the sting out of being scooped.

So when I was approached to read and review Jon Peterson’s Playing At The World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures From Chess To Role Playing Games, some of the old panic came back.

After all, I have the outline of a dozen books about the evolution of strategy games – what if Mr. Peterson beat me to the punch?

Well, the book finally arrived today, and he hasn’t, but it is over 600 pages plus another 100 of bibliography and index. This is a very, very serious piece of work. Just scanning it I see footnotes that cite The Book of Exodus, Ovid, every major wargame magazine of the 70s and the Chainmail rule book. I know nothing about Jon Peterson, those his website address hints that he is a fellow Canadian. He is certainly thorough and well read.

The book isn’t out for the public yet, and I have an advance copy. I’ll review it as fairly and honestly as I would any other product. Many readers probably forget, but back when Crispy Gamer wasn’t an eyesore and was well edited and well staffed and well paying, I had a monthly column devoted to books and movies related to games. So this will be old hat for me and a lot of fun.

And a helluva lot of reading. Taking this monster to Second Cup or Starbucks will certainly make me fit in with the students that populate my neighborhood.

I’ll report back when I’ve finished reading it and have composed my thoughts.

And I also need to write my own book much, much faster.


9 Comments so far ↓

  • Douglas Romero

    Just keep at it Troy. Your ability to condense complicated war gaming material and condense it into something that is easy to either read or listen and understand is superb. I certainly look forward to any work you do on this subject. Please let us know.

  • ShadowTiger

    Write like the wind!

  • Granger44

    But don’t write like a leaf on the wind, because that tends to get you spiked through the chest.

  • Wes

    I think I’d like to read that book. I look forward to your review.

    And I look forward to reading your own book on the topic, once you do write it, and I am certain you will.

  • Bruce

    “After all, I have the outline of a dozen books about the evolution of strategy games”

    How about outlining just one and then writing it?

  • Troy Goodfellow

    Because my outlines all suck, Bruce. Also, I keep losing them.

  • Bruce

    Let’s write one together then. I will provide the conservative perspective.

  • Jon

    Thanks for the mention, Troy.

    I’m not in fact Canadian, though I’ve spent some time there (actually I’m going to Vancouver tomorrow).

    I’m sure there are plenty of ways to attack the evolution of strategy games. My focus was much more on how the principles of simulation that underlie wargames and role-playing games evolved, and how their increasing sophistication led us beyond simulating tactical events and into simulating people (characters in RPGs) and eventually entire worlds. Along the way I do go to some trouble to describe how the fundamental system concepts of wargaming evolved (most of the third chapter of the book is about that). Some of the material in there, especially the coverage of 18th and 19th century games, and the early history of the hobby in the 1950s, I think improves greatly on previous studies.

    Anyway, thanks again and hope you enjoy!