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.