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Now Reading: Dungeons and Desktops First Impressions

May 31st, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 4 Comments · PCGamer, Print Screen, RPGs

I just started Matt Barton’s Dungeons and Desktops. I was thinking about reviewing it for my next Print Screen column for Crispy Gamer, but I noticed that Desslock just reviewed it for PC Gamer. It’s not that we can’t review the same things, but I figure that whatever Desslock says about RPGs is smarter than anything I could write on the subject.

But, on the chance that I do write about it later, I won’t post any final thoughts for now, just some opening impressions. I’ve only just started the book, after all.

One of the problems writing the First Book Length History of something is that it is easy to devolve into timeline history, where every chapter is little more than descriptions of games, dates and lists of things that changed from the last version of Wizardry. Though this is a valuable part of any historical analysis, stringing together titles and plots doesn’t do much to create an impression of what it was like to play or create these games. To his credit, Barton is very open about what he could and could not discover about the early days of CRPGs and free with his opinions on particular titles – especially recent games. But the book would be shorter if he just took out paragraphs that did nothing but list games. “This came out and then this came out and then we got to Ultima…”. For the uninitiated, Barton might be better off explaining some of the mechanics in more detail or trying to figure out why roguelike developers still insist on ASCII.

I wonder what a book about the history of strategy and wargames would look like? Mark Evans Brooks has already compiled a near complete list of these games (up to 2002), so this legwork would be easier. But since the strategy/war genre is so huge, you couldn’t spend a lot of time listing games. The differences between Eastern Front and Combat Mission: Shock Force are a lot deeper and more subtle, I think, than, for example, Barton’s RPG emphasis on character vs. party system or random vs. fixed dungeons.

I married an historian, so I see history as bigger than chronology and typology. Just like other art forms, different approaches to games appear for reasons larger than technology or evolution from an earlier form. Changes in audience expectations, societal pressures, whatever is going on in a particular subculture, etc. You could easily argue that the rise and fall in a particular genre is tied to certain personalities, as well; sort of a Great Man theory of game development. Anyone else remember when RPGs were dead?

As I finish up Dungeons and Desktops, I hope that the author gets into some of this stuff. While I see the value of recalling The Story of the games, it ultimately tells us little about a genre as an art form or mass entertainment. Telling the reader about the first MUDs isn’t as interesting, to me, as telling the reader about the first MUDers.


4 Comments so far ↓

  • Soren Johnson

    well, I’d be first in line for a history of strategy games!

  • Troy

    Now we just need someone to write it. And publish it.

  • Soren Johnson

    Troy, you’re a writer, a historian, and an expert on strategy games. If you were ever to write a book, what better topic would there be?

  • shanicus

    As long as Temple of Apshii was on the list, I would be sure to give it a read!

    I just love that old game… I had it for Commadore 64. I still have the game (2 tapes) in its original box!

    Oops… dropped the keys!