Jiituomas (jiituomas) wrote,

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Book Review: Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy (2012).

(This is a copy of the review I posted on Amazon, partially in reaction to an extremely biased one that was already there. While I too remain critical, the book certainly did not deserve all the prejudiced crap the first reviewer had uttered.)
Jon Cogburn & Marc Silcox (Eds.): Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy (Open Court, 2012)

Shallow, at times clever, consistently entertaining (three stars)

This isn't a deep book about the philosophy of games. Nor is it one that's in proper discourse with preceding books on the philosophy of games (role-playing or other). What it does do, however, is entertain its reader with philosophy-connected examples from Dungeons & Dragons and certain cultural phenomena connected to it, and now and then raise questions deeper than where it manages to go on its own. Unlike several other books on role-playing, this one is obvious about why it has chosen a certain style of approach and excluded some pathways, language tone included. I also enjoyed that it at times presented points where the authors critiqued one another.

It is unclear, however, whether the authors (excluding two) were aware of existing research on what they talk about, and this (apparent or factual) ignorance at times causes significant problems. They make claims that should be presented in discourse with established works on the same subjects (the most obvious omissions being Suits and Tavinor, but the list is quite long), not as personal statements. The only one of the authors who says something really novel is Chris Bateman, in certain parts of his second essay. The biggest problem part in the book is Olson's gender essay, which falls into the same fallacy as did Nephew (2003, 2006) and confuses the games' supposed inherent attitudes with those of their subject group, American males, blaming the games for what appears to rather be an issue of local male culture. Likewise, several authors seem to be fixated on the old ludology/narrative split in game studies, which is for the most parts considered rather obsolete (or irrelevant) by the majority of game studies scholars these days.

Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy is light reading and an easy introduction, but it would frankly function a lot better if the authors would have cared to include some more of the philosophy of games already in existence, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel once again.

(LJ addendum: the list of ignored but very relevant earlier works at the very least includes Arjoranta, Bergström, Crookall, Oxford & Saunders, Lappi, Montola and Nephew.)

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