July 19th, 2012


Dissertation review: Montola, 2012

While to be defended in September, 2012, Markus Montola's doctoral dissertation, On the Edge of the Magic Cirle: Understanding Role-playing and Pervasive Games, has already seen print, and I had the privilege of receiving an advance copy (and I admit to commenting on its manuscript at several points, so I may not be totaly objective here, to be honest).

The cold, hard fact is that this book and the seven constituting articles form a cornerstone that should be nearly mandatory reading for game scholars, both the next generation as well as the luminaries who have established many of the conventions and core concepts of the field. The reason for this is that while questioning various existing definitions and concepts, Montola opens up an expanding view of how just big a phenomenon we are talking about, on its various platforms and in its varying forms. After reading this dissertation, a scholar has to be an idiot to still consider digital games (or larp) to be the sole significant facet of the subject at hand.

Central to Montola's argument is a social constructionism approach, applying especially Searle, for understanding gameplay as a process. Other key issues are rules, the concept of how games can be pervasive, and how all three things may converge. While I don't agree with every point of Montola's, I have to admit that the scientific reasoning presented is simply brilliant. (At this stage it's furthermore obvious that he and I are discussing many more of the same phenomena than we've thought, just with different terminology and somewhat paradigmatic viewpoints.)

After a third read of the book, I feel quite certain when I say that this dissertation is the research equivalent of the Nordic Larp book: An eye-opener about just how large and impressive a phenomenon we are dealing with. Furthermore, it's written in a style that I think will be quite readable also by laymen who do not possess a vast knowledge of role-playing theory, increasing its value as also a community contribution and not just science. I hope it reaches the right hands, from interested game designers to book editors and fellow scholars.

EDIT: Here's the link to its online version: http://acta.uta.fi/english/teos.php?id=1000161
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