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Book Review: Dungeons & Dreamers
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Dungeons & Dreamers
A story of how computer games created a global community
Paperback | Kindle Edition
Written by Brad King and John Borland
ETC Press
Release Date: March 15, 2014

Like any well-written history book, Dungeons & Dreamers captures your attention from the very beginning. For those of us who are older and remember a time before video games were a major source of entertainment, this book is like going home again. It firmly establishes its roots in tabletop gaming and taking the reader through a step-by-step transformation to the wondrous gaming networks we have today. And if it stopped there, this would still have been a labor of love that justified the long hours spent researching and interviewing. But it’s more than that, it’s an exceptionally detailed accounting of the work of several pioneers in the video gaming industry.

Modern gaming owes much of its entertainment and viability to early roleplaying gamers like Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, who adapted other tabletop games into a more detail rich experience, allowing the player to move about in an unfettered landscape. Many people would come later on that would embrace this concept and take it to the next level. Richard Garriott was one of the first to act upon this, creating a multitude of text based games that eventually led to his massive multiplayer game, Ultima (and its sequels).

Also chronicled within these pages are the steps Richard Bartle took when creating the very first MUD (Multi User Dungeon), which revolutionized the way gamers interact with one another. We learn about John Carmack and id Software and the painstaking work they did building arguably the best FPS (First Person Shooter) ever, namely Doom and it’s offspring. Of course, there were other games like Wolfenstein 3D and Quake, but Doom made a tremendous impact on the gaming community and designers.

The book also pays tribute to the gamers themselves. There is a chapter on the gaming tournaments that were (and still are) held showcasing the best and brightest of the players. But even more importantly, the authors pay homage to a group that seldom received recognition: female gamers. While they were not as numerous as their male counterparts, they were no less dedicated to the game. It’s now commonplace to see the ladies online playing with the guys, but it was not always so. I was glad to see Dungeons & Dreamers gave credit where credit was due. Those all-female clans kicked much ass at QuakeCon and many other contests.

Touching on the game Counter-Strike, a game adapted from the mega popular Half-Life, we are given an insider’s view of gamer cafes at the turn of the century. Mods (modified games) and privately made levels were a dominating factor at this time. It had gotten to where even the casual gamer could create something unique, which led, unfortunately, to a bad rap for the gaming industry when it came to light that the two teens responsible for the Columbine shootings had made a mod featuring their school. Having used the game to rehearse their crime, the two disturbed youths had turned gaming into a media scapegoat. Even now, many years and laws later, the gaming industry has not fully recovered.

It’s at this point that the book begins to bring all of this information together, much like it happened in real life. From Ultima Online to EverQuest to World of Warcraft, MMORPs have evolved as fast as the technology behind them did. Even console games get their mention here, since those players have also carved out a large piece of the World Wide Web for themselves. Caught in the mix are also games like The Sims and Second Life, truly addicting games that gave people to ability to live out lives completely different from the ones they inhabited everyday.

Possibly the most touching part of the book is the conclusion, where Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson are honored for the work they did with tabletop RPGs and how they helped jumpstart the concept of group gaming. There are mentions of other pioneers, too, speaking to their current hobbies and occupations, at least insofar as how it affects this subject. It’s a fitting end to an awesome book about a genre that has yet to have its final chapter written. Games are still be developed that owe much of their work to these early programmers and their dreams. Many of these videogames go beyond anything dreamed of four decades ago when it all started, and I’m pretty sure we will see even more remarkable things in the future.

In conclusion, this book is a great addition to any library. Brad King and John Borland have created a masterpiece of gaming lore, paying tribute to the wizards and scholars of the digital world who chased their dreams…and caught them. Buy this book, you’ll thank me for it.

Dungeons and Dreamers by Brad King and John Borland


  1. We’re happy that you enjoyed the book. John & I spent 10 years working on the second edition, and it’s nice to see when the stories of gamers and designers resonate.

    The two parts we felt were most important (not that they all weren’t): the section on violence, which we hope explores what we do and don’t know, and the sections of Gygax and Arneson, who have shaped the way we think about games and communities.

    Comment by Brad_King — June 18, 2014 @ 3:59 am

  2. I really did enjoy the heck out of it. I know the book took a very long time to compile (both times) and just want you to know that we old school gamers appreciate it.

    Comment by Waerloga69 — June 20, 2014 @ 6:32 pm

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