Title  : Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture From Geek to Chic
Author  : Brad King & John Borland
Length  : 273 pages
MSRP  : $24.95
ISBN  : 0072228881
Release date  : Aug 19 2003
Publisher  : McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
Review by  : Ken Gagne

A recent comic strip featured a computer maven bemoaning: "It really depresses me, what's happened to the Internet: all these people got on it." 

It's true that technology and cyberspace have grown from their original niches into a more mass appeal, due largely to the wide allure of electronic entertainment. The trends and trendsetters that advanced our medium into common acceptance are detailed in Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture From Geek to Chic, a hardcover by Brad King and John Borland. 

Dungeons and Dreamers has a simple, effective presentation: a small collection of black-and-white photos bisect the book, but the text is otherwise straight and uninterrupted across its ten chapters and three sections. The history reads easily and is organized neatly, with main characters quickly remembered and usually contained in their own story; should they reappear later, the authors often provide a reminding detail or two. 

Dungeons and Dreamers focuses heavily on three games — Ultima, Doom, and Quake — and their creators — Richard Garriott, John Romero, and John Carmack. Other industry players, such as Gary Gygax and Will Wright, make appearances, but without warranting the multiple chapters the main trio net. 

Likewise, the authors propose that a confluence of three influences in the Seventies produced modern gaming culture: the rise of Dungeons and Dragons; the popularity of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels; and the introduction of personal computers. Certainly these three factors bore heavily on Richard Garriott, otherwise known as Lord British, whose tale is told from the founding days of Akalabeth, to Ultima IX and the groundbreaking Ultima Online, concluding with Garriott's current works-in-progress. The social and networking aspects of Dungeons and Dragons, Quake, and computer networks is a repeated theme throughout. 

King and Borland's research for this book included personal interviews, experiences, and literary review. Yet they successfully resisted the temptation to cram in as much minutia as possible, instead focusing on the main characters and their stories. Occasionally, the authors exemplify the impact of these cultural evolutions with detailed accounts of regular gamers; their stories are often, but not always, impressive, informative, and relevant. The authors occasionally end these chapters by connecting this fragment of history to its larger, modern implications, eliminating the primary, historical figures as peers and reminding us that they are gods among men. 

Veterans of the industry will enjoy the details of this jaunt down memory lane, which includes many names they may not have heard in years, such as Ken and Roberta Williams (of King's Quest fame), The Sierra Network, Warren Spector, and Softdisk (John Romero's one-time employer). But as the narration progresses, Apple II users will find less relevance to their own history, as the book wends its way from gaming culture's origins on our favorite computer to its eventual emigration to Windows and the Internet. 

The occasional detour also presents itself, such as a comparison of the parallels between the moral panic over violent video games, and that of comic books in the Fifties.  And though the prologue points out this book is, as the title states, about computer, not video, game culture, there is a closing chapter about the present-day networking capabilities of consoles such as the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2

The index is not exhaustive — look up "Apple" and there's no entry, as the company itself is never mentioned. Not being gamers, nor were Jobs and Wozniak among those profiled. But the Apple II was the environment in which many of history's greatest game programmers came into their own, and their names and stories in this book will be familiar and enjoyable to many who shared that era and hardware with them.


This article is copyright (c) 2004, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Juiced.GS, 01-Apr-04