Dungeons & Dreamers

Brad King and John Borland

A story of how computer games created a global community

In 1974, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published the tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game that put players at the center of an interactive story. Unbeknownst to the two developers, their game would help ignite the computer game revolution just a few years later as D&D players tried to replicate their experiences on the new digital platform. Those two forces -- D&D and the computer game developers inspired by it -- have created rich, virtual spaces where people not only played, but also found friendship. This narrative non-fiction story follows the designers, developers, and players who built the virtual games and communities that define today's digital entertainment landscape. On the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, the game that inspired the computer gaming revolution, the story explores the nature of what it means to live and thrive in virtual communities.

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Book Description

Computer gaming reaches back to Dungeons & Dragons, the popular paper game that let storytellers lead their charges through mystical worlds where the only limitation was imagination. Millions would play the game, but it would particularly resonate with a group of kids who were in the midst of discovering the birth of home computers.

The first time Richard Garriott played Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop role-playing game, he was hooked. The game was a mix of imagination, storytelling, and social interactions played in small groups. The intimate setting and the interactive nature of the game meant that no two adventures were ever the same. That game, and Garriott’s fascination with it, helped inspire the modern computer game landscape, which now include sprawling real-time pervasive worlds filled with millions of players around the world.

By the late 90s, sports, war simulations, and relationship games found their place. Millions of people were logging onto their computers, making friends, and playing. But, always at the heart of computer gaming, were people who wanted to create worlds where people could gather and play. For years, people dismissed those worlds and those players. In doing so, they missed the compelling stories of not only the people like Garriott who wanted to develop these large story worlds, but also the players who have increasingly exerted their own control on these spaces and created rich friendships and group collectives.

Today’s modern computer games have become a central part of American culture, and they are far more than just virtual spaces where people hack-and-slash each other with swords or mow each down with guns. These games are as varied as the books in a library, and Dungeons & Dreamers tells the story of what it means to live and thrive in virtual communities.

About the Authors

Brad King earned his master’s from the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2000. While there, he won the Wired magazine “Excellence in Technology Writing” award. After graduating, he worked for Wired and Wired.com. In 2004, he was the producer and senior editor for the MIT Technology Review Web operation. He’s been an advisory board member for South by Read more »