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Underkoffler's Overview: Playing with Power - I Have Powers
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Underkoffler's Overview: Playing with Power
I've finally had a chance to read this book; here are my brief impressions. This is not a review, per se -- you probably won't get much out of Underkoffler's Overview if you haven't read the book. What you will get is my opinions on the Negative, the Positive, and the Verdict.

Playing with Power: The Authorial Consequences of Roleplaying Games
by Michelle Andromeda Brown Nephew

Website: [ http://wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/fullcit/3114163 ]
Reviews: None known.
Note: This is Ms. Nephew's doctoral dissertation.

The Negative

  • Howie. I'm not a Lovecraft fan; the dissertation uses HPL as a focal example. YMMV. (However, see below, All in this Together.)
  • Please, Ma'am, Can I have Some More? There are a number of elements and issues that are specific to gaming that Ms. Nephew raises that I would have liked to see more detail on or about, rather than a detailed history of pulp and early SF publishing.
  • Tone & Level of Detail. I'm not sure how the tone, presentation style, and information holds up for all sectors of readers. Gaming detail is a little to basic for gamers, anthropological detail is a little too basic for anthy fans, literary details are a little to basic for deep bibliophiles or lit-critters, psychology aspects may be too glossed over for armchair psych-aficianados, etc.

The Positive

  • All in this Together. Despite my deficient enjoyment of Lovecraft (see above), HPL is a perfect example for certain topics that Ms. Nephew discusses in relation to gaming -- especially that of the relationships between primary creators, secondary creators, and fans. She lays out the example of how the Cthulhu Mythos grew through correspondence, in-jokery, and outright seizure, and makes strong connections between both commercial gaming products and "games as played" at home.
  • Demented and Sad, but Social. The discussion of the relationship between the gaming subculture and mainstream culture -- with specific attention paid to anti-gaming factions -- may very well break new ground in the discussion of why gaming and gamers are often marginalized (reinforced by their own actions, whatever they are). While the ground broken is fairly obvious, and anyone who's been in gaming or fandom for more than a couple months could articulate it, this is the first time I've seen it in print.
  • Anecdotal Evidence. Ms. Nephew's short personal ancedotes about gaming and her experiences as a player and as an industry person breathe life into the subject. Indeed, I suspect that given the nature of gaming as only fully understandable as a participant (discussed briefly in the paper), anecdotes and personal testaments are possibly the best starting point for gamer crit and analysis.
  • Da Bidnis. Some nice snippets on the business end of the gaming industry which cry out to be expanded (possibly with help from John Nephew?).
  • RAIDing Authorship. Contains a basic (but worthy of further exploration) discussion of "authorship" in RPGs, noting that it is shared, collective, and distributed. Somebody should really dig deeper into this.
  • I Said, "Do You Speak My Language?" Thankfully, Ms. Nephew avoids GNS jargon, and does a decent job avoiding needless litcrit, anthy, or psychological jargon. Where needful examples of such jargon is used, the meaning is either fairly clear or glossed in the maintext.

The Verdict

  • If you are interested a basic litcrit/anthropological/psychological discussion of gaming, purchase this paper. In some ways, this paper was more satisfying than Gary Alan Fine's Shared Fantasies because Ms. Nephew is a gamer first and an observer and commentator second; in some ways it was less, because of the elementary nature of her discussion, which raises intriguing anthropological, sociological, or psychological points but does not delve deeply into them or support them with hard research. Advanced readers in any of those fields may not get as much value from this work. However, I feel this work is worthy of being a good stepping stone for future discussion and investigations into gaming.

Check it out.

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