Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Brad King

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 6, 2009

An interview with Brad King, co-author of Dungeons and Dreamers: the Rise of Computer Game Culture: From Geek to Chic, who talks about the book, plans for a 2nd edition, and what advice he has for our future storytellers.

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dungeons and dreamers2Author’s websites:

Brad King  |  The Cult of Me  |  Dungeons and Dreamers

Could you take a minute and explain what your book Dungeons and Dreamers is about?

The book traces the history of online computer game worlds back to its origin with the paper game, Dungeons & Dragons; however, we chose to follow that history through its social connections. For game players, that’s a pretty obvious connection. We play, regardless of the medium, to be with other people. To make friends. To share interests. To challenge and achieve. To explore.

It was important for us to tell the stories of the threads of game developers like Richard Garriott, Richard Bartle, John Carmack as well as the people who played their games.

So it’s really more a book about how these communities developed through game worlds as much as it’s a story about how these game worlds came to be.

Why did you write this book?

John and I had been covering digital media and entertainment for a few years (he at Cnet and me at Wired). The idea of digital communities was something that was pretty obvious to us. But we hadn’t written much about gaming. So we hatched this idea one evening, scribbling notes on bar napkins. I don’t think either of us really knew that we’d hit on something that evening until the end of the night when we realized how long we’d been scribbling.

We started working on the book’s outline when McGraw-Hill, out of the blue, contacted us about writing a book on video games.

Since we’d already put a fair amount of work into the proposal, it seemed like we’d hit a narrative thread that other folks were starting to think about.

So away we went.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting the book published?

Our process was really unlike any I’ve ever heard before. As I mentioned, we hashed out the basic idea of the book and then dove head first into reporting it without having a publisher in mind. We just knew we wanted to write this.

That reporting began to seep into my writing at Wired and John’s writing at Cnet. We were lucky enough to have a platform that is pretty widely read. So when we each began to write about the subject, I think it probably got some folks in the publishing world thinking about it.

About a month or two after we’d started working up a book proposal, McGraw-Hill contacted us. Since we had a near-completed proposal, the process moved pretty quickly from there.

I think we completed the whole project in about 14 months from our first conversation to the completion of the manuscript to publishing.

It appears you’re working on a 2nd edition of the book. How will the 2nd edition be different and do you have any idea on the release date?

The cool think about our contract with McGraw-Hill — and it’s cool because both John and I agreed that we wouldn’t write the book for anyone if we gave up our copyright — was the right’s reversion. Once the book went out of print, we got the copyright back.

So, we contacted our friend Dr. Drew Davidson, who runs Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (made famous by the late Dr. Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”), who said he was interested in publishing an updated version of the book (which is now 6 years old).

We’re slowly plowing through four new chapters and hope — and I stress hope — to have that done by the year’s end.

Are you yourself a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I haven’t been a gamer in some time. I still tinker around with new games when they come out but frankly my work keeps me far too busy to actually play with any regularity anymore. I can’t say I’m entirely disappointed by that although I certainly miss having time to relax and play.

Like so many other people of my generation, I started playing old computer games (M.U.L.E. anyone?) and Dungeons and Dragons sometime around 1984. I just gravitated to the storytelling aspects with these. I’ve never understood board games, per se. I find them mostly boring. But the idea of telling stories, playing stories, discovering stories…that, I loved. I still love.

And if I had time, or if I had an offer, I’d love to write and play Alternate Reality Games. I am fascinated by this emerging story/game form (we don’t really have a word for whether these are stories or games). It’s the best of both world for me.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Oh, I’ve spent a lot of time in Second Life (where I did some teaching) and a bit in places like There, World of War Craft, Ultima Online and myriad other places. I can’t say I’ve ever really set up shop and played for long periods of time. But I certainly keep my accounts open in certain places and troll around.

We live in a digitized, virtualized environment today. It’s impossible to escape the effects. Whether it’s a series of feeds (twitter, friendfeed, youtube, ect) aggregated into one place so you can hold virtual conversations across multiple networks or game worlds, we’re surrounded by the metaverse.

If you think of online worlds in that manner, which I do, I am always connected to real life and cyber space. My Netbook and smart phone are with me everywhere and I’m oftentimes logged in while I’m awake. It creates a very interesting experience within the real world as I feel more connected than the people who I am interacting with in real space because my world is so much bigger.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

I don’t think my gaming has had a direct effect on my writing. They are completely separate skill sets. Writing is a craft that takes years to hone. Gaming is the same. But my baseball playing certainly didn’t make me a better writer. And my writing certainly didn’t help me hit a slider.

That said, the gaming certainly helped me meet new people, helped me understand the metaverse, helped me connect with new cultures and places. All of which inform my life as a human. Which, of course, makes me a writer better able to understand the human condition better. I think.

Speaking of gaming, how do you tend to escape these days?

Escape? I am not even sure I know what that means. Most of my days toggle between teaching college, grading, writing, reporting and creating media. Ask around, I have very little down time which is exactly how I like it. Because I deal with emerging media and technologies, my work is pretty much my fun.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-story tellers out there?

Read. Often. The most disheartening aspect of teaching writers and storytellers occurs the first few days of class. I ask them to tell me the last 3 books they’ve read. Few, if any, can ever give me that list.

And I have, in all my years, never met a good storyteller — digital or text-based — who doesn’t read. Voraciously. Who doesn’t watch movies. Who doesn’t interact with stories on a daily basis.

This isn’t something that just happens. This is a skill that needs to be developed. So read!

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