Very Short Review: The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, by Michael Tresca

28 Jan 2012 by Kim, No Comments »

While there are quite a few books in the game studies field now, many are highly theoretical, considering whether games can be read as literature, how online games fit into network theory, what games say about human cultures, etc.  There are fewer people writing about games from the perspective of an active and experienced gamer, and focusing on the games themselves.  –I know this might provoke some to say what about X, Y, and Z?

I’ve read Bonnie Nardi’s excellent book on playing WoW and will likely review it here.  I’ve also seen research by Tanja Sihvonen that covered her experience with the Sims and other games.  If there are other similar pieces out there, please tell me!

Anyway, Tresca analyzes role-playing games into 8 types and devotes a chapter to exploring the history or each, as well as looking at how they compare in terms of:

  • Fellowship
  • Narrative
  • Personalization
  • Risk
  • Roles
  • Status

I found this way of organizing the chapters really helpful, because it allows not only for easy comparison between game types, but also let’s me think about the games I know and consider how they would fit into this grid.  For example, in Clan Lord characters face fairly high risk from wandering creatures when out hunting; the spawns in each area vary far more than they seem to in other games. But, CL has no PvP, so you need never worry about pickpockets or player-killers.  So it can be high risk, but I think less stressful.  🙂

Tresca also shares his own experiences with various games to illustrate his discussion.  While some might argue that including individual experience invites criticism that it’s analysis based on anecdote, I found it quite helpful.  Reading these experiences gave me a much clearer idea of the kind of player Tresca is and the kinds of games he prefers and so on. That knowledge makes his analysis easier for me to interpret.  Knowing his extensive background also strengthens his authority, so that if he says something is frustrating, I know he is no newbie gamer getting hung up on something we all deal with, but critiquing something that many players might find tiresome.

If you are interested in Game Studies, or are a fan of role-playing games, I recommend this book.  It provides a valuable comparison of game types and games, and is an interesting read besides.

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