Academic journal article Extrapolation

Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Raiding the Temple of Wisdom

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Raiding the Temple of Wisdom

Article excerpt

Philosophy Goes Roleplaying. Jon Cogburn and Mark Silcox, eds. Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Raiding the Temple of Wisdom. Chicago and LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 2012. x + 383 pp. ISBN 9780812697964. $19.95. pbk.

Reviewed by Stefan Ekman

With almost three decades of experience with the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) roleplaying game, I was favorably predisposed to this book, the seventieth installment in the Popular Culture and Philosophy series. And even though its many authors sometimes confused-and, once, severely annoyedme, I put the book down feeling both enlightened and entertained. Someone had finally taken seriously the many philosophical issues that I had always felt the game harbored, using the tools and, largely, the rigor of classical and modern philosophy.

This anthology of twenty-one essays is divided into three parts. Under the heading "Heroic Tier: The Ethical Dungeon Crawler," the first nine essays address various ethical quandaries and issues found in or inspired by the game. Discussions around "alignments," a shorthand system used to codify the moral landscape of the game world, provide the bulk of these chapters. What it could mean to be lawful or chaotic, good or evil, neutral or unaligned is probed by several writers, each with a personal take on the subject (some texts explicitly challenge each other). Other writers investigate the moral issues related to playing an evil character. Race and gender stereotypes in the game, and what effect these may or may not have on players' views, are also brought up in the two final chapters of this section.

The second part, "Paragon Tier: Planes of Existence," comprises five chapters that draw parallels between the game world of D&D and our actual world, either by noting similarities between philosophy and roleplaying games, or by using the game world as a laboratory or proxy for the actual world.

The central concerns of the seven chapters that constitute the final part of the book, "Epic Tier: Leveling Up," are the meeting of gameplay and story and the relation between players and characters. This part also includes a chapter arguing that D&D and roleplaying games are an art form with an aesthetic of their own.

Most chapters follow a similar structure. A particular detail of the game rules, an aspect of roleplaying, or a personal D&D anecdote is used to introduce the philosophical theme of the chapter. The main discussion is then based on or accompanied by references to historical as well as contemporary philosophers. While the level of complexity varies from chapter to chapter (and some topics are more complex than others), the discussions are generally straightforward and easy-to-follow, even for someone who has not studied philosophy. Unfortunately, many writers fail to clearly articulate the topic of their chapter, relying on the chapter title (and occasional headings) to do the job, or simply hoping that the reader will come along for the ride "blind," as it were. As a result, I sometimes found myself halfway through a chapter (or even all the way through) before I realized what the theme under discussion was.

The book gives a clear impression of being primarily aimed at an audience of D&D players. The assumed familiarity with and appreciation of the game is clear not only from the gaudy cover-in no way does it apologize for its relationship to a popular culture phenomenon-but also from the names of the three parts (the tiers in question are terms used in the most recent edition of the game to describe how powerful the characters are) and the strong anchoring of each chapter in game phenomena or roleplaying anecdotes. The authors have mostly been careful to explain the D&D background knowledge required to understand their discussion, however, so readers with no gaming experience of their own would not have much trouble following the various trains of thought, at least not because of unfamiliarity with the game. …

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