Playing at the World

Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games was first released in 2012. The book examines, in great detail, the beginnings of wargaming, with a number of specific points of emphasis, including miniatures gaming, early board wargaming, and what are now known as role playing games (though at the time, the earliest such examples, i.e. Dungeons & Dragons, as the author is quick to point out, referred to themselves as "fantasy wargaming" or variations of that terminology.

The book is 698 pages long, with extensive footnotes and bibliography, and includes a full index, as well as 68 illustrations, also indexed. The text delves deep into the history of wargaming and provides many layers of detail, showing the links between gaming dating back to antiquity, and the relationships formed between miniatures, commercial board wargaming, and the role-playing hobby. A brief look at the early video game industry is offered (significantly, the term "video games" does not appear in the book's index.) When asked about the absence of more significant discussion on this topic, the author replied:

I do cover MUDs (multi-user dungeons) in my section on computer games in the epilogue, and honestly, I think that the MMOs of today still trade on the core principles that MUDs invented. Throughout the book I try to focus on the games that I see moving the ball forward, bringing us deeper and deeper principles of simulation that eventually led us to virtual game worlds. As much as I am personally a fan of Blizzard’s work, I see the advances of MMOs to date as further articulations of the fundamental system pioneered by MUDs, but not actual evolutionary steps beyond them. I think there is still a lot of room for new thinking in MMO design that will make virtual worlds more dynamic, more realistic and more enjoyable. I certainly did not write this book believing that the popular games of today are the apex of design — far from it. I wrote this book because I am convinced that we’re still at the very beginning of a much larger cultural tradition that will build on these systems and bring with them wonders we can barely conceive of today. But rather than predicting what that world might look like, which isn’t really a question of history, I figured I’d be better off just ending the book on that note. I’d be very interested to revisit these questions in a decade or two.1

When asked about how much of his book pertained directly to board wargaming, the author replied:

I'd say that of the five chapters and epilogue, the first half of Chapter One is about wargaming, mostly introductory to board and miniature wargaming, up to the beginning of fantasy gaming. Chapter Two has little to do with wargaming. Chapter Three contains a one-hundred page self-contained history of wargames (from around pg200-300), which I think approaches the 18th and 19th century sources in far greater detail than any previous book you'll see. A source like Perla, say, had never seen Reiswitz or Hellwig or any of the other source described here. Chapter Four covers some political wargaming, up to and including Diplomacy, and then postal Diplomacy. Chapter Five and the Epilogue don't say much about wargames. On balance, I'd say it's maybe a quarter of the book.2


  1. interview (
  2. discussion thread (

Playing at the World

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