Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Caveat on Shared Fantasy

On Sunday I recommended that readers check out Gary Alan Fine's Shared Fantasy. Yesterday I got some of the backstory on how the book came into being from the ever-helpful Jeff Berry, an OG player in M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne campaign and an active participant in the gaming scene of the Twin Cities at that time.

What he said gave me great pause as Fine's methods sound from his description like possible breaches of ethics (or at the least professional discourtesies ) of the kind that really chap me: namely burning your confidential sources and quoting people in either deliberate or negligent ways that may have not been accurate. It's a shame really since the second edition of the book contains some very perceptive and interesting observations about the hobby of the time.

Taking all these things into consideration, I would recommend that people read the book keeping Jeff's following remarks in mind. (Perhaps checking it out at the library or buying it second-hand will reduce the karmic weight of it haha.)

Here's Jeff's version of the backstory:
“Gary [Fine] got involved with Phil [Barker] through the then-active group of gamers that met Friday nights at the Fifth Precinct station of the Minneapolis Police Department. Several of Phil's original gamers (Craig Smith and Gary Rudolph, as I recall) were gaming there, and Gary was invited out to Phil's through them.
Gary's participation in Phil's Tekumel campaign came just as the original group split into two. This was shortly after I started gaming at Phil's.
Gary specifically excluded our original Thursday Night Group from his study, because we didn't fit the profile he'd established...I had the chance to read his original manuscript, and being at that time working on my sociology minor, I thought that there may be some issues with the methodology being used. Gary also specifically excluded Deborah Naffziger (Lady Anka'a hi Qoyelmu, and one of Phil's 'founding players' in 1974) as she also didn't fit the profile, being a woman.
Phil was extremely upset by Gary's use of himself and the Tekumel campaign in the book. Phil had been quite candid with Gary as a matter of professorial courtesy, but didn't realize that Gary was intending to publish the material. Phil did not want the powers-that-be at the university to think he hung out with a bunch of 'social deviants', as he could very well have lost his job. Gary was effectively 'thrown out' at Phil's, and at the Fifth Precinct.”
Outside of Barker's campaign, Jeff had a few further things to say about Fine's passages covering play in D&D and Chivalry & Sorcery sessions:
“I've talked to most of the people he quoted, and a lot of the dialog was taken out of both the real-world and gaming context. The custom at that time was usually that what was said in the game by an in- game in-character player stayed in the game, and wasn't considered 'fit for publication'. Gary tended to use the worst of the incidents as quotations, and people got very upset by that. He hadn't told anyone that he was recording things for publication, and many of the people quoted felt that a trust or right to privacy had been abused.”
So there you go. Buyer beware.  


  1. A good post.

    A shared fantasy entity would have to have a singular 'portal' to participate (sign up/registration) to assure that any content shared wasn't going to be 'stolen' or perceived as such.

  2. Well sure, one can say buyer beware of all work, academic or otherwise.

    In my opinion, this is an important book. This was 1) the first (and for a long time the only) full length volume on RPGS, 2) it was published when D&D was in full bloom, not written after the fact, 3) it's an ethnography at a time when there wasn't widespread acceptance of that type of work being done.

    Let's tap the brakes.

  3. @ Kiltedyaksman:

    I could not agree with your comment more! I specifically got a copy of both editions of Gary's book for the Aethervox collections of Tekumel historical materials, for all the reasons you cited. Good points, and I'm glad you made them.

    Gary makes some very valid and very interesting comments on the 'shared world' aspects of Twin Cities gaming at that time, and I think the book is valuable for that reason as well. Our problem at the time was that Gary's methodology and data collection tended to suit his given premise, which was the focus of my comments.

    yours, Chirine

  4. I understand, but let's remember that subjectivity exists in all research.