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April 2008

Stars in our eyes

Rockstaricon Lots of people are suffering from GTA4 hype-fatigue, and it's easy to understand why. The marketing machine is clearly in overdrive when you see Kotaku's Brian Crecente on ABC World News, X-Play's Adam Sessler talking to Geraldo Rivera on Fox, and GTA4 feature stories on NPR's Morning Edition, Day To Day, and All Things Considered - all on the same day. The buzz is loud, repetitive, overkill...and I'm lovin' every minute of it.

Some smart bloggers like Mitch Krpata have suggested we ought to be concerned about the "culture of hype" that's such a big part of the gaming community. Others like Ben Fritz at Variety raise concerns about "exclusive reviews" bestowed on outlets that have promotional deals with the publisher.

These are reasonable concerns, and I take them seriously. But at the same time, I've been joyfully riding this GTA4 hype train for months now, and I'll be a little sorry when it finally ends. Of course, it helps that the game appears to deliver all that Rockstar promised, but even if it didn't, I still would have enjoyed this crazy carnival.

More than anything Rockstar, IGN or other commercial outlets did to promote the game, GTA4 hype was driven primarily by the gaming community on hundreds of forums, chat rooms, blogs, fan sites, and any other viral social venue you can think of. In the build-up to GTA4, all Rockstar really needed to do was release the occasional trailer or screenshot. We took care of the rest.

We did it because GTA4 belongs to us. It's our game, and we chat, speculate, and argue about it like it's a new house we're all about to move into. We want it to be perfect - everything we expect from a GTA game, plus more - and our landlord Rockstar has been very good to us in the past. We've been watching them build this house for years, and they're finally ready to hand us the key to the front door. Hell yes, we're excited. Who wouldn't be?

I think we should hold onto the GTA/Halo/Final Fantasy/Metal Gear/Zelda next-installment pandemonium phenomenon for as long as we can because, inevitably, it will eventually disappear.

There was a time when movie audiences behaved this way. Big premieres once drew legions of fans, celebrities, and media swarming the entrance of the theater - cameras snapping, limousines depositing VIPs. Even in small towns, big movies like Gone With the Wind or Ben-Hur were often celebrated with special costume parties, promotional giveaways, and other festivities. My mother still owns a special commemorative plate she received at the premiere of Cleopatra in Upper Sandusky Ohio.

No one feels this way about Hollywood anymore. They don't need us, and we don't feel any sense of belonging to what they do. The old movie-magazines are gone and so are the fan clubs and big premieres. It's hard to take Hollywood seriously anymore when it tries to depict itself as the enchanted land of dreams. We still love movies, but most of the old magic is gone. Hollywood is a business, and we know it. So are video games, of course, but can you think of a single movie studio that elicits the emotional attachment from its customers Nintendo enjoys?

I was talking to a friend the other day about GTA4. We were imagining what online multiplayer would be like and reminiscing about previous GTA games. I'm fairly certain we had stars in our eyes. I hope they don't disappear any time soon.

When you wish upon a star

Wish_upon_a_star A couple of days ago I suggested the video game industry could use a few "boutique developers" designing high-quality games positioned somewhere between big-budget titles and indie games. I noted that film studios like Miramax have found a lucrative sweet spot releasing ambitious, edgy films targeting the film-enthusiast audience, proving such a strategy can be artistically and financially successful, at least in the movie business.

Today, Gamasutra published a story on Genius Products, co-owned by Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and its decision to enter the video game market. Genius will publish Line Rider - winner of the 2007 GDC award for innovation.

The story contains an extended interview with Mike Rubinelli, head of product and aquisition at Genius, who describes the company's strategy and their awareness of how often big media companies have fumbled the ball.

I've been in the business for 17 years, so I've seen the MGMs come and go. I've seen the Warners come and go, and come again and go again and come again. And I've seen Universal and Universal Games, and then it was Vivendi Universal, and all the iterations of Hollywood trying to figure out how to get into the gaming space and saying, "You know what? We'll just put some of our creative guys on it, we'll leverage our licenses, and then we'll be in business." And then two years down the road and a lot of red ink later, they decided, "Gee, this is a lousy business to be in. What were we thinking?"

Rubinelli describes the Weinstein's thinking - influenced by their experiences in theater and film - about how to establish a company driven by creativity without being harnessed to a "signature" or a casual/hardcore moniker.

Line Rider is a perfect example of what we're going to attempt to do. We're not going to go out and, you know, try to...out-Call-of-Duty Call of Duty, or Halo, or any first-person shooters.

We're not going to compete with those guys. We're not going to compete on the big role-playing front. ... [T]o me, the stars of the company really are the titles, and the titles have to speak volumes about who we're about. The titles have to be our branding. ... [W]e're going to sign up titles so that when we go to the critical press community, we don't say, "Here's our first-person shooter," or "Here's our sports game or our driving game. ... No. "Here's our unique-playing game that you may or may not know, but once you play it, you'll understand why we signed this up." There's a certain charm and appeal and uniqueness to it.

He goes on to discuss Genius' intention to revise the standard industry "formula for success" in ways that enhance creativity and enable risk-taking:

For people to say, "Oh, I played this game a year or two years ago. It's like that, but it's got more levels. It's like this, but..." We don't want to do that at all. I think what's happening in the big publisher circles is that it feels like they have to make these $10 or $15 or $20 million development spans, and because the price tag is so high, they work to turn this into a bit of a science.

It's like, "Okay, the formula for success for this game is it has to have a $10 million marketing campaign, it has to have this many levels, it has to have online play, it has to have these eight buzzwords, and it's got to have this and that. We've got to spend this much money, which means that the development team has got to be this big and it's going to take this long to develop."

They try to back their way into a product more often than not. I think that can be really dangerous, but when you're spending that kind of money, you know, you want to be safe...We want to take on stuff that we feel like is creatively very interesting and not necessarily meaning that we have to spend $10 to $15 million on development. I mean, we may, but we would only do that if we felt that we had a game that really stood out and was incredibly unique.

It obviously remains to be seen whether or not Genius and the Weinsteins can navigate the peculiar video game space, produce unique and creative games, and make money doing it. Their initial strategy seems to be focused on identifying promising indie game designers and backing them with resources and distribution. We'll see how effectively they're able to build and sustain an environment necessary for great games to emerge.

It's easy to be skeptical about Genius evolving into a vibrant boutique development studio, but the Weinsteins have a history of proving the naysayers wrong in Hollywood and on Broadway. I'm not betting against them.

As always, Gamasutra is on top of the story. You can read it all here. Thanks to Chris at The Artful Gamer for the heads-up!

The GTA bookshelf

Gta4logo Swept up in the pandemonium surrounding the biggest release in video game history, what's a guy like me to do?

Read! :-)

Tomorrow's release of Grand Theft Auto IV is the latest installment in a nine-game franchise that has played a pivotal role in the history and evolution of video games. As you might expect, much has been written about the GTA series, not all of it focused on Hot Coffee and imperiling our youth.

In fact, an impressive amount of brainpower has been devoted to writing about GTA over the years, so in honor of the pending release of GTA4 I thought it might be useful to collect some of the more thoughtful pieces and create a sort of GTA bibliography. This list is by no means comprehensive - thousands of GTA essays, news reports, and reviews have been published in the last eleven years. I've focused on analytical pieces that shed light on the games and the cultural phenomenon they represent.

If I've omitted an essay you like, be sure to let me know, and I'll update my post to include it.

Many books and journals contain useful essays on GTA. Most of these aren't available online, but they're well worth a visit to the library:

  • Nate Garrelts' The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto (McFarland, 2006) is a collection of essays devoted to the series and its public and cultural impact.

  • Jesper Juul's Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds (MIT Press, 2005) contains a section devoted to GTA called "Games between Emergence and Progression".

  • Ian Bogost's Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism (MIT Press, 2006) contains a chapter called "Complex Worlds" which focuses on GTA3.

  • Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's Rules of Play (MIT Press, 2003) contains a section on "Games as Narrative Play" with discussion of GTA3.

  • Samantha Blackmon (with Daniel J. Terrell) in Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century (Macmillan, 2007) contributes a chapter entitled "Racing toward Representation: An Understanding of Racial Representation in Video Games" focuses primarily on how racial representations/images intersect with issues of ethics and cultural models in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

  • David J. Leonard's article Not a Hater, Just Keepin' It Real (Games and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2006) discusses GTA: San Andreas and encourages a reading that includes consideration of race and racial tropes.

  • Kiri Miller's Jacking the Dial: Radio, Race, and Place in Grand Theft Auto (Ethnomusicology, Fall 2007) analyzes the musical choices made by the games' designers and players.

  • Soraya Murray's High Art/Low Life: The Art of Playing Grand Theft Auto (PAJ, Journal of Performance and Art, May 2005) examines GTA: San Andreas as an object of serious cultural consideration.

  • Paul Barrett's White Thumbs, Black Bodies: Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Fantasies in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, Jan-Mar 2006) analyzes the game as an opportunity for players to act out popular culture fantasies through representation.

Happy reading!!

Do we need boutique developers?

Pol074parisdressboutiqueposters_2 The next wave of big-budget AAA video game releases is on the way from many of the top developers and publishers in the industry. These games receive an incredible amount of attention - in the last four days Kotaku has posted twenty stories devoted to GTA4 - and these games undoubtedly push the industry forward in many important ways.

While I'm as excited as the next gamer to explore Liberty City or try out Snake's newest camo gear, I'm also wondering if we're as focused as we might be on developing strong, high-production-value games positioned somewhere between big-budget titles and indie games. Obviously, many games fall into a middle range in terms of budget and commitment from developers (e.g. Capcom's Zack and Wiki), but I wonder if there are  lessons to be learned from independent "boutique movie studios" like IFC Films, or from major players like Sony, Paramount and Disney that have created or purchased in-house studios like Sony Classics, Paramount Vantage and Miramax.

These studios typically develop prestige or niche projects that rarely make or lose big money, but often deliver projects that push at the edges of the medium. Such films attract high-talent artists willing to sacrifice money for freedom, but whom have moved beyond the "shoot-it, cut-it and pray for a Sundance screening" phase of their careers. Occasionally - as in the case of IFC's Y Tu Mamá También, a single film can establish the credibility and viability of a brand new studio. In other cases, acclaimed films like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood emerge as a collaboration between boutique studios (both were developed by Miramax in tandem with Paramount Vantage).

Sometimes I think Gabe Newell functions more like an old-school movie studio boss than a game software developer. In a way, he's sort of the Louis B. Mayer of gaming, and Valve the MGM. Back in the golden age of the American cinema, MGM's motto was "More stars than there are in heaven." Newell could make similar claims, and his strategy of keeping an eye out for the best and brightest talent in the industry and getting them under contract to Valve is reminiscent of Mayer's efforts to maintain MGM's stature. Fortunately, from all reports Newell is also a great boss to work for...a claim Mayer (often a tyrant) could never have made for himself.

Portal is a boutique studio project. Valve could have made it bigger, longer, and splashier and unveiled it as their NEXT BIG IP. Or they could have simply bought the team and plowed all those great ideas into the next edition of Half-Life. Instead, they made a game that was just the size it needed to be with just the amount of attention it required.

We need more boutique developers. I believe there is a vital market for such games and an enthusiastic community of gamers hungry for such experiences. Not every game requires a 3-year $100 million development and marketing effort. And there's something to be said for allowing gamers to discover a game and push it forward ourselves. This was a big part of Portal's success, in my view, packed as it was into The Orange Box with much bigger and more recognizable titles.

Having said all this, I must also acknowledge that I'm an industry outsider, and I'm sure I bring with me a certain degree of naivete about the complexities of funding and managing game development. Is the idea of boutique game developers feasible? Pie in the sky? Are they already here, and I'm simply overlooking them? Am I drawing tenuous parallels between the film and game industries? I don't know. But if you do, I'd love to hear from you.

Scratching the game review itch

Logopopmatters_6 When I started The Brainy Gamer way back in '74 - shortly after Nixon resigned as I recall - I promised that the blog wouldn't be another game review site, and I've tried to make good on that. Sure, I've posted impressions of games like Aquaria, No More Heroes and yesterday's essay on Ōkami, but these were intended more as critiques, examining or contextualizing certain aspects of the games I found interesting.

I do occasionally get the itch to review a game, however, in a way that might be useful to someone thinking about whether or not to purchase or play it. So when I heard that PopMatters was looking for a game reviewer to add to their staff of writers, I applied, and they hired me. When I say "hired" I mean they welcomed me aboard with a smile, a virtual handshake, and no pay, of course. :-) They will send me free games to review, however, which is very nice.

As a writer, PopMatters appeals to me for the very reasons I explored the other day in my post about the undervalued role of the enthusiast in academia. From PopMatters' "About" page:

PopMatters cultivates smart writers from the world-at-large. Our staff ranges from the multiple-degreed and/or well traveled, to young writers of high caliber, to 'seasoned' folks who punch the 9-5 clock, regardless of what type of degree, if any, they may hold. PopMatters recognizes that creative, compassionate intellectuals reside in all levels of society, in all types of societies, and we value their ability to provide intelligent, entertaining cultural criticism in the form of thoughtful, magazine-style essays.

I'm delighted to be part of this effort to produce informed reviews and engaging criticism devoted to popular culture. I'll be contributing one or two reviews per month, and you can find my first piece - a review of Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds - here.

Ōkami - second chance at love

Okami22 Ōkami is the most beautiful video game I've ever seen. Last-gen, next-gen - it's all hooha, really. I don't know how many pixels Ōkami pushes around, nor do I care much about its physics or graphics engines. All I know is that when I look at this game - its flowing streams of watercolor flowers; its ink-and-wash brushstrokes; its Zen-inspired landscapes; its radiant creatures and dancing demons - all rendered through textured filters of canvas, parchment, and wood - I am awestruck by its fluid elegance and beauty. Two years after its original release, no game has yet approached Ōkami's sheer aesthetic ambition.

Steeped in ancient Shinto polytheism, the game features a she-wolf (Amaterasu) as its silent protagonist - a reawakened god in animal form. Her central mission is to drive out the demons destroying the environment and restore the natural balance and beauty of her native land. She achieves this by reassembling 13 Celestial Brush gods, each of which bestows a unique brush-stroke power which Amaterasu can use to create water lillies, fire, wind, and other natural elements. In keeping with the game's organic environmental theme, these gods may be found anywhere and everywhere. As Amaterasu's sidekick Issun says, "The gods now dwell in objects all around us."

So let's think about this. A silent hero she-wolf with a calligraphy brush for a weapon. Cell-shaded flowers and woodland creatures. Shinto polytheism. An environmental preservation theme. Is it any wonder nobody bought this game?

Admittedly, that's a bit of an overstatement. After a slow start (and abysmal sales in Japan) the PS2 version of Ōkami eventually sold about 270,000 copies worldwide. Not bad, I suppose, but when Capcom launched Clover Studio in 2004 with some of its most prolific talents aboard, Ōkami was meant for greatness. Less than a month after Ōkami's North American release, Capcom shut down the studio, and that was the end of Clover.

Will Ōkami's recent re-release fare any better with consumers on the Wii? I'm guessing no. I'd desperately love to be wrong because I adore this game, but I'll wager it sells fewer copies on the Wii than on the PS2.

Why? Too much new and too much old. Ōkami's stunning visuals are more than pretty animated pictures. They function as a graphic framework for the entire game. The Japanese brushstroke motif runs all the way through the experience, weaving together gameplay, narrative, and character. Amaterasu is less a warrior than an artist. Her most effective "final blow" maneuvers don't involve brandishing a sword or gun, they require skillful mastery of calligraphic symbols.

How many devoted gamers are looking for this kind of experience or play mechanic? How many will be satisfied with a reward system that essentially boils down to putting leaves back on trees? How many will connect with a fanciful story drawn from classical Japanese history, myth, and folklore featuring rat and monkey gods, wood sprites, celestial deities from the Chinese zodiac, and an effeminate French-accented villain?

My guess is, unfortunately, not many. For most gamers, Ōkami is simply too unfamiliar, too strange, too "Japanese,"... too whatever. Such gamers often claim they want something different, but in reality they don't. What they really want is something almost the same. Too much innovation - especially stylistic innovation - is generally rejected.

Ironically, the audience most likely to be enticed by Ōkami's eccentric concoction of elements is the same audience likely to avoid the game because it fails to innovate enough: the Zelda audience.

Yes, Ōkami is a Zelda homage - as its creators freely acknowledge [1] - and many of the narrative and character parallels between it and Twilight Princess are rather startling. Ōkami's dungeons are smaller and less interesting that Zelda's, and Issun (who chatters entirely too much)  is no Midna. Nevertheless, as my friend Corvus noted recently "Ōkami is the Zelda game I wanted for the Wii." Even though it hurts a little to say it, I agree.

Ōkami's controls work at least as well as they do in Twilight Princess (aside from a particular waggle dodge move you can safely ignore). Its story is more cohesive and better paced; its characters are more distinctive (Midna excluded); and the whole experience feels less rigid and formulaic than Twilight Princess'. Ōkami's sumptuous fully-orchestrated score, filled with traditional Japanese melodies and expressive atmospheres, sets a new standard of excellence for action-adventure games - one that Nintendo should set its sights on for the next Zelda.

At the risk of evangelical zealotry, I urge you to play Ōkami. Buy it at a discount for the PS2 or pick up a new copy for the Wii. They're both excellent. If I had to choose one, I would give the edge to the PS2 version, which conveys a muted parchment filter art style, rather than the color-bumped Wii version. (You can check out a comparison of the two versions below.) I also prefer combat in the PS2 version, though the Wii-mote works better controlling the paintbrush. Either way, you can't go wrong.

Let's hope I lose that bet.

Update (4/28/08): A bit of digging with help from a reader suggests that the 270,000 unit sales figure I reported for Ōkami is much too low. The actual number of copies sold worldwide is closer to 550,000.

It also turns out that Capcom may not have closed Clover Studio in response to low sales (though this was probably a factor). It has been suggested to me that Clover was shut down shortly after two of its top designers left to form a new development studio called Seeds, which later merged with ODD Incorporated to form PlatinumGames.

The genius of the enthusiast

Scholar19 I reported a few days ago on my progress sorting through all the responses I had received from readers about my RPG syllabus. Since then, Maggie Greene at Kotaku kindly linked to my series, and I have been inundated with comments and emails from dozens of respondents offering valuable recommendations and constructive suggestions for the course.

I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for this overwhelming response - I've certainly never had so much fun preparing a course. But aside from that, I feel as if I've stumbled upon something that's forced me to take a hard look at a set of long-held assumptions. 

Aside from the utility of many eyeballs generating many responses, I think there are lessons to be learned for educators on the value and promise of sharing ideas, identifying resources, and generally brainstorming with a broad community of people with vast knowledge and personal experience.

For most of my career as a teacher, a clear and nearly impenetrable divide has existed between those of us designated "scholars" and those of us known as "enthusiasts." While I can understand how and why this separation functions and persists in highly specialized fields like molecular microbiology, other disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences, for example, may have erected more arbitrary barriers separating  scholars and experts from enthusiasts and devotees.

In the case of the course I'm working on - a history of role-playing games - the community devoted to the subject currently outpaces the traditional scholarship developing around it. Certain scholars like Jeff Howard (Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives) and Matt Barton (Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games) have written rich, analytical, and well-annotated books on the subject, and I will use both in my course.

But I would shortchange my students if I insisted on assigning only academy-approved published texts and journal articles. The number of valuable online resources devoted to role-playing games is immense, and many of these (such as Hardcore Gaming 101) contain in-depth features and analyses of important games virtually ignored elsewhere. Of course, not every article found online is rigorously researched or well-written...but I would venture to say the same might be said of many published texts as well.

The so-called academy has traditionally resisted recognizing online articles and essays as "scholarly" mainly due to the lack of a peer-review structure and the fact that most online writers have not been properly certified with a university terminal degree. This needs to change. As an educator who holds a terminal degree in my field, I can say without qualification that if I restricted my resources to only those traditionally approved by the academy, I would find myself woefully unprepared to offer the course I'm preparing to teach.

I look forward to continuing to explore the wealth of online knowledge and information related to role-playing games, and I feel certain my students will benefit from this process. I certainly have. Once again, many thanks for all your help. I'm moving on to other subjects for the blog now, and I'll return later with a preliminary syllabus and reading list as soon as I can plow through all the stuff you keep throwing at me. ;-)

Brainy Gamer Podcast - Episode 12

Onaireye_01_2 An interview with Chris Dahlen; the gaming community on shaky ground; and it's PS3 go time - all in this edition of the Brainy Gamer Podcast!

  • Listen to the podcast directly from this page by clicking the yellow "Listen Now" button on the right.
  • Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here.
  • Subscribe to the podcast feed here.
  • Download the podcast directly here.

Links mentioned in the show:

Chris Dahlen's Save the Robot
Pitchfork Media
Moving Pixels Blog
L.B. Jeffries' Zarathustran Analytics in Video Games

Chris Dahlen - legendary hero

Savetherobot_3 Chris Dahlen from Save the Robot, Pitchfork Media, and other distinguished outlets graciously agreed to record an interview segment with me for the Brainy Gamer podcast. We connected this evening via Skype and chatted for nearly an hour. Chris was terrific, and we covered a nice range of topics. The conversation ended, I thanked Chris for his time, and we hung up.

And I forgot to click the "record" button.

So, yeah, I didn't capture a single word. I must have made some kind of primal sound because my wife came running in. I told her what happened,  and she said to call him back. I told her I was too embarrassed, but she insisted. I saw Chris was still online, so I dialed him up, told him what I'd done (or in this case, not done), and he immediately replied "No problem. Let's do it again." And so we did.

I may be an idiot, but trust me on this. Chris Dahlen is a first-class guy. I ought to know. I interviewed him twice in one night.

Look for the podcast, featuring a recorded conversation with Chris Dahlen, tomorrow night. Oy.

Podcast 12 this weekend

Question_marksml I'm preparing the next podcast and, as always, will happily include your games-related questions, comments or feedback.

Send an email or mp3 audio file to me at [email protected], and I'll do my best to work it into the show. Look for the podcast here and on iTunes this Sunday.

If you'd like to publicize your blog/site or podcast, send me a promotional blurb or audio file, and I'll include it in the show - provided I agree my listeners would be interested.

This episode will feature another interview with a surprise guest that I'm sure you'll enjoy. Thanks very much for listening!

Rumble feature enabled

Indiana_state_flag_2 At 5:36 this morning my wife (who grew up in California) grabbed me, woke me up, and said "We're having an earthquake." Sure enough, our floors were shaking, windows rattling, and it sounded like a train was rumbling by our house.

We live in Indiana, so shaking floors and rattling windows always mean an approaching tornado to me. I've never felt an earthquake in my life. Now I have. We were hit this morning by a magnitude 5.2 earthquake. No damage, everybody's fine, and our baby slept through it. So did our cat.

Apologies for the video game disconnect. I guess if you're a midwestern blogger experiencing your first earthquake, you're going to blog about it. And so I have.


RPG syllabus update


I'm creating a syllabus for a college course on the history of role-playing games. You can find out more about this project here and here.

Just a quick post to update you on the status of the RPG syllabus. I'm sorting through all your comments and recommendations in an effort to cut the big list down to a manageable number. Certain games like Chrono Trigger - chosen by nearly two-thirds of all respondents (and one of my favorites) - are certain to make the final syllabus. Other games like Rogue and Nethack (an either/or choice I think) are too dim in my memory to provoke an informed opinion, so I need to spend some time playing them.

And then there are a few games like Final Fantasy VII that...well, as I sheepishly confessed in a recent podcast, I've never actually played. Yeah, that's right. I've seen it, heard all about it, know who dies, etc. - but the fact is, I've never actually sat down and played that game. So to climb out from under my rock, I loaded the game into my PS2 last Friday...only to discover that I need a PS1 memory card for saves. Ugh. Forgot all about this ridiculous design oversight; can't locate one anywhere in the house. So I ordered a lime green memory card on eBay, which arrived yesterday, and last night I made it all the way to Aerith's house where I was politely asked by her mother to leave. So far so good, but it looks like a pretty stupid game to me. :P   KIDDING!

I'm also working separately on the course bibliography and reading list. It's fairly easy to gather print materials on the subject, but the sheer number of useful online resources devoted to RPGs is staggering. This will take some time. Several of you have suggested a few key sites with valuable essays on RPGs, and these have been quite helpful. Feel free to send others my way if you like. Separating the wheat from the chaff looks like a daunting task at this point.

Once again, I want to thank all of you for your kindness and generosity in helping me with this project. As soon as I get a little farther down the road, I'll report back with a preliminary version of the syllabus. Many thanks, and more soon.