[Review] 40 Years of Gen Con (And More Thoughts on RPG History Books)

I wrote the following review at Goodreads, but I have more to say after it.

40 Years of Gen Con 40 Years of Gen Con by Robin D. Laws
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard to believe that Gen Con has been around for 40+ years. Heck, hard to believe that roleplaying games have been around for almost that long! And right there, in the space where believing these statements are, amazingly, true, is where 40 Years of Gen Con lives.

Robin Laws had his work cut out for him in setting out to put together this book. Made up of a pastiche of chronological interview quotes from a vast array of people associated with Gen Con throughout its history, the book gives you a transcribed oral history of this most central gathering of the Hobby Gaming Industry. From its days as a tiny gathering at chez Gygax, to its move to current and gigantic home in Indianapolis, you can follow the wonderful and weird history of the convention, and in many ways of the industry as well.

If I have one qualm about the book is that, personally I would have preferred an actual written-out narrative of the history instead of the put-it-together-yourself approach of the various interview segments. A thousand kudos to Robin Laws for having the patience and the archeological skills to assemble a narrative out of all those interviews, though; that alone should win him some sort of prize.

Our hobby, our industry, has officially entered its second generation of life, and we’ve already begun to lose some of the pioneers. I continue to be amazed that there has been no effort to create a biography of the hobby/industry up to now, though 40 Years of Gen Con is a fantastic proxy that deserves to be in every gamer’s library.

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It is very strange to me that after over four decades of hobby gaming, from historical miniatures to the latest games debuting at Gen Con, this is the one history book about/on our hobby/industry available. Surely I cannot be the only one who sees value in there being a written history of the development of the industry, the development of the types of games, and even of some of the games themselves.

40 Years of Gen Con, beyond any flaws it may have, is a brilliant artifact because of the gathering of otherwise hard to find/lost information about that one (very defining) aspect of our hobby.

In 2014 we will see the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons (and my own, but we’re not talking about me now). Will we see a book on the history of this pivotal game? I hope so. I so hope so. But more than just a D&D book, I want to see a book (many books?) on the history of our hobby.  We deserve to have our history chronicled, and no one but us will do it.