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The Privilege of Play: A History of Hobby Games, Race, and Geek Culture Spiral-Bound | April 18, 2023

Aaron Trammell

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The story of white masculinity in geek culture through a history of hobby gaming
Geek culture has never been more mainstream than it is now, with the ever-increasing popularity of events like Comic Con, transmedia franchising of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, market dominance of video and computer games, and the resurgence of board games such as Settlers of Catan and role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Yet even while the comic book and hobby shops where the above are consumed today are seeing an influx of BIPOC gamers, they remain overwhelmingly white, male, and heterosexual.

The Privilege of Play
contends that in order to understand geek identity’s exclusionary tendencies, we need to know the history of the overwhelmingly white communities of tabletop gaming hobbyists that preceded it. It begins by looking at how the privileged networks of model railroad hobbyists in the early twentieth century laid a cultural foundation for the scenes that would grow up around war games, role-playing games, and board games in the decades ahead. These early networks of hobbyists were able to thrive because of how their leisure interests and professional ambitions overlapped. Yet despite the personal and professional strides made by individuals in these networks, the networks themselves remained cloistered and homogeneous—the secret playgrounds of white men.

Aaron Trammell catalogs how gaming clubs composed of lonely white men living in segregated suburbia in the sixties, seventies and eighties developed strong networks through hobbyist publications and eventually broke into the mainstream. He shows us how early hobbyists considered themselves outsiders, and how the denial of white male privilege they established continues to define the socio-technical space of geek culture today. By considering the historical role of hobbyists in the development of computer technology, game design, and popular media, The Privilege of Play charts a path toward understanding the deeply rooted structural obstacles that have stymied a more inclusive community. The Privilege of Play concludes by considering how digital technology has created the conditions for a new and more diverse generation of geeks to take center stage.

Publisher: NYU Press
Original Binding: Trade Paperback
Pages: 240 pages
ISBN-10: 1479818402
Item Weight: 0.9 lbs
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.02 x 9.0 inches
Customer Reviews: 3 out of 5 stars Up to 30 ratings
"In this timely and important book, Aaron Trammell explores not just today's growing board game community, but its longer, more complex, and problematic genealogies and historiographies. The hobbyists from which the modern board game community developed—the train enthusiasts, the sci-fi authors, the war gamers, the role players—have strong ties through to today. And while the communities have offered safe spaces for some marginalized groups, they also participated in racist and class-based segregation. With his practiced analytical skills and detailed eye for nuance, Trammell never lets one narrative dominate, telling a refined, three- dimensional story about the development of hobby board games. Play is serious business, but Trammell's engaging tone makes it fun again too. Highly recommended." -Paul Booth, author of Board Games as Media
Aaron Trammell is Assistant Professor of Informatics and Core Faculty in Visual Studies at UC Irvine and author of Repairing Play: A Black Phenomenology. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Analog Games Studies and was an honoree of the hobby game industry's prestigious Diana Jones Award.