Mackay’s “The Fantasy Role-Playing Game”

Daniel Mackay’s The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art (2001) is a puzzling book, very much of its time while simultaneously harkening for a time that never was. It draws heavily on Schechner’s concepts of performance for its analysis of RPGs, and on Foucault’s ideas of surreptitiously self-securing power for its concept of society and social structure, with a dash of Lyotard’s view of postmodernism.  It is also carried (and sometimes carried away) by a utopian impulse that sits uneasily with his Foucauldian pessimism. Or perhaps not, given the philosophical idealism behind Schechner’s views  and to a certain extent Foucault’s as well. Still, the book is self-contradictory at points. And to be honest, at points it seems a bit undercooked.

Nevertheless, Mackay asks many of the right questions, even if his theoretical approach is unsatisfactory. He takes a very broad look at RPGs; at the moment the concept of my own book is more narrowly focused on issues of ontology and definition.  He is a bit casual in how he connects RPG to theater, but then, he also connects it to ritual in the breezy way that Schechner has always connected ritual and theater. Interestingly, however, he also has something approaching a stratified ontology, through which he looks at at cultural, formal, social, and aesthetic structures.  He doesn’t see an relationship of emergence between or among these structures, or differentiate among the meanings of “structure.”  Even so, I find myself uncertain what exactly I’m adding.

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