Book Review: Dungeons & Dragons And Philosophy

Dungeons & Dragons And Philosophy, edited by Christopher Robichaud

This particular book is part of a series [1] of books that shows how self-professed philosophers pay the bills while also providing some philosophical heft to pop culture. In many ways, it is a quid pro quo that may offend those who are highbrow philosophers who do not fancy that pop culture deserves such credit, but as philosophers are observers of every aspect of life, including popular culture, and have been at least since Socrates and various sophists were parodied in Aristophanes’ Clouds, and as they have to pay off their college loans like the rest of us, I do not begrudge the existence of this book and find the series, and this book in particular, an enjoyable read for a variety of reasons, not least because it does manage to show both an obvious appreciation of the culture that is being written about, and also because it addresses major philosophical questions including friendship and virtue in an excellent way. That is not to say that I agree entirely with the perspectives of the essays, which is not so, but rather that even among those essays whose perspectives I strongly disagreed with I saw the effort taken by the writer as a serious and worthwhile one.

The contents of this book are divided, as is common in the series, into several parts which themselves contain two or three essays apiece. In total, there are six parts and fifteen chapters that sum up to a little more than 200 pages of material that examine a variety of different philosophical matters in the general framework of the Dungeons & Dragons series, including quite a few comments about the little-known fact that the creators of the game were themselves people of faith and put in the game a strong moral framework that depends on the particular moral perspective of the dungeon master himself [2]. The parts are given titles like Lawful Good vs. Chaotic Evil or The Ethics of Spellcasting and contain thoughtful essays on free will and determinism, character, the genuine playability of various alignments, the lifecycle of PCs, existentialism, the phenomenology of immserion, the morality of fiction, dungeonmastery as soulcraft, a case study of Menzoberranzan as a perfectly unjust state, a question of identity while looking at the character of Raistlin Majere, the morality of necromancy, the ethics of summoning animals, D&D as a spectator sport, sex and gender, and the question of friendship among party members.

While, as in previous books that I have read in the series, it is very clear that many of the references to D&D are merely occasions for the authors to comment on their own beliefs about philosophy. Even so, despite the fact that all of the writers are very keen on pushing the legitimacy of Dungeons & Dragons against critics who would condemn it out of hand as satanic, they do offer many thoughtful critiques that demonstrate that the playing of such a game (as well as dungeonmastering) is a moral act and that what we play at does have a role in our real selves, since we never entirely divorce our play from the character of the player. This puts the writers in a tough position, in seeking to encourage play and pooh pooh the idea that certain things are evil in themselves without rejecting the idea of a legitimate moral order or the effect of game playing on character. The resulting tension between the social and political aims of the authors, and their obvious love and support of the games and game playing, as well as a wide variety of different philosophical approaches, make for a fascinating collection of essays that any slumming philosopher would be very proud to call their own.

[1] See for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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