Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons and Dragons tries to be a history of gaming, both general and specific, a biography, and a business of pop culture (cons, trends, geekdoms, etc) review all at once; it does not succeed. On the biography side, the subject Gry Gygax is presented with little personality other than ‘tempermental’ and ‘creative genius’ and ‘somewhat difficult’. There’s also little narrative to build and follow, mostly scattered episodes. Part of the problem is that no one else is allowed to have any personality, like his first wife Mary Jo or his childhood friends Don and Tom who play various roles in the later involvement in the gaming community that leads up to the creation of D&D. Another part of the problem is how the episodes are told; most every chapter ends with something along the lines of “But for Gary, the scales had a tendency to tip unexpectedly”; if you do that every time, 1) it gets old, and b) that’s not an effective transition technique if you give away what’s coming in the next chapter.
For the history part, there’s a timeline after the main book, basically an appendix, that’s more detailed and clearer about what happens and when; this timeline also includes key personal events in Gary’s life, also, really the timeline is better than most of the book for information. The rise of geek culture attributed (probably with rightly) D&D is a good point to bring up, but the amount of detail about Gary’s involvement in WorldCon for example is limited, but the discussion of how D&D is developed, both business and geekdom wise after Gary’s death, is pretty specific. The imbalance is irritating.
The final and possibly worst part are the interludes of a hypothetical game featuring a Dungeon Master and a Player named Sir Egary; at first they make little sense without much context and incomplete storyline, and once you figure out what the point of them is, it’s probably really late in the book, and comes off as a poor attempt at being philosophical/meta/whatever.
I appreciate what actual information and personality there is, but it’s really inconsistent and not nearly as well done as it could have been given that there’s a good bit of primary source material available.