Masters of Disruption: How the Gamer Generation Built the Future [1]

Why I'm writing a sequel to my book, Masters of Doom, in my newsletter.


This post is part of a new “book” I’m serializing exclusively in my newsletter, Disruptor. It’s a follow-up to my first book, Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Built an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, and it’s called Masters of Disruption: How the Gamer Generation Built the Future. To follow along, please subscribe below. Thanks!

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One afternoon in 1998, I was killing time at a Barnes & Noble in New York City when I wondered: where are the books about gamers? The shelves were full of books on athletes, chefs, politicians, musicians, and so on, but nothing on the people who make and play videogames.

As someone who blew my lawn mowing money at my local arcade in Tampa and on Atari cartridges, it actually pissed me off. Why wasn’t this multibillion dollar industry being not only chronicled but taken seriously: as a business, as a culture, and as a lifestyle?

Videogames weren’t just entertainment; for me and my generation, they were a way of looking at the world. They were rewiring our brains, teaching us how to problem solve, fostering community, and, perhaps more than anything, prepping us for the dawning digital age. It felt like the entire planet, or at least the publishing industry, was ignoring The Future.

So instead of waiting for someone else to do it, I decided to write the book I wanted to read. I called it Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Built an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. Published by Random House in 2003, the book tells the story of John Carmack and John Romero, co-creators of two of the most influential game franchises of our time: Doom and Quake.

More than any of my other articles and books, Masters of Doom has taken on a life of its own. While I’ll take some credit as the guy who wrote it, I think it struck a chord with readers around the world because, at the core, it’s a story of determination and inspiration. The two young pioneers who founded id Software transformed the game industry with the long list of innovations they helped mainstream: first person shooters, multiplayer deathmatch, esports, mods, and virtual reality among them.

The book went through several printings and has been translated into multiple languages (I’m particularly fond of the Spanish cover, as is Romero). Two years ago, there was IMHO a fairly amazing TV pilot shot based on it that was never picked up. (That’s an entertaining and heartbreaking Hollywood story that I plan to tell down the line.)

Coolest of all, Masters of Doom compelled others to make companies of their own. Wired ran a story about how the book inspired the launch of the virtual reality company, Oculus. From his earliest forays into 3-D gaming in the early 1990s, Carmack was explicitly trying to usher in the age of VR. As he told me in the book, referencing a line from the cult sci-fi movie, Real Genius, “it’s a moral imperative that we must create this.” 

After reading that line, the founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey, took the missive to heart. In a strange twist, Carmack left id Software in 2013 to become the chief technical officer of Oculus, which, the next year, was bought by Facebook for $2 billion.

Alexis Ohanian has blogged about how Masters of Doom inspired him and his co-founder Steve Huffman to create Reddit, the social news aggregator. “This book convinced me to consider starting a company. It just seemed like so much damn fun,” he wrote. “The idea that a few friends could get together in a house and start building something the world had never seen before – having a lot of fun in the process – got me hooked.” Yes, Ohanian is in the new book.

While others follow in their footsteps, the co-creators of Doom continue to iterate as agents for change (Romero, who’s of Mexican and Native American heritage, now working to diversify gaming) and innovation (Carmack pursuing rocketry and VR and, more recently, sequestering himself in Dallas to build artificial general intelligence, which, he recently assured me, shouldn’t grow up to be the Terminator and kill us).

Now, as the 20th anniversary of the book approaches, I’ve decided to explore the next chapter of the story: how the generation who grew up on these games built our future. I’m calling it Masters of Disruption: How the Gamer Generation Built the Future. It’ll feature new interviews with Carmack, Romero, and their peers, and explore how the gamer generation went on to build the future. I’ll also be featuring stories from my archives that help tell the tale, with extra commentary now. There will be some familiar people, some surprises, and a lot to learn along the way. Researching and writing this will be as much of a MasterClass for me. It will also reunite me with my amazing longtime editor from the raucous aughts at Wired, Chris Baker, who is editing Masters of Disruption.

Masters of Disruption will explore where the disruptors have been, where they’re going, and how they plan to get there. It’s a tale of creativity and ambition and overcoming obstacles to complete the Boss Level. And it’s told by the key players who are, as John Carmack told me during our interview for the book, finding a “shortcut to the future.” From augmented reality to virtual reality, esports to blockchain gaming, NFTs to online community, it’s a story of the people behind the breakthroughs and the breakthroughs to come.

Though I’ve been writing about the internet for decades, now I’m writing for the internet instead. This means this project can take on an entirely new form, one that’s ideal for the story I want to tell.

Masters of Disruption will be serialized exclusively here on Disruptor. Since it’s online, I can include elements beyond just text when needed: voice notes, audio interviews, discussion threads, videos, games, or voice notes. Instead of chapters, the “book” will be made up of different kinds of posts.

It’s a style of longform nonfiction that doesn’t yet exist in the public consciousness or have a name. There are audiobooks, e-books, flipbooks. I’m calling this a postbook: both a book made of posts, and a “post” book in the sense of a new approach to storytelling. 

I’ll be posting new dispatches frequently here on Disruptor. I’m not putting a limit on the number of posts. I’m writing it in real time. It’s living thing. To follow along, please subscribe and spread the word. As a bonus, I’m including this unfortunate photo of me at GenCon 2005 with a giant, polyhedral die.


This post is part of a new “book” I’m serializing exclusively in my newsletter, Disruptor. It’s a follow-up to my first book, Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Built an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, and it’s called Masters of Disruption: How the Gamer Generation Built the Future. To follow along and participate in the conversation, please subscribe to Disruptor and spread the word. Thanks!

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