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Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange
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Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange

3.27  ·  Rating Details ·  564 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
"[Barrowcliffe] writes how D&D twisted his teenage development — and about how twisted teenage development is in general. It's easy to read in a weekend, and thanks to several hilarious, unbelievably well-remembered recountings of dialogue-heavy extreme nerdiness, begs a movie adaptation."—Seattle Times

“Barrowcliffe's retrospective self-awareness is by turns poignant
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 1st 2008 by Soho Press (first published January 1st 2007)
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Dec 23, 2008 Seth rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
(Note, read the authors comments in the comments section, he points out a few factual errors in this review that I think are worth noting before taking my review seriously.)

I picked this book up because I was a huge dork in high school and middle school - the dorkiest, and hung out with some fairly damaged individuals. I was looking at a book to wince at my own memories as I share someone elses, and also in a way celebrate that time.

Barrowcliffe has...issues, though. He has a tende
John Fletcher
Jan 06, 2009 John Fletcher rated it it was ok
I picked this book up because I, like the author, starting playing D&D at an early age. (I think I was 14 instead of 12 when I started). Unlike the author however, I still play D&D about twice a month with a group of co-workers and friends.

My feeling for this book is that the author, while on the one hand fondly reminisces about the game and credits the game for many aspects of his adult personality, on the other he clearly holds and demonstrates a certain amount of disdain and ridicule
Sep 24, 2011 Toshi rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up in an airport while traveling and thought it would be a fun, humorous look back on life as a gamer. I played RPGs in middle and high school, though I apparently wasn't as hard core as the author was. By the end of chapter 1 I found that the only humor the author included was mean spirited and belittling. As I said before, I expected some self effacing humor, and humor at the sake of gamers he played with, but this book amounted to a prolonged bitchfest where the author does ...more
Oct 31, 2008 Josh rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Not badly written, but not a very fun read. Barrowcliffe treats his subject (himself and other adolescent D&D players) with disdain, which makes what should be an entertaining read much less enjoyable.
Kari Mathias
Nov 28, 2011 Kari Mathias rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is ridiculous. Barrowcliffe spends half of the book telling us that being a geek is pathetic and sad, and the other half... trying to prove some kind of point to the people who made fun of him in high school, I think. "I was a TOTAL geek in high school and I grew up to be successful AND married. But I'm not a geek anymore, don't worry, guys."

I picked it up because I wanted to love it, being a D&D player myself, but I ended up sorely disappointed. Mark Barrowcliffe can repress his i
Paula Lyle
Nov 10, 2011 Paula Lyle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I would have liked it a lot more if the author had not felt the need to tell us how different his adolescence would have been, if only he had been grown-up at the time.
Jul 13, 2014 Matt rated it really liked it
It takes a particular type of person to wallow in one's misspent youth, to trot it out, warts and all, for all the world to see. Having escaped the embarrassments of adolescence, most people to some degree disavow their younger selves. This is usually accomplished through mere omission. Life goes on, we meet new people, and we conveniently forget to tell them about those horrid moments that define our adolescence. We recreate ourselves, we leave our pasts behind. Not so with Mark Barrowcliffe, a ...more
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction

Barrowcliffe describes Dungeons and Dragons, at the height of its fame, as being played by millions of boys and two girls. Well, I was one of those girls. And that's ok, I'm comfortable in the fact that I was and still am, a total nerd. And a memoir about Dungeons and Dragons in quite unique.

Barrowcliffe was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at a young age. And once immersed he stayed in the life for quite awhile. In fact, he became obsessed with it. All his pocket money went to D&D figurin
Nerine Dorman
Nov 19, 2014 Nerine Dorman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Warning: If you’re hoping this is a book extolling the virtues of fantasy roleplaying as a positive outlet for socially marginalised teens then WRONG. This is not the book you’re looking for. Step away while you still can and go read some fanfiction. What The Elfish Gene is, however, is Mark Barrowcliffe’s memoirs of growing up in Coventry during the 1970s, and how as a completely gauche, socially maladjusted teen he fled into the world of fantasy RPGs because he simply couldn’t cope with realit ...more
Melody Randolph
As many of you know, I am a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) enthusiast; so was Mark Barrowcliffe until he decided that it was the cause of all his problems. This book really should have been called, Gaming Obsession and How Not To Play.

Basically, the book is a memoir of his awkward early years spent lost in his own reality, obsessing over the one outlet he found for his intelligence and imagination: D&D. Some of the anecdotes included are hilarious, for example the time he nearly sets his fr
Stuart Nachbar
Nov 25, 2008 Stuart Nachbar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Elfish Gene was a fun story that made me think about the question: what is a nerd? Webster’s dictionary equates a nerd with a gearhead, a person who is extremely interested and knowledgeable about computers, electronics, technology, and gadgets. But Dungeons and Dragons is a card and board game; it has absolutely nothing to do with modern technology and computers.

And I must add that people who bury themselves in other interests, including role-playing games, politics and football statistics
Feb 15, 2009 Thermalsatsuma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-a-week-2009
The late 70s was a particularly grim time. Economic crisis, terrorism, unemployment, an unpopular labour government - is this all starting to sound familiar? What more natural response than to turn your back on the whole mess and escape into the world of fantasy? That is exactly what author Mark Barrowcliffe did when he discovered Dungeons and Dragons, and threw himself headlong into for most of his teenaged years.

In much the same way as Andrew Collins mirrored my life of late 60s and early 70s
Emily Jane
May 24, 2009 Emily Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Frankly, this book is hilarious. Please read it.

Although there are some fundamental differences between myself and the author (I am a girl who came of age in the 1990's and have never played D&D, while he is a boy who came of age in 1970's and had no life outside of D&D), ultimately we had plenty in common. Like him, I was fundamentally a good kid who just couldn't figure out how to fit in with the mainstream of "cool". So I invented my own.

For me, this came in the form of Xena: Warrior
Kathleen Dixon
Feb 28, 2012 Kathleen Dixon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rupert
The title of this grabbed me - I was walking through the library having selected the books I wanted/had reserved, and just happened to glance to my right as I passed one of those display shelves they have specifically with the intention of luring you over. I was lured.

When I was in my early 20s (30 years ago, she says, revealing her age) my then-husband and I were curious about Dungeons and Dragons. But we didn't know anybody else who was remotely interested so we never got involved. That was po
Dec 20, 2009 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh, Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I too once owned a 100 sided die. Mark Barrowcliffe has written an autobiographical novel about his obsession with the game while growing up in Coventry, England in the late seventies and eighties. And The Elfish Gene is very funny, indeed. There is a section involving balloons, butane (he calls it lighter gas, but I'm assuming it's butane) and matches as an attempt to throw fireballs that so well written, I cringed, shook my head and laughed at the same time. Barr ...more
Jan 13, 2009 Keith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Keith by: Al Billings
Fairly extensive coverage of the very early days of table-top role-playing games in a working-class region of the UK, in a narrative autobiographical style. The author was clearly scarred, and seems in part to blame the gaming culture, though he was clearly no less of a mess before discovering D&D, and not much less of a mess after moving on. "Bitter" doesn't begin to cover it though; his deprecation of both self and other quickly passes mere cynicism and speeds on into obnoxious prat. Never ...more
Feb 19, 2011 Ipswichblade rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't give this any less than 5 stars as it just reminded me of my youth. Not with Dungeons and Dragons games but other teenage boy obssessions. My main was was running imaginary football leagues and cups such as world leagues etc all with dice and paper. This has been superseded now by computer games just like the dungeons and dragons games. This book is so well written as it follows the writers obeseeion right through to the moment when he decides he has had enough. I suspect it was a book M ...more
Jan 20, 2009 Jasmine rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book had me laughing out loud at moments. Although I really think that you need to have experienced this world to truly appreciate the humor and the truth of this memoir. It speaks to anyone who has felt different tried so hard to be accepted and not accepted at the same time. Extra stars for the fire ball chapter... I know too many boys who fit this description!
Jul 20, 2008 Kirsty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was sucked in by the title, but the rest of the book did not disappoint. There was some clunky writing and it could have done with some restructuring, but I loved reading about the world of a nerdy Northern teen in the 70s.
Jeff Raymond
A British man’s childhood with Dungeons and Dragons. It had its moments, but I think my expectations for this book failed to match the reality.
On the Monday the school term began, and by the Tuesday the dark forces would take me. Family, friends, girls, food, everything would become as bright images receding into a void as I slipped into a shadow world from which I have never truly emerged. I would discover Dungeons and Dragons.

The thing is that, had I known my fate, I wouldn't have run away. I would have run towards it.


I've always had the habit of carrying something to read with me, never knowing when an opportunity might present
Dec 09, 2009 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange, author Mark Barrowcliffe presents his memoir of what it was like to grow up during the 70s in Coventry, England and being utterly, hopelessly, and unhealthily obsessed with the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. As someone who was himself once obsessed with D&D to the point of being able to recite entire blocks of text from the Monster Manual or tell you how many level 3 spells an 8th level Magic-User could cast, this was a ...more
Tom Lucas
Oct 15, 2013 Tom Lucas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
What attracted me about Mark's book was the the subtitle: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange. That and the local library had placed it prominently on a table marked "Nerds." I attempted to dodge the demographic tractor beam, but I failed the roll.

In the late 70s, I discovered two wonderful universes: Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons. I was solidly hooked by both. I spent my childhood through teen years gaming -- first fantasy, then sci-fi, superheroes, horror, humor...there was no genr
This is the funniest book I’ve read for years. The sort where if you’re reading it in a public place you have to bite your lips or cover your mouth. So much rang true, and even the photo on the cover flashed me back to my friends of those days. I never played D&D but I went through a few years of Napoleonic war games, where we’d meet every Sunday at a friend’s gaming room on the second floor of the lighthouse his parents lived in. But it was mostly his living in a fantasy world for his entir ...more
May 09, 2015 Jeff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange by Mark Barrowcliffe I thought was going to be some written reflections on growing up while playing Dungeons and Dragons the role playing game in the 1970's. And it is. But Mr. Barrowcliffe's reflections are not nostalgic or humorous about the game but rather this book ends up being more of a scathing indictment of his English neighborhood friends who played the game with him. Dungeons and Dragons i.e. D&D does not escape his wrath e ...more
Jun 26, 2013 Zack rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Synopsis: The coming-of-age story of a late 20th-century D&D nerd in Great Britain.

Thoughts: Gosh, I rather liked this one. Picture the scene: Coventry, England, late 1970s to early 1980s. British nationalism is on the rise; so is Punk, and Two-Tone Ska. Life is bleak and gray, and the country is paralyzed by a series of strikes by hospital workers, garbage collectors, and even grave diggers. Our author takes solace in the only way he sees available to him—tactical wargaming, and, eventually
P. Aaron Potter
Apr 20, 2012 P. Aaron Potter rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geek
The author is under the impression that Dungeons and Dragons caused, or exacerbated, his social problems as an adolescent and young adult. As other reviewers have noted, there's plenty of evidence that he has reversed cause and effect: fleeing his own maladjustment, the author escaped to a venue of fantasy and action which was easier for him to understand.

This would be bad enough, but the real tragedy of this book is the degree to which the author bends over backwards to ignore all the evidence
Jan 10, 2009 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an engaging, fun read -- often humorous and sometimes cringe-worthy -- about the author's childhood obsession with Dungeons & Dragons. It was pretty cool to read a memoir about D&D, combined with a look at 70s England.

My only criticism is below the spoiler line.


OK, my gripe about this book is the author's contention that not only do only nerds play roleplaying games, but the games in fact make people obsessive
May 12, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it
If I had grown up in the time period, this might have been my life. For me, it was the computer, some low level programming and the animated adventure game, rather than the D&D games of his youth. Which makes me identify quite easily with the author, a nerd who made no effort to hide it, and in fact was quite proud of his different interests, which were not shared by many of his peers. One difference, though, and I think a very interesting one -- his "strange" (word from title) obsession was ...more
Jan 22, 2010 Shane rated it really liked it
This was suggested by my favorite aunt Suzze - it looks hilarious.

I found this book to be very interesting and more than a couple times laugh out loud funny. At first I was really curious about the difference between the "beginnings of gaming" in another country but then I found that the whole thing was a completely different experience for Mr. Barrowcliffe.

You'll have to forgive me but reading this book has really made me want to write about my experiences.

It was really strange all the talk of
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Aka M.D. Lachlan.

He grew up in Coventry and studied at the University of Sussex. He worked as a journalist and also as a stand-up comedian before he started writing his first novel, Girlfriend 44. He lives and writes in Brighton, England and South Cambridgeshire. Ron Howard secured the film rights for Girlfriend 44 and Infidelity for First Time Fathers is in development with 2929.

Barrowcliffe achi
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“ obsession is a way for damaged people to damage themselves more.” 49 likes
“It's an odd fact of life that you don't really remember the good times all that well. I have only mental snapshots of birthday parties, skiing, beach holidays, my wedding. The bad times too are just impressions. I can see myself standing at the end of some bed while someone I love is dying, or on the way home from a girlfriend's after I've been dumped, but again, they're just pictures. For full Technicolor, script plus subtitles plus commemorative programme in the memory, though, nothing beats embarrassment. You tend to remember the lines pretty well once you've woken screaming them at midnight a few times.” 5 likes
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