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Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  676 Ratings  ·  146 Reviews
An amazing journey through the thriving worlds of fantasy and gaming.

In this enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former Dungeons & Dragons addict Ethan Gilsdorf embarks on a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future. He asks, Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Lyons Press (first published 2009)
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(showing 1-30)
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Apr 05, 2010 Michael rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2000s

Where should I begin?

At 4 or 5, finding that little "door" in my bedroom that I couldn't get open, and wondering what was behind it? Picturing lakes, dragons, probably characters from Rainbow Brite and He-Man, all hanging around together in a world of magic and peace?

At 9, too impatient to write actual stories, but drawing and coloring character after character, analyzing their personal attributes and naming each, and keeping them in a big binder? I had enough in there to make a comic book univ
Sep 18, 2009 Mark rated it it was ok
I'm wondering if I came to this book with the wrong expectations... my first instinct is to write a pithy/snarky blurb along the lines of "Watch THE GUILD, read some classic KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE... and you'll get more enjoyment than you would reading this book."

Why the negative reaction to what is, admittedly, a well-written series of glimpses into some seldom-seen corners of the fantasy gaming universe? The author encounters some interesting people and does a good job of talking about th
Dec 14, 2009 Kit rated it liked it
I didn't realize when I picked up this book that it would be, like Julie and Julia or The Year of Living Biblically, one of those "I gave myself a quest and wrote about it so that I could get a book published" books. In Gilsdorf's case, his quest is a mid-life-crisis fueled desire to find out if it's possible to go back to his geeky roots without being a geek. Or something like that. Unfortunately, although his story of growing up with a disabled mother could be very powerful if followed to its ...more
David Sarkies
Jul 22, 2011 David Sarkies rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Roleplayer Historians
Recommended to David by: Nobody really
Shelves: sociology
A subjective history of roleplaying
18 November 2009

Being a committed roleplayer when I saw this book (on sale at a bankrupt Borders Books) I purchased it and put it near the top of my reading list. I was a little disappointed though because even though it is a study of fantasy and gaming culture, it was quite subjective for my tastes and there was a lot comment about the author's life, and to be quite honest, the author seemed to be a little stuck up himself.
While he is correct that in the 70'
Elizabeth Licata
Oct 28, 2014 Elizabeth Licata rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book. What could be better than a former geek returning to the fold? Unfortunately, a few things quickly became apparent to me. First, as a geek, I am not the target audience. Second, Gilsdorf is projecting and occasionally states that he is “better than” any of the geeks present. I don’t mean better at being a geek. Just better. Stemming out of the second is my final revelation: Gilsdorf is very negative about the geek community as a whole for 95% of the book. Let’s look a ...more
Jan 09, 2010 Megan rated it it was ok
Okay, I'll admit it, I'm a geek. A total, Magic/D&D/Pathfinder playing, Doctor Who/Star Trek/anime watching, fantasy/scifi/manga reading, geek. I've never been to a convention, but I go to the Renaissance Festival* every year, and the bookcases in my den/office are covered in dragon statues.**

So nothing in this book was much of a surprise to me. Except some woman at Dragon*Con telling the author that Daleks are a Doctor Who/Stargate crossover creation (whaaaat? And I think he believed her).
Jennifer Ambrose
May 15, 2014 Jennifer Ambrose rated it did not like it
This book is full of self loathing and a total lack of respect for or perspective on Geek culture.

If you're not a geek, you can read this and be confused by the nerd references and/ or laugh at geeks (Har har...stupid geeks with their dice and their unicorns and their celibacy).

If you ARE a geek--like me--(Huzzah!), I think you'll just feel like you're being mocked by someone who used to be a part of the tribe and now is too busy blaming Geek culture for his own lack of social graces. This book
Heidi The Hippie Librarian
It made me sad that Ethan carried such angst about his gaming habits for so long. Yes, perhaps the start of his DnD experience coincided with his mother's illness, but I think that was just a synchronicity and not the only reason why he entered the world of fantasy. Some people are born wanting to see worlds beyond this one. Why that is, I don't know, I just know that it is so. Ethan suggests, in Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, that it takes trauma to send a person in that direction, I disagree ...more
Mar 30, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who is a gamer, was a gamer, knows a gamer, and loves a gamer
Shelves: non-fiction
Now that I've finished the book, I have to say that I'm disappointed. Gilsdorf doesn't end the book the way I would hope a book about fantasy and questing would end, with a winner and a resolution. But that's the entire point. Real life is murky; it has shades of grey that can't be resolved. There isn't a winner and there isn't a looser - maybe Spike said it best, "Life isn't bliss. Life is just this; it's living." For me, the ending I hoped for was a hope that I can find that ending for
Nov 18, 2011 Kayla rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this book with all the enthusiasm of a little kid on a shopping spree in a candy store. Literally. I devoured the first several chapters, and it accompanied me everywhere - to class, to the meeting of the Role Players Guild (of which I'm president), to the ER when the stomach flu hit me with all of the fury of Deathwing.

Then there was a point where it lost me, long before I actually gave up halfway through the chapter about World of Warcraft. As Gilsdorf's experiences with geek
Raequel Solomon
Jun 06, 2012 Raequel Solomon rated it liked it
well the good things about this book is that he got to travel all over the country and the world to persue and examine his geekiness and others. i liked how he talked to people from old school tabletop gamers to SCAdians and con-goers. i did appeal to the commentary on his childhood and adolescence dealing with both his mother's traumatic brain injury and the effect it had on his life and his own search for identity and purpose as an adult. it did satisfy the armchair cultural anthropologist in ...more
Cymberleah Dawne
Apr 08, 2010 Cymberleah Dawne rated it it was ok
I very rarely get over halfway through a book and not want to finish. Normally I know after the first few chapters if I want to keep going. This book suckered me in with the pathos of growing up with a broken mother, and I liked the concept of revisiting nerdy persuits after giving them up. What I did not like was the consistent navel-gazing and morose pondering that the author worried that he wad turning into one of "those people" every time he enjoyed one of the subjects of his chapter.
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Jan 08, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it
Although I enjoyed Gilsdorf's journey of self-reflection, I kept wanting to shake him and say 'PLEASE, stop caring so much about being thought of as nerdy or geeky!' Even in the end when he claims to embrace his childhood love of D&D and his wish to escape into Tolkien's Middle-Earth, he is still parenthetically saying "Just kidding, I'm not a nerd, I swear! That stuff is so uncool." In all of the geeky situations he observes (which range from Dragon*Con to a visit to New Zealand) he always ...more
Chris Turek
Nov 30, 2010 Chris Turek rated it it was ok
I had immensely high hopes for this book and I did enjoy much of it, though in the end it was unsatisfying. The author's endless lack of sure commitment to an interest (D&D, love, etc.) gave the subject matter a slightly removed intensity. He just never escaped the mood of being an outsider everywhere he went. Too lukewarm all around.
Dec 17, 2012 Jordan rated it liked it
Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is the story of the author’s journey to reclaim, or at least come to terms with his geeky hobbies and interests. It’s in turn entertaining and even emotionally affecting in spots. Yet it’s also hindered by the central belief that gaming and other geek hobbies are inherently childish, something the author never quite gets over.
Alexander SMith
Jan 30, 2017 Alexander SMith rated it it was amazing
Tells about the stigma faced by members of the LARP and RPG community, I can personally attest that what he talks about is true.
sara frances
Interesting enough but the errors about WoW drove me crazy. Human hunters? WTF!
Hannah Notess
Sep 12, 2012 Hannah Notess rated it it was ok
Shelves: armchair-travel
The descriptions of some of his sub-culture adventures are the best part. The psychological mumbling is weak. Interesting, but the force is not strong with this one.
Ethan Gilsdorf
I'm reading FROM this book. Does that count?
Nicolas Hall
Dec 27, 2016 Nicolas Hall rated it really liked it
A well presented peek into the world of gamers, role players and the path of the author through his childhood and now, as an adult, back to his D&D days. If I had one wish for this book it would be that the he had included a perspective of someone who had taken their past fantasy, D&D, childhood period of their lives and had found their way to making an adult life/career from it (writer, fantasy artist, RPG creator etc.) we're out here Ethan and it's not always a compromise or a sacrific ...more
AJ LeBlanc
I wanted to like this book.

I wanted to love it.

I wanted to cheer for Gilsdorf as he reclaimed his freak and geek, grabbed his dice and nerded the night away.

Instead I read through some 300 pages waiting for him to make a decision. ANY decision. Just make a decision, commit to it and become it. So, uhm, I guess there are spoilers coming, unless you agree with him and not me. Then there are still spoilers, but you think I’m way off base.

Gilsdorf starts of by reminiscing about his childhood and the
Dec 05, 2009 Abraham rated it liked it
Ethan Gilsdorf was heavy into Dungeons and Dragons as a teen, during the late seventies and early eighties. In his senior year of high school he discovered girls -- or rather one discovered him -- and so he set down his multi-colored dice and turned his back on Nerd-dom and Geekery.

But, a few years into his forties, he has an epiphany: hey, I should look back into D&D and other geeky stuff, then make a book about it! So he did and this is what came out of it all. The reader gets to follow a
Jul 15, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Part informative guide to fantasy and gaming culture, part engaging memoir about the author's journey through geekdom, Gilsdorf delivers a long needed book exploring many facets of gaming in a positive way. The story starts with teenage Gilsdorf's escape from "the Momster" (when he was 12, his mother suffered an aneurysm that left her crippled and with short term memory problems) through Dungeons & Dragons. Fast forward several years and as the author turns forty, he wonders if he's really l ...more
P. Aaron Potter
Apr 25, 2012 P. Aaron Potter rated it liked it
Shelves: geek
I'm beginning to think that the search for the Arkenstone of geek culture is less like a search for the One True Grail and more like panning for gold. Not in one of those rich, heavily flowing streams either, but in a rather narrow, shifty little trickle of a stream, which simultaneously depresses your optimism yet makes you airpunch when a goodly sized bit of gold dust sifts out in your pan.

It's a little odd that it's taken me this long to get to Gilsdorf's book. If you throw "geek culture" int
Jul 18, 2009 Beth rated it really liked it
When Ethan Gilsdorf was 17, he put down his 20-sided die in pursuit of girls, and by all appearances, gave nary a backwards glance to his roleplaying past as he moved forward to college and beyond. On the sly, however, he dabbled in geekdom like a tippler hiding his bottle in a brown paper - a few quarters in an arcade here... browsing the new editions of D&D Rulebooks there, checking out CCG like Magic: the Gathering.

Then, in 2001 Fellowship of the RIng came out, and he fell off the wagon.
Michael Parker
Mar 03, 2017 Michael Parker rated it liked it
This book starts as an ambitious quest to uncover the reason freaks and geeks use fantasy to escape reality. The protagonist doesn't make it. Maybe it's a question that can't be answered, or is too big a question for such small a book. Instead we get a series of vignettes with folks from the various gaming and roleplaying walks of life. Meh.
Dora J. Simpson
Sep 27, 2016 Dora J. Simpson rated it really liked it
A Non-gamer's Glimpse into a Fantasy World of Role Playing

This review is from: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms (Hardcover)
Fantasy Freaks is more than one man's discovery of the wide variety of gaming and role-playing options. Gilsdorf's journey across the great geek divide becomes a search of society's need for escapism, and his own need to reconcile the geek war within himself. It is a collectio
Dec 10, 2014 Paul rated it did not like it
Disclaimer: I didn't like this book, and didn't think it was worth finishing. I'll explain below, but if you want to know more about the whole book, maybe you should check out some reviews by people who made it all the way through.

Most of my complaints have already been echoed by all the other reviews. I really don't like how Gilsdorf tries to psychoanalyze all the subjects and find out what in their life drove them to such severe "escapism". He claims to be trying to appreciate the geek culture
Sep 01, 2009 Julie rated it liked it
Pre-read comment:
The author lives in my previous hometown of Somerville, MA, and I just saw him kick-off his book-tour at The Harvard Bookstore. It looks like it'll be a good read -- covering everything from his personal experiences as a gaming kid escaping his dysfunctional family, to the current world of D&D, LARPing, Harry Potter rock bands, Lord of the Rings books & movie fandom, cosplay, and medieval recreation.

It's an easy read and well-written.

This book is a personal jou
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Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the travel memoir / pop culture investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.

After playing Dungeons & Dragons religiously in the 1970s and 1980s, Ethan Gilsdorf went on to become a poet, teacher, critic and journalist. In the U.S. and in Paris, he’s worked as a
More about Ethan Gilsdorf...

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