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

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf
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Dec 11, 09

bookshelves: misc-non-fiction, biographies
Read in December, 2009

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 along as the author explores D&D (an old tabletop, paper-and-pencil game, wherein a group of players travel through dungeons and defeat monsters; the precursor to MMOs), LARPs (Live Action Role Playing: basically D&D, but you dress up and run around the woods; D&D "for real"), the SCA (the Society for Creative Anachronism: Renaissance Fair-type stuff, though no one gets paid), Dragon*Con (an SF and Fantasy convention, wherein people dress up and meet "stars"), MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games), and even New Zealand (aka, Middle Earth -- sort of).

I have always been curious about geeks and what you might call "geek culture." And yes, I have been called a "geek" and a "nerd" -- though, these days, who hasn't? So, as they say, this book is relevant to my interests. Yet, somehow, I have never participated or even been particularly interested in any of the things this book discusses -- I haven't even read any of the Middle Earth/Tolkien books. Reading this book draws me towards some of these activities and away from others: I promise, here and now, to at least read The Hobbit; MMOs seem as repulsive as ever; D&D is a "maybe someday"; and I still haven't made up my mind on all those other, costume-y affairs.

This book does a decent job of portraying each group and activity while staying fairly objective about it. Of course, it's not exactly the doom and gloom of some zealot parent groups and the like, but the author seems forever sceptical. Throughout, there is a discussion of escapism: does the goofy stuff these people do qualify as escapism? Is escapism a healthy release of our inner urges and struggles, or does it make things worse? In the end, I think the author and I agree that it's all pretty harmless stuff -- and maybe even beneficial in some cases. Sure, they may look like goofballs, but they're not hurting anyone -- and no one's mind is seriously warped from, say, spending a week out in the woods, dressed as a knight or maiden. And, hey, maybe they'll encounter some kindred spirits -- it's no secret that many geeks have married someone they discovered at some geeky activity or other.

And yes, as has already been said by others, the author laces the descriptions of the people and activities he discovers on his travels with his own, somewhat whiny story. Can he grow up and become a family man? Does he even want to? Honestly, I don't care. Honestly, why should I? He is just another in the pack, another writer, and can't seem to accept that. Nor can he accept that he is much less interesting than his chosen topics, and, often times, less interesting than the people he encounters. Why must everything somehow relate back to him?

Ignoring this, and the author's other deficiencies as a writer, is fairly easy. Things don't always flow easily, some lines or paragraphs could be better stated, but he is competent. He gets his point across -- at least enough to teach me a few things and get me interested in his chosen topics.

In summation: Three stars.

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