MJ Nicholls's Reviews > The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange

The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe
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's review
Mar 01, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction, virtual-insanity, sassysassenachs
Read from February 14 to March 01, 2011

I’m doing some early research for a possible creative non-fiction book about gaming addiction. I spent my childhood hooked on Sega Mega Drive and Playstation games, withdrawing from the outside world into a realm of spinning hedgehogs and spinning bandicoots.

I can relate, then, to the author of this memoir, who spent his teenhood hooked on Dungeons & Dragons. The central difference between an addiction to an RPG like this and video games is human contact. The RPG involves interacting with other people, being very theatrical and confident in yourself. The video game supports a withdrawal into isolation.

Partly since my experience was much less colourful than his, I find it hard to take his addiction seriously. What he describes is a strange and funny childhood: intense, certainly, but hardly traumatic and sad. I understand his disappointment in real life vs. the fantasy world, but you have to wonder at his lack of any self-control. (Did his parents even care?) For the most part he is allowed to run free and his behaviour goes ludicrously unchecked. An absence of any self-consciousness seems to have hurt him in his post-D&D years.

Anyway: this isn’t a very well-written book. Too much psychiatric couch analysis, off-hand anecdotal pub-fodder, and a general tone of wistful regret and self-doubt strip the work of narrative oomph. A little passion and flavour would help save the book from its tone of a depressed stand-up comic riffing on his youth in some smoky pub. I haven’t read his fiction books, but you would expect more from a writer’s memoir.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Katzman I was a huge D&D player through middle school and high school. There was nothing particularly addictive about it other than that it was AWESOME. I would imagine that people can be addicted to just about anything if they have addictive personalities. I credit D&D as a foundation for my lifelong creative talents.

message 2: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls Well now that is interesting. The author of this book doesn't mention the impact D&D had on his creative life. He's the author of four lit-fic books and a fantasy novel, yet he never mentions how the storytelling learned in his teenhood impacted on his writing life. That's what is missing from this book: any positive reflection.

message 3: by David (new)

David Katzman Too bad. He seems so ashamed of his experiences. D&D had many positive aspects. When you were the Dungeon Master (if you took it seriously), you had to invent whole worlds, considering how the country was structured, map it, create kingdoms, territories, etc. Then map out individuals adventures within that world, consider play balance, variety, tricks and traps and so on. DMs and players alike had the true roleplaying opportunity where you voice your character and interact. There is a lot of improv and problem solving. I mean, hell, you can even paint your tiny lead figures. I ended up a writer, actor/improvisor, artist. D&D didn't necessarily make me that way but all the precursors were there.

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