Michael'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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Apr 05, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: 2000s
Read from June 29 to July 05, 2010


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 universe of my own, although it would be a derivative and lame universe. But, hey. I was 9.

Or maybe at 11, when I first played a roleplaying game? Or 13, when I first designed one and blackmailed friends into playing? It took me years to realize it pisses characters off when you kill them completely at random; I started off a cruel and Old Testament sort of GM.

Playing Magic: the Gathering for the first time at 12? My first attempt at a fantasy novel at 14? My first pseudo-finished gaming system at 16?

I don't know where to start, but I know what might be the most poignant moment: at 23 or 24, after the roof of the cafeteria I worked at literally blew away in a tornado, and I was suddenly on unemployment, was still in school full-time and couldn't find a job. It was not a happy time, and a couple of my friends were going through similar situations.

Anyway, we were in the unemployment line, which took hours to get through. And the whole time, we were talking animatedly about the RPG I was GMing at the time. My friends were asking about aspects of the world, discussing their characters, remembering moments from earlier games. . . it was a time in my life full of stress and uncertainty, and that game was my only complete escape from the rough reality I was living through.

I would qualify as both a fantasy freak and a gaming geek, and I'm not exactly in the closet about it. So, Gilsdorf was preaching to the choir with me. . . but he wasn't doing anything as firm as preaching. This book is less a thorough analysis of the gamer/medieval geek mindset, and MORE an analysis of Gilsdorf and his struggle to move forward in his life. That is, his struggle to decide if the form of escapism he was involved in was healthy or unhealthy. In this search, he goes to conventions, games with gamers, interviews (and plays with) Warcraft players, attends reenactments, helps build a castle with only the tools of the middle ages, and gives at least a dozen handjobs to Tolkien. Seriously. Motherfucker goes to New Zealand so he can see the locations they filmed parts of the movie on, and in what was probably the uber-geek moment of the entire book, sets up his LoTR toys in the same spot the actors had been for one of the scenes and then took some pictures. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The book was quite entertaining, honestly, until the final couple chapters. Then, I got a headache from all the eye-rolling I was doing. Why was I eye-rolling? I'm glad you asked!

Each chapter tracks a certain geeky trend, and each chapter is interesting, other than they don't develop into a complex analysis of geekery, unless this counts: "Fantasizing like geeks do is fun, and it's not that much different from an obsession with professional sports or making model airplanes." So, if you want some weak-ass attempt to evade geek-related guilt, this is the book for you. Since I'm pretty comfortable in my own geeky skin, I didn't find this insight to be very, um, insightful.

Anyone who has taught an English course, and probably anyone who has taken one, has read one of those papers where the author wrote the whole thing and then realized it wasn't focused enough to write a conclusion that really wrapped things up. Oftentimes, the author just farts out some bullshit that they think sounds passable and turns it in, hoping the teacher doesn't notice. The teacher DOES notice, every time. Apparently, the publisher didn't.

Then, he fails in what he seemed to be REALLY trying to do: show his personal evolution through this GeekQuest. Why does he fail in this? Because he doesn't become comfortable with his geekdom, nor does he decide to become a muggle. He . . . well, he doesn't really decide ANYTHING. The book just kind of whimpers out with a bunch of lame geek metaphors, and then dies and flops over on its back, twitching on your carpet. I get the feeling a deadline came up faster than Gilsdorf expected it to, and instead of getting an extension, he shat some inanities onto the page and shipped it out.

That said, I realized after finishing the book that it ends with a glossary of geek terminology. I was simultaneously proud and concerned that I hadn't needed to reference the glossary at any point before then, and that I knew every term except for one. Hmm, perhaps I HAVEN'T reached a totally guilt-free state of geekiness. . .
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08/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! sets up his LoTR toys in the same spot the actors had been for one of the scenes and then took some pictures.

Ahahahahhaaa!


message 2: by J.G. Keely (new)

J.G. Keely I always take umbrage at the way people suggest that roleplaying or videogame realities are 'escapist' and 'unhealthy' despite the fact that they are no more inherently escapist than books, films, radioplays, the opera, or what-have-you.

Sure, a lot of people use them that way, but the same could be said of any medium. To some degree, they are there to engage and entertain us, and that's not a bad thing. Intellectual pursuits and metaphysical poems can be entertaining, and you'll find few men more deeply ensconced in an imaginary world that Socrates, Shakespeare, Milton, or Newton.

I went through all the geek stuff, Magic Cards, D&D, endless Dragonlance novels, Tolkien, Comic Books, WOD, but I feel I came out of them more aware of the world around me, not less.

Sure, some people use roleplaying like they would use Twilight: something repetitive and melodramatic that takes your attention and your time, and come out of them no better than they went in.

But there are some people out there who treat the medium like The Conquest of Gaul, or Machiavelli, or The Tale of Genji, or the Mort D'Arthur. Some of us use roleplaying to explore ideas, myths, history, and human psychology, like any author or artist. There are no inherently simplistic or unintelligent media, only those limited by their users.

Thanks for the review.


Michael Very well put, Keely. The rules to Magic are intricate enough that anyone who can remember and explain them clearly could transition into law school pretty smoothly. An exaggeration, of course, but anyone who has played will know what I mean.

D & D teaches skills useful for any creative writer, and I know that my own writing has improved through all the worldbuilding I did as a GM. And Warcraft. . . well, you can use it to learn how to work as part of a team, or you can use it to perfect being a prick. They can be used negatively or positively, like you said.

Thanks for the terrific comments. And thanks for the maniacal laughter, Eh! There's never enough of that.


message 4: by J.G. Keely (new)

J.G. Keely I don't think I would have done half as well in calculus if I hadn't had to come to terms with Thac0, Saving Throw progressions, and all the rest as a kid.


message 5: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal My parents made me throw out my D&D stuff when I was 13. Thought I was going to halberd them in their sleep. I wept bitterly.


message 6: by J.G. Keely (new)

J.G. Keely That's so sad. Mine's still in my mom's barn, though that's 2000 miles away now. I did find all the old 2nd ed stuff on pdf, though. It's fun to look through now and again, even if I rarely play that system these days.

My longtime friend and game collaborator almost didn't get to start playing at all, his parents weren't sure if it was 'evil' or not. Luckily, a guy at their church shared a story with them about how much fun he had as a kid, and how no one mistook it for real life.


message 7: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal It probably worked out for the best -- I'd just discovered masturbation. I threw down in the conjugal bed a few times to get back at them (using an image of a succubus as source material, so maybe they were right after all).


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Esteban wrote: "It probably worked out for the best -- I'd just discovered masturbation. I threw down in the conjugal bed a few times to get back at them (using an image of a succubus as source material, so maybe ..."

Oh shit, this is the funniest thing I've read all day. It's early though.


message 9: by Ellen (last edited Jul 10, 2010 07:34AM) (new)

Ellen Michael wrote: The book just kind of whimpers out with a bunch of lame geek metaphors, and then dies and flops over on its back, twitching on your carpet. I get the feeling a deadline came up faster than Gilsdorf expected it to, and instead of getting an extension, he shat some inanities onto the page and shipped it out.

And this is pretty funny, too, and the way I've felt about how a few books have ended - not with a bang but a whimper.

A witty and interesting review.


Michael "It probably worked out for the best -- I'd just discovered masturbation."

D & D totally cuts into your masturbation time. Unless you have a very open group of friends you play with.


Michael Thanks for the kind words, Ellen!


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