Saturday, 18 June 2016

Book Review - Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks


We’re neither Fantasy Freaks nor Gaming Geeks

So once in a while I read a book that’s not fiction, as life gets busier, it tends to be once in a great while more than once in a while, but sometimes a book title will get my attention. 

This one got my attention…

Entitled Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, it charts the journey undertaken by Ethan Gilsdorf, a professional writer who found himself wondering why he’d found himself suddenly drawn back into the worlds of fantasy and gaming, and was unable to reconcile why he was heading back to the things that he did when he was a child.

In order to find what he was drawn to, he undertook a series of journeys, to countries both foreign and domestic, to examine different parts of the culture and see what part of it he was drawn to.  He went to GaryCon and there had a game with Frank Mentzer, he went to New Zealand to visit the places where they shot Lord of the Rings. He came to England to speak to the Tolkien society and he interviewed those who treat World of Warcraft as a life. He went to LARP gatherings and went venturing with the Society for Creative Anachronism.  He didn’t leave a stone unturned in his quest to see what it was all about…

But he didn’t get involved…

If there’s one constant through the entire book, it’s that he’s continually on the fringe of it, even when he’s surrounded by loads of people all being friendly and open towards him, he’s still sat at the back, keeping the strange at a distance.  He doesn’t present anyone in a completely bad light, he doesn’t make any immediate judgement calls on those he goes to see, but he doesn’t really get into it with them, he doesn’t throw himself into it, he sits back and looks at it in the manner of a Martian studying humanity from across the gulf of space, and it’s in that that I have the problem.

The language used throughout the book is strong, frequently we hear Obsession, Freaks, Warped, Regression, Escapism, Misfits, all words that I’ve heard on many an occasion and in many cases, had thrown at me, but the manner in which they’re used here suggests that he’s keeping the mainstream view even as he tries to find out more of those he’s talking to, it’s written so as to appeal to the people who aren’t in these hobbies, so that they can understand those who are different to them.

In the manner of children poking monkeys at the zoo…

I realise that the way I’m writing this may suggest that I have an issue with this, and to be fair…

I do...

If you’re going to make a clinical study of something, make a clinical study of it, don’t pretend to be its friend and then poke it.  If you’re going to join in, join in, get in there, try and figure out what it is that interests you about it.  Don’t get close and then poke it, and if you’re going to poke it, don’t then try and backtrack and pretend you weren’t poking…

I found a lot of the books narrative contradictory, he’ll be talking about going to a convention to see what people find interesting about it and then confess that he’s actually gone to try and (and I quote) bed his lady geek, he sees how online gaming has helped to bring some people out of their shell and then ponders if they’re going to fall over instantly if their crutch is removed.  It’s almost as if he was using the idea of exploring his inner child to be childish.

I’m writing this off the back of just finishing the book, and I know that it’s often better to consider things and then write what you think on reflection, but to be honest, I’ve just read through a few hundred pages of confusion, with no clearly defined conclusion other than “I’m not one of them, I’ve just buried all my LOTR figures in the village where they filmed it, I’m going to go be a grown up now…” and if that’s the conclusion he reached at the end of his journey, fine, be happy with it, wish you well and long to live with it.

But for anyone else looking to write a book on gamer culture, please, actually get in the boat with us, rather than watching it from the lighthouse where all you get are isolated glimpses that don’t reflect anything but waves being made.


  1. I think the "outside looking in" approach was used by the author to try to give some semblance of journalistic integrity.
    That being said, I agree that at times he came off exactly as you said. Almost as if he were a barker at the carnival, enticing the rubes to come see the freak show.
    Given that previous books that examined RPGs and the people who play them usually were hack jobs to "warn people" of the "dangers" of D&D, I'll take this one.

    1. But wouldn't it be nice if just once, someone from outside was bold enough to step in the cage, rather than just sitting in the observation lounge?