Sunday, 3 July 2016

Of Dice and Men - Book Review


So having started with Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks and been disheartened, I tried The Elvish Gene and became further downhearted.  It did seem that all people wanted to write about the hobby I love so much was how toxic it had been for them, and how people shouldn't associate with those who are different from normal people...

A few people suggested this latest book, and I have to say that I'm very happy that they did, for this book isn't a recovery letter, or a list of childhood woes, but is a celebration of the things that are good in gaming.

The title is Of Dice and Men, like Of Mice and Men, but with a far more upbeat ending...

Throughout the book, two stories are woven together into a single tale.  The first is the tale of how the author came to reconnect with gaming after a ten year break.  The second is the story of the game that he played when he was younger and how the two relate to each other. Not the first time I've seen things done this way, but the two stories mesh well together.

It does start very much as the other two did, from the point of view of an adult looking back over his time playing games when he was younger, but where the first two books focused on the notion of how different is not a good thing, and how D&D was responsible for many of their problems, this one only has the slight hesitation anyone would have in going back into something they left behind a long time ago, and only then because he, like the others, feared he might be sucked back into it and how his social status would change due to others viewing him as a Fantasy Freak or Gaming Geek...

That said, he was also doing it to get an exclusive for his day job, so the reasons weren't entirely altruistic, but still, he presents a far more balanced view of the hobby, there aren't any snide comments, any points where he's clearly on the outside of the ring pointing inwards, he does get back into gaming and he makes the effort to be completely immersed in what he's doing.

He just didn't want anyone pointing at him and laughing...

On a deep level, that resonated with me. I've been gaming most of my life, I've had moments where teachers laughed at me because a bunch of bullies bent one of my game books, and although I've never given it up, until recent years, I've had to have a strong skin when it came to telling people what I do in my spare time, so the idea that someone who's been out of it might be nervous getting back in is entirely understandable.

He did delve into Wargaming, and didn't like it much, wanted more freedom in his endeavours, but he does say how he can understand that love of maths and precision, that attention to detail that many Wargamers possess, but that it wasn't for him.

Then he went to find out how D&D had evolved in the time since he'd played as a child, and how he was invited to see the new D&D being made, the differences between what he'd seen then and what it is now, and a healthy dose of name dropping along the way as he went to Gary Con, Gencon, and a number of other conventions.

However, at no point did he write like he was an outsider looking in, and I can't stress enough how much of a big thing that is in a book that's available to the general public.  He didn't talk about them, those, that but us, we, ours, and that language is a powerful point in the book.  Someone reading this would be in no doubt that this person identifies as one of us, and by the end of the book, he's not talking about going back to his safe life, his happy place away from gaming, he's talking about the next adventure...

And he's definitely a 5th edition fan...

And a world builder...

And an inverterate Mapper...

There's a good discussion of the Satanic Panic of the 1980's, how TSR went up and then came down, and all the business points that led to this being the massive hobby we know it to be, but there's also the down to earth discussions of what to do about troublesome players (without listing off their personal issues), and how damaging certain perceptions of geeks and gamers are when you're outside the hobby.

He even goes so far (as if he were writing an article that required proof) as to document the references he's made, the stories he researched, and the studies that he read so that others can see that what he's saying is not just his own meanderings, but the result of arduous research.

Overall, this is an excellent book, it's written with a view of telling the world who we are and what we do, but it's written as if we were already welcoming the reader into our world, and I've got a lot of time for that, because that's what all the games I know always do...

Well Recommended...

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