Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms
By Ethan Gilsdorf
I wanted to like this book. What could be better than a former geek returning to the fold? Unfortunately, a few things quickly became apparent to me. First, as a geek, I am not the target audience. Second, Gilsdorf is projecting and occasionally states that he is “better than” any of the geeks present. I don’t mean better at being a geek. Just better. Stemming out of the second is my final revelation: Gilsdorf is very negative about the geek community as a whole for 95% of the book. Let’s look at these individually.
I realized I was not the target audience for this when, in the first chapter, there was a pronunciation note for “d20”. How did he think I was going to say it, “duh-two-zero”? That was quickly followed by an explanation of what a convention is, who Weird Al is, and that the LotR movies are based on books. By chapter three, I knew this wasn’t written for me. But who was it written for? That I’m still not sure on. If a book on geek culture isn’t for geeks, presumably it’s an evangelistic piece to get more people interested, right? That would make sense if it weren’t for Gilsdorf’s dismissive language about geek culture. He calls Tolkien “the original nerd” (which is highly disputable) and then says his chosen profession of philologist is “mundane”, which I felt to be insulting not only to Tolkien but to anyone who enjoys philology. Why would you include such a prescriptive descriptor of an entire field of study? The author constantly distances himself from his subject matter as if to say “Look at these crazy people. Aren’t you glad you aren’t one of them?” It was infuriating.
At the beginning of the book, Gilsdorf says that he played D&D, quoted Monty Python and was generally a geek until he was a senior in high school and got a girlfriend. Then he pretty well stopped being a geek, became cool, and didn’t really look back until he was nearly 40. Now he’s going to examine geek culture as an adult to see how it has changed and possibly gain some perspective on his childhood. All well and good. The problem is that Gilsdorf repeated states his own self-loathing and then projects it on the people he meets. The only possible reason that he can imagine to enjoy fantasy is escapism. In fact, he is surprised when geeks are well adjusted people. This continuously irked me. He is a journalist; isn’t there supposed to be some level of objectivity in writing?
He admits that he doesn’t participate wholeheartedly in things saying that “it’s just too nerdy for me”. Then he proceeds to subtly mock those who do, wondering what they’re running from in their real lives. It never seems to enter his head that perhaps we aren’t running from anything.
There are a few moments when he breaks away from this. He mentions how the geek community is more welcoming to the LBGT community than many others, how games can aid people with disabilities, and how role-playing can teach you about courage, chivalry, and honor. Every time he would do this, I would desperately hope it signaled the turning point in his attitude. After all, this was a semi-memoir. They often have changes of heart. I had to wait until the afterward. That is the only place in the whole book where he is positive about the geek community without apology.
I don’t often hate books but for this one, I make an exception. Don’t bother reading this book. Read Geektastic. Watch The Guild. Talk to geeks. Play a game. Read a fantasy novel. Pretty much any introduction to geek culture is better than this one.