Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

I recently had the chance to read the book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf. As the title indicates, the book covers swaths of geekdom including Tolkien, Tabletop, LARP, SCA, Online Gaming, Conventions, and even Guédelon Castle.

Gilsdorf was an avid Tolkien and D&D oficianato as a child, and often used these things to escape things in real life, most notably being his mother who suffered a brain aneurysm, changing her personality and crippling her. In college, he drops the fantasy and gaming until he has a mid-life crisis-esque event in which he returns to gaming and fantasy 20 years after he last played D&D. As a journalist, he vows to pursue as many gaming/fantasy endeavors as possible in order to see if he's still a gamer after all these years.

There are some things I really liked about the book. Throughout the entire book, I was well aware of Gilsdorf's journalism background. In each of his geek topics, he interviews one or two people and does these interviews very well. It's tough to be biased, but he never demonizes or degrades anyone he's talking to, whether it's the Mom with the WOW problem, the guys at the Gygax convention, or LARPers. He seems to spend the right amount of time on each topic before moving on (for the most part). And, of course, the topics are quite interesting and not super common in reading materials.

However, there are parts of the book that I skipped outright or breezed over. Whenever Gilsdorf got onto an editorial slant or talked about his personal life, it was hard to take him seriously. At times, he would lament the lack of romantic relationships, to the point where he pretty much was trolling for tail at Dragon Con. I skipped the chapter about dating gamers, because it seemed boring and unnecessary towards his major premise, which was supposed to be escapism.

I say supposed to be, because Gilsdorf must have run into a deadline at the end, writing the last three chapters in a Red-Bull induced fever dream. The book spins wildly out of control in these chapters, as he seems to have trouble putting a coherent conclusion together about his story. At one point, he says that all gaming is a good form of escapism, then he says video games aren't, then he goes back to saying they are. Then, after the final chapter, he has another faux chapter that continues to try and state a conclusion but ends up further convoluting his point.

Ultimately, I give the book 3/5.

If you dig reading and are interested in any of the geeky topics above, I'd suggest reading the book, but don't force yourself through the Grizzly Man parts of the book where he sidetracks to "I need a girlfriend.". It's difficult to find a book that covers even one of these topics in ernest, which makes the book very refreshing despite its flaws.

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