What I’ve Been Reading: Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks

(Since I was recently taunted about the fact that I haven’t posted anything here since August, and I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, here you go.)

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

It’s been a few months since I picked up this book at Dragon*Con (and mainly because I’d seen so many fliers for it), but I finally got around to reading it.

Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks is one man’s quest to investigate, firsthand and in-depth, the various subcultures and hobbies within fantasy, sci-fi, and gaming culture. I generally like the other books I’ve read that use that style and approach (Daniel Radosh’s Rapture Ready!, A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically, and Zack Parson’s Your Next Door Neighbor Is a Dragon), and while they’re often as much about how the subculture affects the author as anything else, the investigation in FF&GG is inextricably tied to the author’s own narrative. That makes it hard to read in some cases (for example, the introduction is a bit unexpected and emotionally heavy), but the personal quest angle makes it far more interesting than a series of essays on fandom.

Ethan Gilsdorf grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons and reading Tolkein, which often provided an escape from the difficulties of his teenage years. Eventually he grew out of it, and much of this book is really him questioning whether he missed out on anything by giving up geekdom in his 20’s and whether he’s really ready to abandon it for good in his 40’s. Over the course of the book, he visits J.R.R. Tolkein’s home in Oxford, a gaming convention in Wisconsin (where Gary Gygax founded TSR), the Society for Creative Anachronism’s annual Pennsic War, a LARP weekend, Guédelon, France (where a group of people are re-creating the building of a medieval castle), Dragon*Con, and the New Zealand landmarks where The Lord of the Rings was filmed. He also discusses online gaming (mainly WoW) over the course of two chapters. Admittedly, it’s not as impressive or interesting for me as some of the other subject matter, but he’s thorough, giving a voice to both proponents who feel empowered by the phenomenon and detractors who have suffered addiction.

Monster Camp

For a veteran of D&D and computer gaming, it’s a fresh perspective on a culture I’m already familiar with and a reminder of how much I might have missed out on by settling into my own little niche. The book made me a little sad that Dragon*Con was 10 away; Gilsdorf’s trip was in 2008, which was my second visit to the con. It made me want to take another trip to a major gaming convention like Origins. And yes, I may take crap for this, but it made me want to go to an SCA or LARP event, if only once to see what it’s like. (To be fair, I don’t see how you can go wrong with that mix of camping and gaming. And I think I’d rather volunteer with plot than take center-stage.)

For those outside the genre, it might be an interesting introduction for you, but it’s a bit extreme. Many of the people in this book are not the kids who meet at the local gaming shop every weekend to play D&D. Many of these people are making a serious commitment that most people don’t have the time for. However, it is a glimpse into the mind of fandom.

Incidentally, that brings me to Monster Camp, a documetary I got for Christmas this year. It follows several different participants (both players and plot) at the NERO Seattle LARP group.

It could almost be a companion piece to this book. In addition to showing what a typical LARP is like, it delves into the various participants lives both in- and out-of-game. Why they play. How they play. How it affects their lives outside the game. It takes place over the course of a couple of years, so you see people moving from role to role–either to different player characters, or from player to plot member, or what have you.