#34: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf

I wanted to like this book.

I wanted to love it.

I wanted to cheer for Gilsdorf as he reclaimed his freak and geek, grabbed his dice and nerded the night away.

Instead I read through some 300 pages waiting for him to make a decision.  ANY decision.  Just make a decision, commit to it and become it.  So, uhm, I guess there are spoilers coming, unless you agree with him and not me.  Then there are still spoilers, but you think I’m way off base.

Gilsdorf starts of by reminiscing about his childhood and the role D&D had in protecting him from reality, providing him with friends, and creating an outlet where he could control situations while giving in to fantasy.

Later he discovers girls and puts away such childish things.  (Fool.)

Then he gets to be about 40, questions everything about his ability to be in a successful relationship and decides he needs to examine his early love of gaming to figure out where it all went wrong.  Or figure out if he can become a gamer again and be happy.  Or make fun of nerds and be happy.  Or figure out what in the holy hell he needs to do to be in love and be happy.

I want him to be happy.

He starts with Tolkien and his love for Lord of the Rings.  The movies are what drew him back to his freaky-geeky roots and he meets with hardcore Tolkien society members.  He talks to people about their passion for the books and the movies and the man and tries to figure out where the line is between “acceptable appreciation” and “basement dwelling creature” when it comes to being a fan of something.

He then realizes he can write a book by spending time examining different areas of freak and geek.  So he travels.

  • Tolkien
  • D&D
  • Gygax, GenCon (too scary), LGGC IV and tabletop RPGs
  • LARPing
  • Freak/Geek couples -or- Can Nerds Find Love?
  • The Guedelon worksite in France
  • Wizard Rock
  • Pennsic and the SCA
  • WoW and other MMORPGs
  • Dragon*Con
  • New Zealand…for more Lord of the Rings
  • Attempt to put all of these experiences together to figure out his life and the role of freak and geek in the real world.

As a nerd, this list makes me salivate.  The idea of having this much time and money to explore and learn more and go to cons and play games and play games and play games and read books in England and New Zealand and talk about games and play more games and talk to people who love LARPing and being in the SCA and listening to nerd music and playing games is too much for my brain to handle without me getting twitchy fingers.  But the entire time Gilsdorf is there, he’s hesitant and apologetic to the non-nerds who might be reading and he doesn’t want them to know he’s not really one of Those Freaks Over There and ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  You are doing AWESOME THINGS, so shut up and ENJOY YOURSELF.

It drove me crazy  because I felt like every time Gilsdorf started to feel comfortable as a gamer or a nerd or a freak or a geek, he’d convince himself that it was socially unacceptable and he’d run away and point out the parts of the culture that don’t work out so well.  It felt like he was trying really hard not to get stuffed in a locker.  And even when he was jealous of what some of the freaks and geeks had, he still kept himself distanced.  It was Him versus Them.  He might understand the Thems, but he didn’t want to be a Them.  Too much Cheeto dust on the fingertips, I guess.

He meets freaks that have fallen in love, not by changing their freak and geek selves, but because they ARE freaks and geeks.  He seems to decide that this kind of love isn’t for him, or that he’ll find it immediately and it will be easy and wonderful and will happen without thought or work.  So he shrugs and moves on.

The entire book isn’t a loss.  He does force himself to confront his belief system and articulate what he wants.  I just wanted him to jump in the air, claim his freakness and rejoin the land of Gamer.

And, as a geek, it was fun to read because I enjoy watching people try to explain what in the heck we’re doing.  I did wonder from time to time if he was over- or under- explaining things.  Did I understand more because I already knew what the letters meant?  If a non-geek was reading this book (but why would he or she???) would they be confused and frustrated?  Did hardcore geeks get frustrated because Gilsdorf was explaining things that were painfully obvious… to them?  There is a glossary in the back which makes it feel that this is a guide book to people who are not freaks and geeks, but are curious to know what goes on behind closed basement doors.

Gilsdorf is never cruel, even when he’s completely uncomfortable.  While he keeps that clear line of Him versus Them, he never mocks the geek, even if he might point out that he sees it as absurd.

I just really wish he had fallen in love with his D&D self again and gone back to the gaming store to play.

One response to “#34: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf

  1. Pingback: pyrajane’s #34: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf | Cannonball Read III

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