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An amazing journey through the thriving worlds of fantasy and gaming. In this enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former Dungeons & Dragons addict Ethan Gilsdorf embarks on a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future. He asks, Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the irr An amazing journey through the thriving worlds of fantasy and gaming. In this enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former Dungeons & Dragons addict Ethan Gilsdorf embarks on a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future. He asks, Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the irresistible appeal of such "escapist" adventures? And what could one man find if he embarked on a journey through one fantasy world after another? In Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, Gilsdorf crisscrosses America, the world, and other worlds--from Boston to Wisconsin, France to New Zealand, and Planet Earth to Middle-earth to the realm of Aggramar. He asks D&D players, LARPers, medieval re-eanctors, World of Warcraft players, Harry Potter fans and convention goers--old, young, male, female, able-bodied and disabled--what attracts them to fantasy worlds, and for what reasons. What he discovers is funny, poignant, and enlightening.


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An amazing journey through the thriving worlds of fantasy and gaming. In this enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former Dungeons & Dragons addict Ethan Gilsdorf embarks on a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future. He asks, Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the irr An amazing journey through the thriving worlds of fantasy and gaming. In this enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former Dungeons & Dragons addict Ethan Gilsdorf embarks on a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future. He asks, Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the irresistible appeal of such "escapist" adventures? And what could one man find if he embarked on a journey through one fantasy world after another? In Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, Gilsdorf crisscrosses America, the world, and other worlds--from Boston to Wisconsin, France to New Zealand, and Planet Earth to Middle-earth to the realm of Aggramar. He asks D&D players, LARPers, medieval re-eanctors, World of Warcraft players, Harry Potter fans and convention goers--old, young, male, female, able-bodied and disabled--what attracts them to fantasy worlds, and for what reasons. What he discovers is funny, poignant, and enlightening.

30 review for Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms

  1. 4 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    Ethan Gilsdorf carried angst about his gaming habits for various reasons for years. This book could have been a healing for him, but he doesn't seem to take that leap. It made me sad. Yes, perhaps the start of his DnD experience coincided with his mother's illness, but I think that was not the only reason why he entered the world of fantasy. Some people are born wanting to see worlds beyond this one. Why that is, I don't know. I just know that it is so. Ethan suggests, in Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Ethan Gilsdorf carried angst about his gaming habits for various reasons for years. This book could have been a healing for him, but he doesn't seem to take that leap. It made me sad. Yes, perhaps the start of his DnD experience coincided with his mother's illness, but I think that was not the only reason why he entered the world of fantasy. Some people are born wanting to see worlds beyond this one. Why that is, I don't know. I just know that it is so. Ethan suggests, in Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, that it takes trauma to send a person in that direction, I disagree. I think some of us were born that way. :) The content of the book is excellent. He travels from the UK to New Zealand and everywhere inbetween to find people who are engaging in LARPS, SCA, Tolkien, gamer conventions, WoW, EverQuest, and more. I loved his interviews with the man/woman on the street. He'd ask why they were doing whatever it was they were doing and they'd answer with conviction. There's something very satisfying in reading personal statements by passionate people. The enthusiasm nearly drips from the pages. I loved that. I was hoping that Ethan would learn from all of these people who absolutely loved what they were doing with no regrets. But, he seemed to go to his default mode of judging and self-pity rather than expansion. Ethan made some steps towards self realization at the end of the book, but I wish he had gone further. If you enjoy this book or topic, may I suggest Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. It's a non-fiction read about Dungeons and Dragons. It lacks the comprehensive nature of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, but David Ewalt carries none of the emotional baggage of Ethan Gilsdorf so it feels more light-hearted.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Where should I begin? At 4 or 5, finding that little "door" in my bedroom that I couldn't get open, and wondering what was behind it? Picturing lakes, dragons, probably characters from Rainbow Brite and He-Man, all hanging around together in a world of magic and peace? At 9, too impatient to write actual stories, but drawing and coloring character after character, analyzing their personal attributes and naming each, and keeping them in a big binder? I had enough in there to make a comic book univ Where should I begin? At 4 or 5, finding that little "door" in my bedroom that I couldn't get open, and wondering what was behind it? Picturing lakes, dragons, probably characters from Rainbow Brite and He-Man, all hanging around together in a world of magic and peace? At 9, too impatient to write actual stories, but drawing and coloring character after character, analyzing their personal attributes and naming each, and keeping them in a big binder? I had enough in there to make a comic book universe of my own, although it would be a derivative and lame universe. But, hey. I was 9. Or maybe at 11, when I first played a roleplaying game? Or 13, when I first designed one and blackmailed friends into playing? It took me years to realize it pisses characters off when you kill them completely at random; I started off a cruel and Old Testament sort of GM. Playing Magic: the Gathering for the first time at 12? My first attempt at a fantasy novel at 14? My first pseudo-finished gaming system at 16? I don't know where to start, but I know what might be the most poignant moment: at 23 or 24, after the roof of the cafeteria I worked at literally blew away in a tornado, and I was suddenly on unemployment, was still in school full-time and couldn't find a job. It was not a happy time, and a couple of my friends were going through similar situations. Anyway, we were in the unemployment line, which took hours to get through. And the whole time, we were talking animatedly about the RPG I was GMing at the time. My friends were asking about aspects of the world, discussing their characters, remembering moments from earlier games. . . it was a time in my life full of stress and uncertainty, and that game was my only complete escape from the rough reality I was living through. I would qualify as both a fantasy freak and a gaming geek, and I'm not exactly in the closet about it. So, Gilsdorf was preaching to the choir with me. . . but he wasn't doing anything as firm as preaching. This book is less a thorough analysis of the gamer/medieval geek mindset, and MORE an analysis of Gilsdorf and his struggle to move forward in his life. That is, his struggle to decide if the form of escapism he was involved in was healthy or unhealthy. In this search, he goes to conventions, games with gamers, interviews (and plays with) Warcraft players, attends reenactments, helps build a castle with only the tools of the middle ages, and gives at least a dozen handjobs to Tolkien. Seriously. Motherfucker goes to New Zealand so he can see the locations they filmed parts of the movie on, and in what was probably the uber-geek moment of the entire book, sets up his LoTR toys in the same spot the actors had been for one of the scenes and then took some pictures. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The book was quite entertaining, honestly, until the final couple chapters. Then, I got a headache from all the eye-rolling I was doing. Why was I eye-rolling? I'm glad you asked! Each chapter tracks a certain geeky trend, and each chapter is interesting, other than they don't develop into a complex analysis of geekery, unless this counts: "Fantasizing like geeks do is fun, and it's not that much different from an obsession with professional sports or making model airplanes." So, if you want some weak-ass attempt to evade geek-related guilt, this is the book for you. Since I'm pretty comfortable in my own geeky skin, I didn't find this insight to be very, um, insightful. Anyone who has taught an English course, and probably anyone who has taken one, has read one of those papers where the author wrote the whole thing and then realized it wasn't focused enough to write a conclusion that really wrapped things up. Oftentimes, the author just farts out some bullshit that they think sounds passable and turns it in, hoping the teacher doesn't notice. The teacher DOES notice, every time. Apparently, the publisher didn't. Then, he fails in what he seemed to be REALLY trying to do: show his personal evolution through this GeekQuest. Why does he fail in this? Because he doesn't become comfortable with his geekdom, nor does he decide to become a muggle. He . . . well, he doesn't really decide ANYTHING. The book just kind of whimpers out with a bunch of lame geek metaphors, and then dies and flops over on its back, twitching on your carpet. I get the feeling a deadline came up faster than Gilsdorf expected it to, and instead of getting an extension, he shat some inanities onto the page and shipped it out. That said, I realized after finishing the book that it ends with a glossary of geek terminology. I was simultaneously proud and concerned that I hadn't needed to reference the glossary at any point before then, and that I knew every term except for one. Hmm, perhaps I HAVEN'T reached a totally guilt-free state of geekiness. . .

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I'm wondering if I came to this book with the wrong expectations... my first instinct is to write a pithy/snarky blurb along the lines of "Watch THE GUILD, read some classic KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE... and you'll get more enjoyment than you would reading this book." Why the negative reaction to what is, admittedly, a well-written series of glimpses into some seldom-seen corners of the fantasy gaming universe? The author encounters some interesting people and does a good job of talking about th I'm wondering if I came to this book with the wrong expectations... my first instinct is to write a pithy/snarky blurb along the lines of "Watch THE GUILD, read some classic KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE... and you'll get more enjoyment than you would reading this book." Why the negative reaction to what is, admittedly, a well-written series of glimpses into some seldom-seen corners of the fantasy gaming universe? The author encounters some interesting people and does a good job of talking about their lives without appearing to condescend or worship their involvement (or over-involvement.) I thnk the combination of his "quest" (loosely defined as "should I claim my enjoyment of things geeky, which I have mistakenly defined as a Peter Pan-ish existence of never really taking adult responsibility?") with these portraits of the fantasy community feel like two different books jammed together - and not always successfully. What he writes about (LARPing, the DragonCon costume parade, Tolkien fanatics, D&D with some of the original players, going to New Zealand for Middle Earth tourism, WoW, etc.) is mixed with a kind of whiny mid-life "can I commit to my girlfriend & do I even want to?" thread that grates on my nerves. How he got into D&D (his mother's illness) is heartwrenching - I feel callous complaining about the personal nature of the book based on the early chapters. Yet by the time it was finished, I was tired of him but not tired of the subject.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kit

    I didn't realize when I picked up this book that it would be, like Julie and Julia or The Year of Living Biblically, one of those "I gave myself a quest and wrote about it so that I could get a book published" books. In Gilsdorf's case, his quest is a mid-life-crisis fueled desire to find out if it's possible to go back to his geeky roots without being a geek. Or something like that. Unfortunately, although his story of growing up with a disabled mother could be very powerful if followed to its I didn't realize when I picked up this book that it would be, like Julie and Julia or The Year of Living Biblically, one of those "I gave myself a quest and wrote about it so that I could get a book published" books. In Gilsdorf's case, his quest is a mid-life-crisis fueled desire to find out if it's possible to go back to his geeky roots without being a geek. Or something like that. Unfortunately, although his story of growing up with a disabled mother could be very powerful if followed to its conclusion, (a) he never does, probably because (b) if he did, he would have no room in the book for its ostensible purpose, an analysis of modern geek culture. Although the book says it's about "fantasy" and "gaming" in general, Gilsdorf's beat is the fake medieval, whether it's Dungeons and Dragons, Middle Earth, or the Society for Creative Anachronism. You won't find discussions of Star Trek or Halo here. The mostly self-contained chapters explore different manifestations, with one devoted to a particular live-action role-play, another to the SCA, and another to Gilsdorf's Lord-of-the-Rings tour of New Zealand. I found some new possibilities for geeking out myself, but I could definitely have done without Gilsdorf's fear, expressed in every chapter, that the people involved in these pastimes are probably not normal, or at least total losers, and therefore he can't get too involved. It's painful to picture him sitting silently by while a bunch of people at a LARP or an SCA event are having a great time, when you know that he would have fun too if he would just stop worrying about his coolness quotient.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Licata

    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 a 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Sarkies

    A subjective history of roleplaying 18 November 2009 Being a committed roleplayer when I saw this book (on sale at a bankrupt Borders Books) I purchased it and put it near the top of my reading list. I was a little disappointed though because even though it is a study of fantasy and gaming culture, it was quite subjective for my tastes and there was a lot comment about the author's life, and to be quite honest, the author seemed to be a little stuck up himself. While he is correct that in the 70' A subjective history of roleplaying 18 November 2009 Being a committed roleplayer when I saw this book (on sale at a bankrupt Borders Books) I purchased it and put it near the top of my reading list. I was a little disappointed though because even though it is a study of fantasy and gaming culture, it was quite subjective for my tastes and there was a lot comment about the author's life, and to be quite honest, the author seemed to be a little stuck up himself. While he is correct that in the 70's and 80's, when roleplaying began to take off, it was a hobby played mostly by marginalised people, and that in the thirty years since it has moved into the mainstream, there are a number of suppositions that I simply do not agree with. It is clear that the author is not a Christian, and seems to consider Christians to be caught up in a fantasy world, though throughout the book the author seems to be struggling with his own fantasy world, and seems to attempt to escape it and at other times seems to embrace it. However, a lot of the aspects of roleplaying that he describes very much apply to the church. While roleplaying may now be mainstream, there still seems to be a hesitance among Christians to actually engage in the activity. I know that I have that hesitance at times. However, it isn't exactly the only society that lives in a marginalised world. People who adhear to a particular religious philosophy and drug users also fall into that category. The difference is that people tend not to be incarcerated, or even killed, for roleplaying. They never have and it is highly unlikely that they ever will. There is also his supposition that fantasy roleplayers have a yearning for an idealistic past, though being a student of history I can say that there is no idealistic past. While some believe there was a time when there were monsters (and to an ancient Roman, an elephant was pretty scary, as was a lion), and that there were practitioners of magic, these things were never all that rosy. He also seems to describe science-fiction as being depressing, and while some sci-fi games like Shadowrun and Cyberpunk are very dark, we also have Star Trek and Star Wars. Whereas fantasy roleplayers have a yearning for the past, there is also a desire to see an idealised future where all of our problems have been solved. As for me, I roleplay because it's fun (I mostly DM because I simply have never found the same enjoyment in playing). When I last played (as of this writing) we spent time playing, and we spent time talking about nothing in particular. My group (for want of a better definition, at best we had 5 people, but in a lot of cases there are only three of us) doesn't take the game all that seriously and we simply get together as a social event. As for his descriptions of the events and how everybody is welcomed and feels a part of something, I must say that that is idealistic at best. I have LARPed, and the LARP that I played in was full of snobs. My biggest issue with roleplaying is that there are people, normally called power gamers, who use the game to make themselves feel good about themselves, and when something bad happens they throw a tantrum. As for LARPs, that was an exercise in losers throwing their weight around a bunch of losers. Nine years after I stopped LARPing I see some of the bigwigs in the LARP working as delivery boys. While there is nothing wrong with being a delivery boy, these guys have university degrees, and it is not as if it is a job one does between jobs, this job seems to be their career. Such is irony.

  7. 4 out of 5

    P. Aaron Potter

    I'm beginning to think that the search for the Arkenstone of geek culture is less like a search for the One True Grail and more like panning for gold. Not in one of those rich, heavily flowing streams either, but in a rather narrow, shifty little trickle of a stream, which simultaneously depresses your optimism yet makes you airpunch when a goodly sized bit of gold dust sifts out in your pan. It's a little odd that it's taken me this long to get to Gilsdorf's book. If you throw "geek culture" int I'm beginning to think that the search for the Arkenstone of geek culture is less like a search for the One True Grail and more like panning for gold. Not in one of those rich, heavily flowing streams either, but in a rather narrow, shifty little trickle of a stream, which simultaneously depresses your optimism yet makes you airpunch when a goodly sized bit of gold dust sifts out in your pan. It's a little odd that it's taken me this long to get to Gilsdorf's book. If you throw "geek culture" into a book search, this title comes up more often than perhaps any other. It's something of an 'Ur' text in the sub-genre of geek culture studies, preceding the recent interest in nerdy navel-gazing which has given us both highs and lows . As such, it has the usual virtues and faults of a 'first book in genre': it's got some overly broad statements, but bears a simple sincerity which makes it quite readable. The primary problem with Gilsdorf's book is that it's not, in the end, *really* about geek culture at all. It's about Ethan Gilsdorf. He's fairly self-indulgent as a writer, spending as much time or more fretting over his own identity as he does the functions and fallacies of geekitude as a whole. He tries a sociological take, mixing interviews with major figures and meccas in the field (comicon, Dave Arneson, Tolkien's England and Jackson's New Zealand, SCA's Pennsic war...) with his own fumbling attempts to 'go native'. But such an approach misses THE signature element of geekery: it's deeply, deeply immersive. It's about sincere, even unhealthy, obsessive love for some abstruse topic. The escapism is commonplace, yes, but it's almost a side-effect to the strange desires of geekery to know a thing down to its depths. There's a marketing concept sometimes called "Realia." It's real-world representations of things from fictional universes. Instead of selling people a Harry Potter t-shirt saying "I love that book series," you sell them a Gryffindor team scarf and their own wand, so they can imagine being part of that world entirely. True geekery takes that concept and punches it so hard it comes out in another dimension. There's no way to fake that. No objective sociological approach can really represent it accurately. Certainly Gilsdorf, who is mostly concerned, we discover, with finding a girlfriend, is not going to get much deep insight from his bargain-basement Margaret Mead approach. He's not hateful about it, like poor Mark Barrowcliffe, but he's not particularly effective either. This is an enjoyable book, a sincere book, but not an earthshaker. Panning for gold takes patience. Still hoping for that mother lode.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kayla Ndife

    I started reading this book with all the enthusiasm of a little kid on a shopping spree in a candy store. Literally. I devoured the first several chapters, and it accompanied me everywhere - to class, to the meeting of the Role Players Guild (of which I'm president), to the ER when the stomach flu hit me with all of the fury of Deathwing. Then there was a point where it lost me, long before I actually gave up halfway through the chapter about World of Warcraft. As Gilsdorf's experiences with geek I started reading this book with all the enthusiasm of a little kid on a shopping spree in a candy store. Literally. I devoured the first several chapters, and it accompanied me everywhere - to class, to the meeting of the Role Players Guild (of which I'm president), to the ER when the stomach flu hit me with all of the fury of Deathwing. Then there was a point where it lost me, long before I actually gave up halfway through the chapter about World of Warcraft. As Gilsdorf's experiences with geekdom intensify and quantify, his recollections of them become less personal, and more like a report or a magazine article. There was plenty of magic in the first chapter, with him talking about his mother and how D&D got him through high school... but by the time I gave up on his journey, he was still trying to convince his readers (and himself, apparently) 2/3 into the book, that being a geek is okay. Gilsdorf either did not have the foresight or the understanding that his audience would be comprised mostly of people who were already aware of that fact. There is no stigma on it the way there was when he was a child, but he can't seem to let go of that, and his storytelling suffers for it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Ambrose

    This book is full of self loathing and a total lack of respect for or perspective on Geek culture. If you're not a geek, you can read this and be confused by the nerd references and/ or laugh at geeks (Har har...stupid geeks with their dice and their unicorns and their celibacy). If you ARE a geek--like me--(Huzzah!), I think you'll just feel like you're being mocked by someone who used to be a part of the tribe and now is too busy blaming Geek culture for his own lack of social graces. This book This book is full of self loathing and a total lack of respect for or perspective on Geek culture. If you're not a geek, you can read this and be confused by the nerd references and/ or laugh at geeks (Har har...stupid geeks with their dice and their unicorns and their celibacy). If you ARE a geek--like me--(Huzzah!), I think you'll just feel like you're being mocked by someone who used to be a part of the tribe and now is too busy blaming Geek culture for his own lack of social graces. This book made me roll my eyes so hard I gave myself a migraine. I do not recommend this book. To anyone.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Okay, I'll admit it, I'm a geek. A total, Magic/D&D/Pathfinder playing, Doctor Who/Star Trek/anime watching, fantasy/scifi/manga reading, geek. I've never been to a convention, but I go to the Renaissance Festival* every year, and the bookcases in my den/office are covered in dragon statues.** So nothing in this book was much of a surprise to me. Except some woman at Dragon*Con telling the author that Daleks are a Doctor Who/Stargate crossover creation (whaaaat? And I think he believed her). Hone Okay, I'll admit it, I'm a geek. A total, Magic/D&D/Pathfinder playing, Doctor Who/Star Trek/anime watching, fantasy/scifi/manga reading, geek. I've never been to a convention, but I go to the Renaissance Festival* every year, and the bookcases in my den/office are covered in dragon statues.** So nothing in this book was much of a surprise to me. Except some woman at Dragon*Con telling the author that Daleks are a Doctor Who/Stargate crossover creation (whaaaat? And I think he believed her). Honestly, for most of the book Ethan seemed just really uncomfortable. He was somebody who is totally not comfortable in his own skin and just sort of stands around and gawks at people, somebody who doesn't want to do something he enjoys because of how other people might view him. When he does participate, such as in LARPing, he seems to unconsciously limit himself (like with the silly shirt he did a bad job on as his costume) so that he can remain separate from the actual geeky stuff going on. Although Ethan is supposedly exploring various facets of geekdom (D&D, LARPing, SCA, WoW, etc), this book is more of a look at his personal "journey" from a messed-up child/teenagerhood to his unfocused, disjointed single life as a forty-something man who wants to reconnect with how he felt when he was playing D&D with his friends. Either book could be interesting on its own, but I thought this book was too unfocused to really be good reading. Ethan would jump from a scholarly look at the history of roleplaying games to a personal recollection of how his girlfriend wouldn't let him play with his Lord of the Rings figures and back again. I think it's silly. I don't think geeky stuff needs analyzing any differently than various other forms of entertainment or hobbies do. I think if you enjoy something, you should do it, whether it is dressing up for Rocky Horror Picture Show nights or dressing up to run around in the woods and bonk people with foam swords. Everybody has their own personal reasons for choosing their own hobbies and I don't think you can make blanket statements about the escapism that roleplaying affords because it doesn't work the same way for everybody. Even then, when he is trying to make blanket statements, Ethan is really wishy-washy, and doesn't really come to a conclusion. It made me wonder why he wrote a whole book on it if he wasn't going to actually conclude something about his journey. *This is not as geeky as it sounds. In my town they still manage to imbue a certain white trash sensibility on even the Renaissance Festival. It mixes well with the hemp and dreadlocks of the employees. ** But not the bookcases in the hallway. Those are currently covered in the small collection of "bears reading books" statues that I didn't even know I had till I unpacked a box from my childhood bedroom.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cymberleah Dawne

    I very rarely get over halfway through a book and not want to finish. Normally I know after the first few chapters if I want to keep going. This book suckered me in with the pathos of growing up with a broken mother, and I liked the concept of revisiting nerdy persuits after giving them up. What I did not like was the consistent navel-gazing and morose pondering that the author worried that he wad turning into one of "those people" every time he enjoyed one of the subjects of his chapter. Add to I very rarely get over halfway through a book and not want to finish. Normally I know after the first few chapters if I want to keep going. This book suckered me in with the pathos of growing up with a broken mother, and I liked the concept of revisiting nerdy persuits after giving them up. What I did not like was the consistent navel-gazing and morose pondering that the author worried that he wad turning into one of "those people" every time he enjoyed one of the subjects of his chapter. Add to this some quibbling with apparently going to DragonCon just to get laid and my noticing errors in how he relayed fandoms I do know. I wouldn't use this book as a source for any research I was doing. Also, as someone else pointed out, enough with the Tolkien love. At least 40% of the book deals with JRR, and it gets old. Mostly, I got the impression I was reading a very boring blog.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Although I enjoyed Gilsdorf's journey of self-reflection, I kept wanting to shake him and say 'PLEASE, stop caring so much about being thought of as nerdy or geeky!' Even in the end when he claims to embrace his childhood love of D&D and his wish to escape into Tolkien's Middle-Earth, he is still parenthetically saying "Just kidding, I'm not a nerd, I swear! That stuff is so uncool." In all of the geeky situations he observes (which range from Dragon*Con to a visit to New Zealand) he always seem Although I enjoyed Gilsdorf's journey of self-reflection, I kept wanting to shake him and say 'PLEASE, stop caring so much about being thought of as nerdy or geeky!' Even in the end when he claims to embrace his childhood love of D&D and his wish to escape into Tolkien's Middle-Earth, he is still parenthetically saying "Just kidding, I'm not a nerd, I swear! That stuff is so uncool." In all of the geeky situations he observes (which range from Dragon*Con to a visit to New Zealand) he always seems to think of himself as someone on the outside, jealously looking in, instead of just freeing himself of a social stigma that doesn't need to exist anymore. Embrace it, love it! Let your freak flag fly!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    A good analysis of gaming geek culture and associated fantasy fandoms This book starts with the author's traumatic memories of growing up in the late 70s/early 80s with a single mother who had survived an aneurysm, but was physically, mentally, and emotionally devastated by it. A friend introduced him to D&D and he escaped into that, as he recalls it. But by the mid 80s he had a girlfriend and didn't want to suffer the label as a geek or freak, so he left D&D behind (to this part I cannot relate! A good analysis of gaming geek culture and associated fantasy fandoms This book starts with the author's traumatic memories of growing up in the late 70s/early 80s with a single mother who had survived an aneurysm, but was physically, mentally, and emotionally devastated by it. A friend introduced him to D&D and he escaped into that, as he recalls it. But by the mid 80s he had a girlfriend and didn't want to suffer the label as a geek or freak, so he left D&D behind (to this part I cannot relate!). But in the early 21st century, now in his 40s, the Lord of the Rings movies awaken his memories of being a D&D geek, and when he finds his old gaming stuff in a blue cooler in his dad's basement, he sets off on a quest to learn about gaming (4th edition D&D was just coming out!), fantasy fans, LARPing, the SCA, etc. . . . and most of all, himself. The book probably suffers a bit, honestly, from his repetitive year-round and worry about identifying as a geek. But whatever - he basically learns to accept himself in the end, so . . . Yay?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    4.1.10: Now that I've finished the book, I have to say that I'm disappointed. Gilsdorf doesn't end the book the way I would hope a book about fantasy and questing would end, with a winner and a resolution. But that's the entire point. Real life is murky; it has shades of grey that can't be resolved. There isn't a winner and there isn't a looser - maybe Spike said it best, "Life isn't bliss. Life is just this; it's living." For me, the ending I hoped for was a hope that I can find that ending for 4.1.10: Now that I've finished the book, I have to say that I'm disappointed. Gilsdorf doesn't end the book the way I would hope a book about fantasy and questing would end, with a winner and a resolution. But that's the entire point. Real life is murky; it has shades of grey that can't be resolved. There isn't a winner and there isn't a looser - maybe Spike said it best, "Life isn't bliss. Life is just this; it's living." For me, the ending I hoped for was a hope that I can find that ending for myself, an "If he can do it, so can I," mentality that was a light at the end of the tunnel. Alas, I will have to find my own answers and make my own light if I can. And really, isn't that where the adventure lies? 3.30.10: So far, a very interesting book. Although the author is several years older than me, his experiences with the gaming community echo my own. His quest to figure out whether being a "gamer" is a moniker he wants to wear proudly, or even to keep at all, is close to my heart as I try to figure out how to be a creative spirit in an adult world that doesn't have much time or and very little respect for the power and the pure enjoyment of playtime. At the same time, the author remains aware of a larger purpose in his work - to examine and translate the gaming world into words and stories that make it accessible, if not entirely comprehensible to everyone else.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Raequel Solomon

    well the good things about this book is that he got to travel all over the country and the world to persue and examine his geekiness and others. i liked how he talked to people from old school tabletop gamers to SCAdians and con-goers. i did appeal to the commentary on his childhood and adolescence dealing with both his mother's traumatic brain injury and the effect it had on his life and his own search for identity and purpose as an adult. it did satisfy the armchair cultural anthropologist in well the good things about this book is that he got to travel all over the country and the world to persue and examine his geekiness and others. i liked how he talked to people from old school tabletop gamers to SCAdians and con-goers. i did appeal to the commentary on his childhood and adolescence dealing with both his mother's traumatic brain injury and the effect it had on his life and his own search for identity and purpose as an adult. it did satisfy the armchair cultural anthropologist in me. however he lost me when he talked about trolling Pennsic and Dragon*Con for chicks and drunk dialing his estranged girlfriend and other ex from a hot tub in new zealand...i'm glad that he had the time of his life on his publishers' and agents' dime writing this book but i hope never to run into this guy at a con anytime soon. its a good quick read on a bus ride TO the next con or LARP. and thats about it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris Turek

    I had immensely high hopes for this book and I did enjoy much of it, though in the end it was unsatisfying. The author's endless lack of sure commitment to an interest (D&D, love, etc.) gave the subject matter a slightly removed intensity. He just never escaped the mood of being an outsider everywhere he went. Too lukewarm all around. I had immensely high hopes for this book and I did enjoy much of it, though in the end it was unsatisfying. The author's endless lack of sure commitment to an interest (D&D, love, etc.) gave the subject matter a slightly removed intensity. He just never escaped the mood of being an outsider everywhere he went. Too lukewarm all around.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is the story of the author’s journey to reclaim, or at least come to terms with his geeky hobbies and interests. It’s in turn entertaining and even emotionally affecting in spots. Yet it’s also hindered by the central belief that gaming and other geek hobbies are inherently childish, something the author never quite gets over.

  18. 4 out of 5

    sara frances

    Interesting enough but the errors about WoW drove me crazy. Human hunters? WTF!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Notess

    The descriptions of some of his sub-culture adventures are the best part. The psychological mumbling is weak. Interesting, but the force is not strong with this one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alexander SMith

    Tells about the stigma faced by members of the LARP and RPG community, I can personally attest that what he talks about is true.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ethan Gilsdorf

    I'm reading FROM this book. Does that count?

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kelley Frye

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I have been wanting to read this book for a while now. I am such a fan of video game books. This book is about the author and his childhood growing up playing D&D with his friends. Him finding out that his mom had some health problems and her eventually passing away from the health problems. He tried to help save his mom and was using video games as an outlet. I feel like the author was being very personal with his memoir in this book. A lot of his childhood had to do with D&D and playing video I have been wanting to read this book for a while now. I am such a fan of video game books. This book is about the author and his childhood growing up playing D&D with his friends. Him finding out that his mom had some health problems and her eventually passing away from the health problems. He tried to help save his mom and was using video games as an outlet. I feel like the author was being very personal with his memoir in this book. A lot of his childhood had to do with D&D and playing video games. It's what got him through the tough times of his childhood and dealing with his mom. The author then goes on this crusade of sorts, talking about video games, LARPing, & how the different video games and tabletops have helped him and other people deal with their own personal problems. In a way, the games, LARPing, tabletops, have all shaped us into who we are today. The story telling takes us out of our own world and problems and lets us go into other worlds that don't have rules or any rules to follow. They take us away from our problems in the real world. The characters we make in other worlds helps us to get away from our families, friends, enemies, co-workers, bosses, school, teachers, classmates, etc and help us to make friends that are either real or not real in the made up worlds. Sometimes it is better being in the other worlds than it is in the real world. I say this out of first hand experience. I have made real friends from these game worlds and we all have become lasting friends in the real world. And some of the friends I have made in game I have heard have passed away in the real world unexpectedly from natural causes or diseases they were dealing with in the real world. I have cried a couple times in the real world hearing of those players in game that passed away in real life. There are players that fo play games that have diseases in the real world and want to escape their real life and just be normal for a change. The game developers give these gamers that ability to be normal for a short amount of time in the game worlds or to have super powers and not have to think about real world issues. Only think about in game issues with their characters. The author then goes on to say that he traveled to New Zealand for the Lord of the Rings films. Saw a lot of places from the movies and talked to a lot of people, the natives that were asked to be a part of the films. He then went to where the hobbits has to hide from the riders in the shire. The author took two of them lego pieces in the shape and form of Frodo and Sam and reenacted the scene and then buried them in the ground beneath the tree. He left them there as a sign that he was done with his childish ways of playing games. It was like a going away moment or a breaking apart moment for the author. Breaking away from his childhood and moving on to being an adult. He then talks about how you can go to these LARPing events that last for one week or two weeks. You become a part of the medieval realm and adhere to the rules of the temporary society of these LARPers. You have a set of rules in this real world of sorts that you have to follow. And you have to wear certain clothes, too. All of these people that go are professional people and have everyday, normal jobs. I have found this book to be enlightening, funny, fun, showing it is to be a gamer. This book is not how to be a gamer, but how to relate to the author of this book. I related a lot to the author. I have never played tabletop games, but always wanted to. I have played arcade games. He did mention the arcade games and showing up to see his friends playing and gathering at the arcade to play games. I relate to a lot of the things he said in the book. I relate to a lot of the book. Reading this book was nostalgic for me. I am still a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and his works and his books and movies and poems. I recommend this book to any gamer. Any fantasy freak. Any geek. Any dork. Anybody that loves video games. Anybody that loves tabletops. Anyone that is a techy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bob Jamieson

    Ugh. Ugh. This book left quite a bad taste in my mouth. Writing books about DnD is clearly somehow difficult. The Elfish Gene was a fairly sad memoir about being bullied as a child in England. Shelly Mazzanoble's book was better, but still something of a pointless ramble about fixing an apartment roof as a result of being more assertive. To my knowledge there aren't many more similar books about playing the game, though there are a few competent sounding histories of its development. This though... Ugh. Ugh. This book left quite a bad taste in my mouth. Writing books about DnD is clearly somehow difficult. The Elfish Gene was a fairly sad memoir about being bullied as a child in England. Shelly Mazzanoble's book was better, but still something of a pointless ramble about fixing an apartment roof as a result of being more assertive. To my knowledge there aren't many more similar books about playing the game, though there are a few competent sounding histories of its development. This though... this is just the bottom of the barrel. At some point in his early life someone (and I reckon it was a love interest) called this guy a geek, AND HE HAS NOT GOT OVER IT SINCE. What follows is 300 pages of dreary, disjointed travel journalism where the author stands there awkwardly as fun things are happening. He then comments on how fun they seem to be in the most self-conscious possible manner, whilst emphasising how much they're not for him. Somehow he convinces loads of people to invite him to their cons, LARPs, museums, etc. and then he sort of... stands off. It's condescending as fuck, and somehow more uncomfortable than just journalistic detachment. Amongst this are a lot of allusions to his current relationship, which for most of the book seems to not be going well. Indeed I rather hope he's single for the particularly thirsty chapter he writes about Gencon. The book concludes with a rather florid chapter which says not very much other than that maybe the fantasy genre isn't that bad. And then he follows it with an afterword about how he'll never play DnD again, and he's still sort of uncomfortable about the whole thing - completely undercutting the previous chapter. He does appear to have some sort of revelation about some sad parts of his childhood, but they don't seem to fit terribly well with anything else in the book. I can't help but think that he should have spent a bit more money on therapy and a bit less on Lord of the Rings set tours (and littering self-same locations with plastic tat in a "symbolic" gesture of rejecting his childhood hobbies). Urgh. HARD NO.

  24. 4 out of 5

    JY Tan

    This is an alright book with a couple of interesting insights and escapism. The content is excellent, so is his passion and dedication to embark on a mostly thankless journey to understand fantasy across several geek circles, whether it is DnD, Lord of the Rings, or World of Warcraft. His detailed description of his experiences participating in role-play, LARPing, or even staying in an experimental archeology castle is admirable. In fact, I don't think I have seen anyone that articulate on this This is an alright book with a couple of interesting insights and escapism. The content is excellent, so is his passion and dedication to embark on a mostly thankless journey to understand fantasy across several geek circles, whether it is DnD, Lord of the Rings, or World of Warcraft. His detailed description of his experiences participating in role-play, LARPing, or even staying in an experimental archeology castle is admirable. In fact, I don't think I have seen anyone that articulate on this topic actively putting himself in the worlds of others. What really made book a less than ideal experience for me is the emotional baggage he was carrying from his earlier years. Suddenly the book couldnt exactly decide what it wanted to be, is it an anthropological account? culture commentary ? or a personal diary? Overall it is a decent mix of both, but if you are looking specifically for one of these, this book will be a drag. The lines between the heavy-heartedness and the light-heartedness is also not very clear. At the end of the day, while his descriptions were rich with real accounts, the content on the human condition behind fantasy and escapism is pretty shallow and could have been more expanded with a greater scientific point of view or a philosophical position. Overall, it was still comforting that someone devoted a significant sum of his life to study fantasies and games. Hope to read better books in the same topic.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Barclay

    I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It's written by a nerd like me, it's a lot of interesting journalism about subcultures that I'm interested in and it's full of lots of details that I want to hear more about. But the trouble is that I felt like I was constantly reading a magazine article for the general public rather than a whole book. The author couldn't decide if he was writing as a nerd for other nerds of for the general public as a member of the general public talking to and I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It's written by a nerd like me, it's a lot of interesting journalism about subcultures that I'm interested in and it's full of lots of details that I want to hear more about. But the trouble is that I felt like I was constantly reading a magazine article for the general public rather than a whole book. The author couldn't decide if he was writing as a nerd for other nerds of for the general public as a member of the general public talking to and about nerds. This I think was the problem that he had throughout the book. Rather than go to a con as a gamer or a fan he went as a reporter, and then he was surprised that he didn't find the love of his life among committed gamers. He mentions a reference to the famous Dead Alewives skit about D&D without mentioning the skit. Did he miss the reference? Further he feels the need to explain what a magic missile spell is! Constantly falling between two chairs the book kept leaving me flat and out of step. Some of the stories are wonderful and some of the things he talks about are very interesting, and many of the people that he interviews are well worth the time to hear from, but it all lacked fun and passion.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joel Wentz

    While there are some great, fun chapters here, I wanted so much more from this book and was ultimately on-the-fence about it. Gilsdorf frames his "journey" in a really compelling way - reflecting on his own childhood and the ways he was attracted to fantasy (mostly D&D) in the midst of a troubled home life. When the book honestly wrestles with the questions around "escapism" - is retreating to fantasy and fiction worlds healthy? Where is the line between hobby and unhealthy obsession? What draws While there are some great, fun chapters here, I wanted so much more from this book and was ultimately on-the-fence about it. Gilsdorf frames his "journey" in a really compelling way - reflecting on his own childhood and the ways he was attracted to fantasy (mostly D&D) in the midst of a troubled home life. When the book honestly wrestles with the questions around "escapism" - is retreating to fantasy and fiction worlds healthy? Where is the line between hobby and unhealthy obsession? What draws people to these modes of entertainment? - it's great. When it veers into the author's strange, somewhat self-absorbed angst about being "too geeky" and the unfortunate theme of not finding a woman, it really flounders and gets difficult to push through. And unfortunately it veers into this territory way to frequently in the middle chapters. So, it's a mixed bag. It's overall a pretty fun memoir/travelogue through the various worlds of "geekdom," and many of the chapters are genuinely fun, especially as the author encounters the worlds of LARPing and World of Warcraft. But the unfortunate (and, frankly, quite annoying at times) inner monologue of the author's struggle with embracing his inner nerd tarnished what could otherwise have been a pretty great book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sam Mikanik

    Fantasy freaks and gaming geeks is a very interesting look into the life of an ex- dungeons and dragons player. As a gamer myself I thought this book would be more based around the games themselves and how they are portrayed through Gilsdorf’s eyes. We only got a little glimpse of what these games behold. What this book is really about, is people telling their stories of how they got into gaming and how they have continued with the game after it has died. These stories proved to be fascinating Fantasy freaks and gaming geeks is a very interesting look into the life of an ex- dungeons and dragons player. As a gamer myself I thought this book would be more based around the games themselves and how they are portrayed through Gilsdorf’s eyes. We only got a little glimpse of what these games behold. What this book is really about, is people telling their stories of how they got into gaming and how they have continued with the game after it has died. These stories proved to be fascinating when the storyteller is telling it, but they mainly talked about their journey playing the game, instead of the game itself. I felt like this took away from what I was expecting to be reading. I’m not saying the writer should write exactly how I want him to write, I just wish he would more focus on the games themselves, instead of the people playing them. I get the main point of the book was to explain and show peoples love from games like star wars online and D&D, but there needed to be more of a balance between the author talking about the game and the people talking about their story. The book overall was very interesting, and if you are looking for a nice read into people's lives, I think this is the book you should read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nicolas Hall

    A well presented peek into the world of gamers, role players and the path of the author through his childhood and now, as an adult, back to his D&D days. If I had one wish for this book it would be that the he had included a perspective of someone who had taken their past fantasy, D&D, childhood period of their lives and had found their way to making an adult life/career from it (writer, fantasy artist, RPG creator etc.) we're out here Ethan and it's not always a compromise or a sacrifice of som A well presented peek into the world of gamers, role players and the path of the author through his childhood and now, as an adult, back to his D&D days. If I had one wish for this book it would be that the he had included a perspective of someone who had taken their past fantasy, D&D, childhood period of their lives and had found their way to making an adult life/career from it (writer, fantasy artist, RPG creator etc.) we're out here Ethan and it's not always a compromise or a sacrifice of some other part of life to do so! For some of us, those days of childhood have made "play" in our adult lives the norm and not just a weekend adventure! :)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    For the author, the writing of this book was a quest to disconnect or reconnect, once and for all, from his full-on gamer geek past. There are small bits of memoir here where Mr. Gilsdorf reflects on why this is such a mental struggle, but mainly the book is a broad servery of modern Fantasy/Sci Fi fandom, including books, LARPing, computer games and MMOs, movies and of course role playing. Overall I found it an interesting read, and while I am not as conflicted, I understood a lot of the mental For the author, the writing of this book was a quest to disconnect or reconnect, once and for all, from his full-on gamer geek past. There are small bits of memoir here where Mr. Gilsdorf reflects on why this is such a mental struggle, but mainly the book is a broad servery of modern Fantasy/Sci Fi fandom, including books, LARPing, computer games and MMOs, movies and of course role playing. Overall I found it an interesting read, and while I am not as conflicted, I understood a lot of the mental self-sparring that occurred over these pages. I recommend this book for any Gen X gamer, current or past. I think any of us would see themselves here and there on the pages.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    I found the stuff about examining different geek subcultures interesting and informative, from LARPing to D&D to conventions to literal castle-building. Unfortunately, the author gets wrapped up in the question of whether or not it's ok to be a geek, which reads as pretty obvious and tiresome for the geeks reading it. I understand there was more of a stigma around the label when he was growing up, but he asks the question so many times that my eyes were practically rolling out of my head by the I found the stuff about examining different geek subcultures interesting and informative, from LARPing to D&D to conventions to literal castle-building. Unfortunately, the author gets wrapped up in the question of whether or not it's ok to be a geek, which reads as pretty obvious and tiresome for the geeks reading it. I understand there was more of a stigma around the label when he was growing up, but he asks the question so many times that my eyes were practically rolling out of my head by the end of the book.

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