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Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks

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Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks is a thoughtful discourse on lifelong gamers, and the appeal of these worlds they reside in. A life of Dungeons & Dragons from a young age leads Ethan on a journey around the world to meet others with similar (if not more impressive) passions, and find out why they do what they do. Revelatory and balanced Ethan shares his impressions while allowing the people he meets to share theirs. The book quickly becomes about more than just gaming as the discussion leads to larger questions about our escapist society as a whole.

Ethan, a self proclaimed geek, has a couple of badges to prove his worth. He picked up his original D&D books at a young age, and didn’t wimp out on them until college. From hanging with Tolkeinites to questing with LARPers the author dives into all things geek. Early on he finds a group of ex-MMO gamers who have gone back to table top. It’s interesting to see how communities change over time and their needs differ. This group went back to D&D because they missed the camaraderie. While certainly not the norm in my experience it does give way to a running thematic question about belonging.

A group I had relatively little knowledge of was the SCA. Once a year they meet to reenact medieval times with real swords, real battles, and real maidens. Their community, as well as LARPers, are ones that I’ve had relatively little experience with. It’s the idea of collective storytelling that I find fascinating, and reminds me of childhood where stories unfolded dynamically playing action figures with my brother. The chapters on MMOs were a fun read too, especially since they involved some of our friends including Nissa Ludwig and The Syndicate.

In fact, now that I think about it, for each chapter in this book there is a documentary film too. For more about Dungeons and Dragons watch Dungeonmaster, Nerdcore watch Nerdcore Rising, Chiptunes see Reformat the Planet, LARPing check out Darkon or Monster Camp, and of course for MMORPGs check out my film Second Skin.

The best parts though were bits of trivia I haven’t thought to Wikipedia. For example: what does TSR stand for? Who was the godfather of tabletop gaming besides Gary Gygax? What does Grognard stand for? I thought the geek levels ran pretty high in my blood, but there were definitely some great eureka moments strewn along the path that caught me by surprise.

Gilsdorf takes a Kerouac meets Cliff’s notes approach to Geekdom, and while he met great people along the way it was really about the author’s journey. In his more introspective moments Ethan remembers his own troubled youth, and a love/hate relationship with his own geek hood. It’s a self branding that seems all to familiar, and it’s these moments where Ethan hits closest to home, as we all have difficulty with who we are. His problems are that of the everyman, and although his experience is with geekdom the frustration is universal. Keep your eyes open for this on bookshelves.

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