Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks

Grabbed this from Amazon after not getting it for Xmas this year. First saw it on the WotC site and listened to the author on their podcast. Intrigued I’ve checked out his website and I like what I see.

I’ve since read the whole thing in two days, and he should take that as a compliment.

The author is one of my generation, early 40s, played D&D when it went mental in the late 70s/early 80s, fell out of the hobby when he discovered beer and girls. Not an unusual story. He brings it up to date by using his journalistic clout to head off on a series of junkets to see what fandon entails in the 21st century, and whether fantasy escapism is a power for good or ill. His range is wide. He tackles D&D, MMORPGs, LARPing, re-enactments, Cons, and the legacy of Tolkien. This could be seen as a flaw in the  book, as it’s a fairly shallow primer to the fan worlds both for the beginner and the expert. But that’s fine, that’s not what this book is about, Instead it’s an examination of fandom, not of the subjects that spawn that particular sub culture. Each individual subject is tackled in an engaging way, with a mix of personal feeling and cosy interview. I very much like his style. I like to think of myself as a well rounded hobbyist with 30 years of experience, yet there were sections of this enquiry that meant little or nothing to me, and that’s a good thing. My eyes have been opened to the online and SCA stuff, and I think I want to know more.  

Let’s take D&D for instance. There’s some excellent reportage of attending the 4e launch day and a lovely, bittersweet essay on the first Lake Geneva Gaming Convention following Gary Gygax’ death. This section doesn’t acknowledge any RPGs beyond D&D, no White Wolf, no GURPS or Warhammer, no indie movement, no Traveller, Runequest, Tunnels & Trolls, and really nothing much on other creators or their place in RPG history. Instead there’s snapshots of conversations with real hobbyists, and observations on how it feels trying to get involved. All the participants seem to be treated with respect and actually they all come out of it very well indeed. The game played with Frank Mentzer sounds like a treat.

Other subjects are less engaging, but that may well be because I’m less disposed to apprecaiting them. In particular the whole costume thing. It’s never appealed to me and although the participants look to be enjoying themselves immensely, I couldn’t bring myself to really join in. I think the author actually felt the same way. In fact, he never really gets to join in fully and immerse himself in the subject. Given that the whole book is a journey to seek immersion, that’s a shame.

The other shame is that in the end, there’s no return of the prodigal son to the hobby, he remains an interested observer, but no more than that. I wonder if theres a niggling doubt that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, even when he’s been exposed to the hard evidence that yes, fun can be a very serious business. I know what it’s like to be a little embarrassed by your predilections, but if you’re going to publish a book on it, I’d like to see him really throw off the mental shackles.

None of this particularly dented my enjoyment of the book. It’s too much to expect anyone to love every part of it (surely no hobbyist could be properly involved in all these activities?) but for the parts that do resonate, they are treated with sensitivity and respect. Any time he wants a spot at my table, he’s more than welcome. Go on give it a go, treat yourself.

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