Gilsdorf, Ethan. Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Lyons Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1599214801 336 pp. $
When Ethan Gilsdorf was 17, he put down his 20-sided die in pursuit of girls, and by all appearances, gave nary a backwards glance to his roleplaying past as he moved forward to college and beyond. On the sly, however, he dabbled in geekdom like a tippler hiding his bottle in a brown paper: a few quarters in an arcade here… browsing the new editions of D&D Rulebooks there … checking out Magic: the Gathering…
Then, in 2001 Fellowship of the RIng came out, and he fell off the wagon. He was fascinated with the Tolkien realm that Peter Jackson portrayed in his three award-winning epic films. Not only did it create some conflict with his significant other, it awakened an urge to reconnect with his geek past and investigate the appeal of immersive fantasy in his life and in the life of others. Was he truly an adult, or stagnated in adolescent? To find out, Gilsdorf made a list of why fantasy appeals, and then set off on a classic hero’s journey to discover the answer.
While on this quest, Gilsdorf doesn’t just interview and observe; he delved right in. His travels take him there and back again, from Oxford England to pay graveside respects and then drink toasts to the Professor with Tolkeinites, to Cambridge MA to play D&D, and south to Atlanta to participate in the Forest of Doors for a LARP weekend. He spends some quality time with Harry and the Potters, descends into MMO culture and emerges wanting the real thing, so he attends Dragon*Con, described as a “four day Halloween party embraced by every subculture” and finally journeys back across the pond on a New Zealand adventure to visit filming locations for the LoTR trilogy. Along the way, he wonders if the armed forces can’t be likened to some sort of RP, ponders the staying power of Geeks in Love, and has his paradigm of what it means to be a geek in constant shift.
Gilsdorf is a solid writer and good storyteller; no surprise there, for someone with his role-playing background. He juxtaposes his personal story with strong journalistic reporting, and infuses everything with a dose of integrity. A glossary of terms is appended, though many words are defined in context–the footnote on LARPing, while extensive, is particularly excellent. Photos, many taken by the author, and excerpts from primary sources, add to Gilsdorf’s narrative.
Says Gilsdorf, about halfway through the book, “the appeal of LARPing was not the battles, but the collective storytelling, the camaraderie.” Certain, this can be applied to all kinds of gaming as well – it’s about the story and the people, the gaming experience, not the game play.
This book serves as a guide to the colliding world of gaming and fantasy genre, and is an excellent primer for those who don’t “get” it and are ready to make the leap to the experiential side of things. It will also have appeal to gamers who want to read about other aspects of fantasy and gaming subculture, and who want to see themselves represented fairly and insightfully in print. This book is recommended for public and academic library collections.