The whole title of this book is The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons, and Growing Up Strange, and it’s a memoir about – well, what the subtitle says (again). Like Accidentally on Purpose, this book was snatched up at the spur of the moment from the library New Nonfiction shelf. I think what I was thinking was, Stephen Colbert played Dungeons and Dragons, and I love Stephen Colbert. Also I have always very vaguely wondered how the game works, and what the appeal was. Hence the checking out of this book.
Mark Barrowcliffe was raised in the Midlands town of Coventry in the 1970s, and evidently there has never been anything as boring as the Midlands in the 1970s. Nor, apparently, quite as viciously destructive to the self-esteem of a kid who doesn’t fit in. In order to escape from the dreariness and general unpleasantness of real life, he fell like a ton of bricks for the world of gaming, and became obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons. He was that kid.
Seriously, truly, this was agony to read. I have never liked watching people get embarrassed in films or on TV, but I’ve never had a tremendous problem with it in books. This book was in a whole different class. I kept having to put it down and read something that wasn’t embarrassing, because the scenes of humiliation that he writes about, humiliation that he embraced, were too vivid and awful to read all in one go. I was going to quote one of them here but I really cannot force myself to do it.
Still, it was interesting. I sort of learned how the game is played, and this confirmed my long-standing suspicion that role-playing games are not the thing for me. And I am reminded once again that British schoolchildren are awful fiends and probably – although Dante didn’t specifically mention it – feature in one of the more unpleasant circles of hell.