The Elfish Gene, Mark Barrowcliffe

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.

  • lol, one of the most unpleasant circles of hell. I suspect that role-playing games aren’t for me either. I’m sure I’d burst laughing in the middle of the whole thing. But at the same time, they fascinate them. They and the particular sect of geekiness they’re associated with. So I’d like to read this someday.

  • jennysbooks

    That’s exactly why I checked out this book! I’m fascinated because I’m a big geek about a lot of things, and there is nothing about role-playing games that has ever attracted me! So I was interested in this brand of geekiness.

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  • bookgazing

    Not sure if there was nothing more boring than Coventry in the 70s (hostess trollies where around then maybe?) but Nymeth has visited it now, so she can tell you it wasn’t exactly a barrow of laughs in 2010.

  • bookgazing

    Sigh *were* around then is what I was going for.