Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe #review #memoirs

Title: The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange
Author: Mark Barrowcliffe
Publisher: Soho Press, 2009

Warning: If you’re hoping this is a book extolling the virtues of fantasy roleplaying as a positive outlet for socially marginalised teens then WRONG. This is not the book you’re looking for. Step away while you still can and go read some fanfiction. What The Elfish Gene is, however, is Mark Barrowcliffe’s memoirs of growing up in Coventry during the 1970s, and how as a completely gauche, socially maladjusted teen he fled into the world of fantasy RPGs because he simply couldn’t cope with reality.

This is a tragic book. And it made me incredibly sad. Mark comes across as bitter about his past, possibly bitter about the fact that he was so lost in the games that he wasn’t functioning in society. These are not the types of memory I have of my own gaming days, and after finishing this book, I almost feel tainted. I ask myself, is this how I am with regard to the books, games and films I get excited about? To the exclusion of participating in the world at large?

Then again, I don’t recall the sheer, blithering nastiness of my fellow gamers that Mark does. Possibly, one can say that boys will be boys, but I’m an anomaly in that regard – a girl who likes her fantasy RPGs a little too much. Sure, I met a few like Mark at the few events that we had in Cape Town during the 1990s, but I avoided them. The rest of the folks were just incredibly fun to be around, all student types, and we had really good times.

What I got from The Elfish Gene is mostly Mark’s bitterness, suggestive of deep-rooted self-loathing, that he had to dig deep and bring up all that was ugly. And, yes, it’s easy to see how games like D&D can create festering little dick-measuring contests among folks, but FFS, there’s more it than what he states.

Yes, there are bits that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, like Mark’s Ninja escapades, but most of the time I felt I was laughing *at* him for being such a sad puppy, and I was really glad to be done with the book. Yes, also to the fact that Mark pokes sticks at valid issues with the social interaction with *some* gamers, but yikes… I needed to read something uplifting and joy-making after this. As a snapshot into a particular era, however, and the mentality of the people at the time, this book is fascinating, in the same way as one is sometimes compelled to rubberneck at the scene of a gruesome motor vehicle accident involving a drunk pedestrian, errant livestock and a lorry transporting manure.

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