mark barrowcliffe is an okay guy. his opinions on gaming & fantasy aren't crazy, as far as i can tell, & he doesn't seem embarrassed about being a geek. which is funny, because you wouldn't take that away from this book. sadly, this book owes more to the tradition of self-loathing memoirs told in anecdotal morsels. if you want to read that sort of thing, this is for you. if you are looking for a celebration of the game, well, maybe this isn't it. there are some legitimate moments, a few times where you have to recognize that he's spot on with something about the game or the genre (he mentions that a common complaint of feminists is that male-dominated literature portrays women as whores or madonnas, & then says that isn't the case with tolkien-- there are no whores in there!) but as a whole, i was left feeling...well, put out. barrowcliffe seems to have been one of those gamers, in one of those gaming circles. you know, the type that everyone thinks of when they think of dnd players. gross guys who, failing at everything, decided to feel superior for utterly arbitrarily things. while still being horrifyingly awful. i am not saying that games like what he describes don't exist? but those are the games i steer well clear of.
apart from that, there is a sort of...blame being laid. a blame that i don't think deserves to be at dnd's feet, & frankly, i'm not sure any blame is justified. barrowcliffe talks about how dnd made his life take wrong turns? but as a published author who is married, well...doesn't it seem like maybe your life turned out alright? besides that, i just disagree with the basic assumptions. that oh, at x moment he picked up the dice, when instead he could have watched soccer on television & turned out "normal." or at y moment he could have done z with a girl but instead hung out with his friends & gamed. that isn't how people work. a y moment, you would have hung out with your friends & watched soccer instead of z, if things had gone different at x. that is the realities of life, not the mechanics of the game. towards the end, he backs off blaming dnd & says that really, it was hanging out with all males that did it to him, maybe, but that dnd fostered that environment. maybe going to an all boys school was a bigger fostering of that sort of masculine mentality, i think?
left to digest, i think i have to say i didn't like it. i was excited! i thought i was going to read a fun memoir about a life in the hobby, a book about the realities of the game by a proud player. instead it turned out to be a book by a person who hasn't gamed in years (except as research, & as he tells it, he literally ran away from the table in the middle of the session) that dealt with the bad side of gamers. you know, gaming will be a terrible prospect, if you hang around with terrible people to do it. & if barrowcliffe's estimation of himself is correct, he belonged among them. i sympathized more with the interlopers of the story than i did with the author, which is a shame.