This is a rather unusual but definitely interesting book. The full title of Mark Barrowcliffe’s book is The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange, and that pretty much captures it. Barrowcliffe grew up as a geek/nerd in England in the ’70s, and he writes about that experience in this memoir. It tells you what role-playing games are like, what effect they have on some players, and what growing up as an outsider is like — but it’s ultimately not clear what the author’s take is on his adolescence. There’s rather too much self-hatred in it for me to be sure what it was really like.
I’m writing as someone who never actually played Dungeons & Dragons, despite having several friends who were avid participants, so I’m a bit of an outsider to this outsider experience. I’m a bit uncomfortable with Barrowcliffe’s self-loathing, especially when he compares his obsession to a drug addiction; that doesn’t match my friends’ experience, at any rate. I have no idea whether the difference between Britain and America really matters in this regard. In any case, the book is worth reading, and it has some interesting resonances with The Journal of Best Practices, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.