More than a decade after its release and the time I first opened its pages, I returned to Ethan Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. The trip back has reminded me why there is merit to rereading certain books.
First released in 2009, when I was just Jason and not Agent Palmer, I had no blog, no podcast, a boring job, and I was really just trying to find my way in the world. It was the perfect time to first pick up this book. This second time, I have a blog, a podcast, no job, and I’m still just trying to find my way in the world.
Maybe because I have had more acceptance of my geekdom over the last decade, this book hit me in many different ways.
Before I get too far in, this book is about Ethan’s journey into what makes us embrace our escapist tendencies. Whether it is Tolkien, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, cosplay, Star Wars – you name it, and Ethan touches either on or near it.
In this epic journey of self-discovery, we accompany the author in some of his many incarnations – Ethor, Ethorian, Ethor-An3, or just Ethan – as he travels to J.R.R. Tolkien’s old stomping grounds, New Zealand, Lake Geneva, Dragon*Con, Pennsic, Forest of Doors, Guedelon, and many more places physical, digital, and imaginary.
During this journey. Ethan’s conversations with those he encounters, as well as his internal monologue, move the narrative along. Through those conversations, observations, and self-reflections, I found myself becoming introspective and either thinking about or defending myself from something that either Ethan or one of his party said along the way.
One of the things he continues to come back to is our own rejection of our own fandoms. Geeks, nerds, or whatever you may call us, I am one with Ethan on this. Sometimes, many of us, but not all, put down our own fandoms. Why? I still don’t know, but it’s interesting to watch Ethan and those he encounters along his journey toil with that very same question. We riff on the things that bring us joy, acceptance, community, happiness or any other serotonin-inducing vibe, but we shouldn’t.
While pondering that, there are the things that bring us all together. Those universal truths become apparent in the light of Ethan’s journey through the real world and the documented travels of the book.
- “Geeks and nerds love rules.”
- We all “expect pat answers and satisfying victories.”
- “The world demands you grow up.”
- “A yearning to be elsewhere is simply the human response to anxiety.”
- Who can say if any of us have fully healed from our childhood years.
- Nerd culture thrives on specialized knowledge…
- “Life is just a game. If you know the rules, you can get through OK.”
Nerd, geek, gamer, or freak, all of those things are relevant to our lives. We do love rules, despite how often we attempt to or want to break them. We expect satisfying victories, which isn’t always the case in the real world. We yearn to be elsewhere, which is where we usually go to get those aforementioned satisfying victories. We love the minutiae. And above all, we do tend to treat real life as a game.
This book is not simply Ethan’s journey. It is a journey you take with him. While the experiences are his, the thoughts are manifest to what most geeks and nerds have already either thought, talked, argued, or kept quiet about.
We are all unique in our fandoms and specializations in our particular pop cultures, but we are mostly the same in that we all have fandoms. It’s true that, just like in life, there is much more that could bring us together than could tear us apart, that’s not what this book is about. This book is more about the self than you might think, and with good reason.
We’re all nerds. We’re all geeks. As such, we all go with Ethan on parallel journeys, despite the fact that we aren’t sitting next to him on the plane, in the car, or at the bar. So pick up this book and enjoy the trip.
Also, check out Ethan’s TED talk “Why Dungeons & Dragons is Good for You (In Real Life).”