Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE ELFISH GENE by Mark Barrowcliffe


Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange

by Mark Barrowcliffe

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-56947-522-5
Publisher: Soho

A reformed geek reflects on an adolescence spent slaying mythical creatures, much to the detriment of his social development.

Growing up in Coventry, England, during the mid-1970s, Barrowcliffe (Infidelity for First-Time Fathers, 2002, etc.) was obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons. When other lads were discovering the subtle charms of the fairer sex, “Spaz,” as he was (only somewhat) affectionately known to his fellow basement-dwelling denizens, was immersed in the recently released role-playing phenomenon that had made its way across the Atlantic and swept up the author and other social misfits in its wake. D&D, with its mystical worlds of sword-wielding warriors, magic spells and deadly creatures, enabled the author and his cohorts to escape from their distressingly mundane lives into a world in which they had the power to control their destinies—a welcome departure from reality, where they were outcasts at school and easy targets for bullies. For some—including the author—however, the game quickly progressed from welcome diversion to all-consuming obsession. As the game gained popularity, religious groups accused it of fueling interest in the occult and satanic rituals, but the main problem for the author was the extent to which it stunted his social growth and, until the spell was broken, precluded the chance to experience a “normal” life. Barrowcliffe’s retrospective self-awareness is by turns poignant and amusing, though the level of detail he provides about the fantasy games and worlds of his youth may deter readers unfamiliar with the terminology and concepts they involve. Still, as fantasy movies dominate the box office, the author offers a timely, appropriate memoir of addiction recovery.

Not as captivating as the games it discusses, but worth a few hours holed up in the basement.