Ethan Gilsdorf almost has a rock ‘n’ roll rationale for his geekiness.

“Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess,” he writes at the beginning of his latest book. “But of what human thing in the world is that not true?”

It should be noted that Gilsdorf is quoting Tolkien.

Gilsdorf’s “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks” is a mix of sociological journalism and memoir, and takes an in-depth look at modern fantasy and role-playing culture, from the madness of Dragon*Con and the infamous World of Warcraft to more intense and lesser-known realms.

The book began as an attempt to answer whether his own tendencies toward sword-and-sorcery escapism were compatible with maturity. He found kindred spirits who turned out to be pretty normal. Indeed, as he tells us, they were “no different in their hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, from the average bowler or soccer mom.”

Why, then, choose fantasy? He says modern life has “stripped us of our core being — the one that wants to fight evil.”

“I think these folks, me included, want to find some way to interject these missing qualities back in their lives — and fantasy and gaming does that.”


Geek Pride

Gilsdorf says D&D taught him valuable skills like creativity, strategy and leadership. Yet many still consider it childish.

“American culture has a real love-hate relationship with intellectualism,” he says. “If you excel at making money or scoring touchdowns or commanding a room’s attention, we celebrate this. ... Of course, now, this is changing. To be a computer programmer is to, potentially, be a titan of industry.”