My first encounter with Dungeons and Dragons was as a young teenage boy. I had played off and on for a couple of years, eventually dropping the interest as I entered college and became a bit more pressed for time. The memories and life lessons that I took from the game and the people that I played with are still with me today. When I first heard of Mark Barrowcliffe’s The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons, and Growing Up Strange, my first reaction as a former player was, “I got to read this book.” It was one of my best impulse decisions to date.
Mark Barrowcliffe is a British writer noted for his dark sense of humor. His other books include Girlfriend 44, Infidelity for First-Time Fathers, and Lucky Dog. The Elfish Gene is Barrowcliffe’s memoir about growing up consumed with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and the affect it has had on his life.
As I said above, my decision to read this book was based on pure impulse. I wanted to see how someone else who had played the game viewed their experiences with it. I found that I in no way took the game to heart as much as Barrowcliffe did, but I could relate to almost every page he wrote. I think the magic behind this is that, whether you grew up engulfed by D&D or anything else (music, sports, etc.), you will find a bit of yourself within these pages. That or you will begin to understand the inner workings of teenage boys.
Barrowcliffe writes one of the most true to life coming-of-age stories I have ever read. His masterful sense of humor and wonderful writing style make this book a tough one to put down. Honestly the only things that made me take a break from reading it were work, school, and the occasional bit of eating and sleeping.
The Elfish Gene begins with Barrowcliffe’s life before D&D and how he came to be engulfed in the world of fantasy and wargaming. Even if the only dice you have ever picked up have been six-sided, Barrowcliffe does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the world of D&D. He covers not only various rules, playable classes, and the personalities of the people who play (I could match almost every character in this book to someone that I played with in real-life), but he also shows the progression of the game throughout the years, the cultural influences that interacted with the gaming world, and myths associated with the game and its players. Within these pages are insightful reflections on the changes in societal trends, music, and the priorities of teenage boys.