Monday, October 24, 2011

Audio Book Review: The Elfish Gene

As I have little time to actually sit and read books anymore, I am "forced" into the world of audio books.

I say forced because I lack the time it takes to just sit and enjoy reading, but I really do enjoy audio books. I do a lot of driving and therefore have a lot of time to sit and listen to things, so why not a good book?

I recently found a book called The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliff (an outstanding D&D surname btw). It's a recollection of the authors youth spent playing Dungeons & Dragons, from his discovery of the game through his teenage years and his eventual turning away from the game.

First, let me start by saying Mr. Barrowcliff is English and grew up in England so he uses local slang as you might guess, but for some inexplicable reason they got an American to read his book for the recording. This was a little unusual hearing him explain "football" to Americans spoken by an American. Also, the person reading kept mispronouncing words. He kept pronouncing breeches like "breeks". 

Anyways, small annoyances. 

The book overall was very interesting to a point. It was a very detailed recollection of his life growing up with little direction and the social awkwardness that being a young boy brings. He talks about his growing D&D obsession as if it was his best friend and it slowly begins to consume his entire life. I could relate to a lot of what he was saying as I can remember when I was 9 and first discovered the game that would be a major part of my life to this day.

Of course, he took it to further extremes than I ever did (LARPing and dabbling in the occult), but I could still relate to how he felt and thought about the game and how it can infiltrate your mind and you can spend hours every day thinking about it and reading about it and playing it. It almost scared me at points making me wonder if I was TOO obsessed, and maybe back then I was, but I always refer back to the old adage "everything in moderation". So long as you don't take any one thing to extremes, you should be ok. I don't think he ever realized that and sank deeper and deeper into the game. 

I really enjoyed listening to the book. It brought back a lot of nostalgia and some good feelings about gaming that I long forgotten, but then he draws near the end and his attitude about gaming in general turns. He begins turning on games as a whole as if they were the cause of his problem. It almost started to sound like the old D&D protesters back in the 80's, implying that it is the cause of his obsession and lead him into other things like drugs and the occult. In fact, late in the book he even says "If you're older than 20 and still playing, you're an addict"

This I took offense at. Just because you enjoy something and enjoying doing it most of your life doesn't make you an addict. Being consumed with that "thing" and doing it to the exclusion of other "things" or even just your normal life, THAT is an addiction. My wife loves to drive and always has, does that make her a driving addict? If you go out once in a while and have drinks with your friends, does that make you an alcoholic? No, it doesn't.

I've been playing RPGs since I was 9, I'm 41 now and still playing. That doesn't make me an addict. Maybe if that's ALL I did. Maybe if I walked around in a cloak and talked like I was at the Ren Faire all the time and only talked about gaming regardless of the company I was in, but that's not moderation. I do love playing and doing stuff like creating games and adventures, but I certainly have a ton of other interests.

Overall, I liked the book quite a bit and would recommend it to others, but the last chapter left me with a sour taste in my mouth.


  1. Brian: Mark Barrowcliffe here - thanks for your comments. I do regret the last chapter now - guess I just had bad luck with the group I went to. I also regret the first chapter. I'm intrigued you say an American reads it. I'm not aware of an American recording and the cover you post looks like the one I recorded.
    Breeks are, in fact, breeks.
    It says in the dictionary that it's a Scots word for trousers but I thought the use was wider - an archaic form of breeches. Anyway, thanks for your kind review. I've got back into fantasy and have had a couple of fantasy novels published by Pyr now under a pen name - MD Lachlan.
    I think in the book I'm reflecting on my obsession, rather than the game as a whole. And, as the book says, really the only way D&D was responsible for anything was in giving a lot of dysfunctional boys a reason to sit in the same room being horrible to each other for seven years.
    Yours Mark Barrowcliffe

  2. Wow, I certainly didn't expect THAT comment! Very nice to meet you Mr. Barrowcliff. I have to say, without that last chapter, it was a very fun book. The feelings of longing for the game to an almost obsessive point reminded me of myself when I was very young and didn't know anything about life outside of pictures of dragons and adventurers. It brought back a lot of memories, good and embarrassing. :)

    I think you did just wind up with a bunch of people that were a poor influence on you. Not that they coaxed you into doing anything wrong, but they set bad examples in their attitudes and the way they treated others around them. I could definitely see that as more of the cause for you straying into drugs and the occult more than the game itself.

    To me, the game is just that. It's neither good nor evil, it's just words and pictures. What the reader decides to do with that information however, determines its worth in life. I grew up with a D&D obsession just like you did, but I had some good influences in my life that helped me to realize that there are other things than JUST the game.

    I'm 41 now and I still play and I still spend way too much time involved in the game, but I have other things in my life to make me more well rounded. It sounds like you really didn't anyone to show you that when you were young. People really don't realize how much influence others have on them until much later on in life.

    Everything in moderation.

    Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed your book. I wouldn't mind hearing more about your "mis-spent" D&D youth. I loved hearing about going to those magical hobby stores. I still remember going to The Game Keeper when I was young and how overwhelming it was to see all the products that were available. I'll never forget buying the Aftermath! boxed set with my saved up allowance. There was a wall full of D&D modules and I could barely take in all the colors and amazing pictures.

    I can definitely relate to 99% of everything you wrote.

    Btw...thanks for the clarification on breeks. I thought the reader just didn't know what he was talking about.

    I'm going to look up your other works and sample some of your writing.

    Take care

  3. Hey, Brian.
    Can I ask if you read an American version of the audiobook and, if you did, where you got it from.
    I hear there is one and I don't know where it's come from.


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