Review: Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons

Shelly Mazzanoble has issues.* Well, not really, but she’d like you to think so. (With the exception of mommy issues, to which I can relate.) Indeed, overcoming those issues, via the medium of the world’s most popular roleplaying game, is the subject of Mazzanoble’s most recent book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons. Prepare, as the book’s subtitle urges (or cautions, depending on your viewpoint towards high geekdom), to “turn self-help into elf-help.” You cool kids have been warned.

Shelly Mazzanoble, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons

Shelly Mazzanoble, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons

Despite the fact that at the outset Mazzanoble appears to be a perfectly well-adjusted, if slightly anal, adult, the book’s premise is amusing–can one treat one’s weaknesses using D&D rather than Dr. Phil?–and Mazzanoble is a talented writer, enlivening what might otherwise be whiny or self-indulgent workaday problems with her conversational prose and storytelling skills. Mazzanoble is the master of clever turns of phrase and she’s perfected the brief, amusing, anecdote, both of which she puts to good use as she navigates the “hazards” of her overbearing mother, spirituality, lack of self-confidence and relationship troubles (to name a few; there are more). Mazzanoble draws on the wisdom of D&D to slay her demons: For instance, she observes the leadership and presentation skills of Dungeon Masters in order to learn how best to deal with uncooperative tenants in her building. All of which goes to show how D&D, when properly used, is not only a great game, but a device for the betterment of self. ‘Cause, you know, you learn critical thinking skills, cooperation with others, self-analysis, and so on and so on. All from a collection of sleekly marketed products!

That last point is significant. It should be noted that Mazzanoble is employed by Wizards of the Coast, (and in marketing, I believe) the current owners of the D&D franchise. Mazzanoble is clearly tooting her own (and her employer’s) horn (warhorn?) here, and the methods and practices she applies, gleaned from a game manufactured by a corporation, don’t seem to differ as much as she’d like to believe from the self-help books she so despises. The goals and, if successful, outcomes, are the same, and the methods aren’t entirely dissimilar; you just won’t find Oprah overcoming her weight issues by rolling a d20. Still, Mazzanoble seems genuine in her application of D&D to her problems (as genuine as one can be in such an endeavor, which is, of course, lighthearted and amusing). Think of it as writing to her audience.

And, given Mazzanoble’s writing, that audience is decidedly female. I’m not saying that men won’t enjoy this book–I did–but, were I to guess, the average male D&D fan wouldn’t. This book is definitely written for women (who are more likely to consume self-help tomes anyway). Mazzanoble does not shy away from her femininity (nor should she), and, indeed, celebrates it, discussing her love of certain shoes, pedicures, and so on. (This is obviously a particular kind of femininity.) Mazzanoble’s pop-culture references, too, of which there are many, are evidence of her “girly” tastes: Real Housewives marathons and similar fare are named often. I’m impressed by what a clever little package this book really is: A sly attempt to attract to D&D a largely untapped female market. A woman, working for Wizards of the Coast, writes for other women a self-help book mocking self-help books using D&D as her model. The book is then published by Wizards of the Coast. Very clever! Both Mazzanoble and WotC receive props for that.

I enjoyed Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dugeons & Dragons to and recommend it in particular to female gamers (or female geeks of any stripe, really). I think there’s much here for male readers to enjoy, too, if they’re open minded enough to accept Mazzanoble’s uniquely feminine style. (I think this is only an issue insofar as male geeks can be notoriously closed minded regarding such issues.) Non-gamers might have an issue with some of the terminology employed; Mazzanoble assumes that the reader has, at least, a basic knowledge of the game. (I have never played, sadly, but am familiar with the game through friends I had growing up.) Mazzanoble’s writing is really very good, and readers intimidated for any reason (“gender” or gaming, “G&G”), should know that Mazzanoble will take good care of them. She has, after all, completed a self-guided crash course in elf help.

*Issues of Dragon magazine, to which she is a contributor, stashed in her closet.

(Note: I wrote this review on January 7, 2012, and originally posted it on LibraryThing and Goodreads. Its cross-posting here is part of an effort to consolidate all of my reviews in one place.)

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