You’re in a bookstore, and it’s full of orcs. Or girls. Or girl orcs. What do you do?
If you want to slip on your Ring of Invisibility and observe them surreptitiously from the fantasy section before making your attack, roll a 20-sided die, and turn to Page 17.
But if the thought of approaching them fills you with a revulsion more powerful than Jabba the Hutt’s morning breath, then click the “X” button of your video-game controller three times, turn to Page 52, and say, “There’s no place like Alderaan.” Then, wait for someone to beam you up.
No, you haven’t fallen through a literary wormhole and popped into a sci-fi mashup of an Italo Calvino novel and a choose-your-own-adventure book. But if the above scenario feels familiar, you might pick up Eric Smith’s amusing “The Geek’s Guide to Dating” to bail you out. This is a rule book to romance for n00bs as clueless about grooming themselves to lure their “dream geekette” as Mario was at scoring with that always elusive Princess.
“So, we both know why you’re here,” Smith writes in the opening chapter, “Selecting Your Character: Your Quest Begins.” “You’re tired of living life in single player mode; you’re on a quest for a Player Two to call your own.” And you, dear reader geek, are continually addressed as Player One (a gambit, incidentally, that becomes a bit tiresome). Smith is your X-wingman to your barhopping Luke Skywalker blasting off in a journey “through the perilous, occasionally disaster-filled world of modern dating.”
Smith’s manual jumps on the geek bandwagon the way many recent books have; e.g., Chris Hardwick’s “The Nerdist Way,” a self-improvement tome that asked readers to double-down on their nerd-dom by gamifying life challenges. Decorated with cute, full-color, 8-bit, Donkey Kong-inspired graphics, this guide suggests you arm your romantic warrior with tactics, special equipment, and verbal weapons akin to equipping your character for a dungeon crawl into the Tunnel of Love.
Cofounder of the Philadelphia geek-culture blog Geekadelphia, Smith casts this whole imaginary realm of girls in terms his audience can understand: compiling your data (work out your dating plan, transport, fuel), troubleshooting (“My B.O. is off the charts”), and special equipment (lose the geeky T-shirt). Along the way, Smith lets the pop culture references to Browncoats, “Galaxy Quest,” Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, and “World of Warcraft” fly fast and furious.
These can be funny; the suggestion “Be on time” is punctuated by the reminder that had Luke returned home sooner, “maybe his aunt and uncle wouldn’t have become barbecue.” But this geek world-real world equivalence can also feel forced. “Even if you didn’t find the Ark of the Covenant right away, there are plenty of other crates in the warehouse.”
At his most useful, Smith wisely offers strategies for not getting pwned by online trolls or con artists, how to “Escape From the Friendzone,” and how to level-up your relationship from “caz” to serious, or “respawn” (i.e., recover) from implosion. But “[a]rcades are another great venue” to meet girl geeks? Um . . . no. (Smith notes that his tome is mostly geared toward “geeks [who] come with XX chromosomes.” Gals might find most tips too gender-specific to be applicable.)
At its core CPU, “The Geek’s Guide to Dating” assumes (perhaps unfairly or insultingly) that geeks are their own species, requiring special care, feeding, and owner’s manual. Readers also might find some counsel too elementary, depending on just how naive they are about the perils of pimple popping before their first date, or kissing an elf maiden goodnight (let alone unhooking her bra). Thankfully, Smith’s tone is jaunty and respectful: Wink wink, “You probably know this, but . . . ”
The key to the dating Easter egg is this: “Luckily, in life as in RPGs, you’ll always resurrect after a bad dating encounter.” Take it from me, a veteran geek with plenty of XP in the Psychic Wars. To find your princess, you gotta keep playing the game.Ethan Gilsdorf, author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,” can be reached at www.ethangilsdorf.com. Follow him on Twitter @ethanfreak.