This week we take at look at Dungeons & Dragons in the media as I tackle a question from a fellow blogger. Also, WordPress is spazzing out and so I was unable to include any links in the blog although I wanted to:
Dear Mr. Dungeon Master,
I’m impressed with your ability to answer the various questions that come your way. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Dungeons and Dragons, so it’s been difficult for me to think of a good question that won’t make me look like an idiot for asking it. The only things I know about D&D are what I’ve gathered from my husband, his friends, and various pop culture references.
So I’ll just risk looking like an idiot, and ask you this: How accurate are the various pop culture references/portrayals of D&D? As a kid, I watched the “Dungeons and Dragons” cartoon, but I understand (mostly from people twitching and yelling about it when I’ve asked) that it’s not accurate at all. Both the awesome show “Community” and the fantastic “Freaks and Geeks” found their characters playing D&D at one point. And then, tonight, I found this article about a new play called “Of Dice and Men”: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/08/25/NSBQ1KONHD.DTL&type=performance
What do you think? Are these portrayals of D&D spot-on, or do they make you want to twitch, too? Which aspects of the game do you wish were emphasized more (or less) in pop culture references?
This has turned into several questions, so I’ll stop writing now.
Let me begin by saying thank you for the kind words, and as always, thanks for reading! This is a slightly tough question for me to answer, mainly because I have mixed feelings about it. In order to really answer the main part of this question, I feel like I need to go back to the beginning.
Dungeons & Dragons in the media (for the most part) goes back to the 80’s when it was really at the height of its initial popularity. Its portrayal then was mainly negative though. It was seen as the pasttime of choice for socially inept people that didn’t like sports, hated God, and couldn’t get a date on Friday night.
One of the first movies that tackled D&D was a priceless little gem of a film starring Tom Hanks, cleverly called “Mazes and Monsters”, so as not to offend all the devil worshipping D&D players. If you haven’t seen the movie, and want to, I’m about to spoil its genius plot for you. The basic story unfolds as follows: Robbie and his friends discover “D&D”, they decide playing the game in an old cave would be cool, Robbie goes crazy and thinks he’s his character, Pardue (what kind of stupid ass name is that anyway?). He then disappears, only to show up again later in some brief moment of clarity, just before he reverts back to his Pardue persona.
Just after “Mazes and Monsters” we get the “Dungeons & Dragons” TV show. While it may not have accurately portrayed the intricate world of D&D as developed by Gary Gygax and his contemporaries, I can’t really complain much about it. I’m not a D&D purist by any means. I have never, and will never run a campaign setting other than one I’ve made up on my own. The show depicted a bunch of kids that get pulled into a super awesome fantasy world. Close enough for me. The interesting thing about the show was that in ’85 they added a warning before each episode that Dungeons & Dragons (the RPG) had been linked to “real life violent deaths”.
We learn from from film and television, that not only are D&D players lame, but D&D is actually dangerous and can make you crazy or even a murderer. There was a huge backlash against D&D from the Christian community at this point as well, who claimed that it was Satanic and would lead people away from God. The good people at D&D, flailing under the pressure, tried to revamp the game in AD&D’s Second Edition by removing as many Devils, Demons and sexy ladies as possible, effectively ruining the game for everyone.
D&D fell under the radar for a long while until Magic the Gathering started gaining in popularity. Magic, likewise, was criticized as Satanic and was promptly banned from a bunch of schools (including my own school at the time). But luckily the new resurgance of Geek culture perfectly paved the way for D&D’s comeback, with new and improved rules and a brand-new audience of eager young children ready to sell their souls to Satan for some good times in the basement.
As D&D once again rose in popularity it of course began showing up in the media again. I could sit here and write a blog about all the inconsistencies, the lack of understanding of the game and the rules, the silly stereotypes and gross exagerations, but I won’t. When we look back at the 80’s, when D&D was treated as nothing short of a sin, and take a look around now, the difference is stark. In “Community”, the purpose of the epsiode wasn’t to poke fun at D&D. “Freaks and Geeks” even made being a Geek feel kind of cool. There has been a major shift in perception of all things Geek, and I would feel ungrateful nit-picking for the sake of nit-picking.
If I could ask for one thing, it would simply be that they move away from the stereotypes. It’s not all fat, lonley men without girlfriends. In fact, I find them to be a minority. The readers of my blog alone seem to be at least half female, and I’m sure you’re all very socially capable and attractive women. But Geek portrayal will always be exageratted. It will always be a bit of a spoof, and more often than not, it will be portrayed by people that have no idea what they’re talking about.
Everyone in the media is a sterotype: Gays, Blacks, Hispanics, Jocks, Nerds, Republicans, Asians, and Texans. We like sterotypes. They make us comfortable, though it is helpful to recognize that they’re not really true. But us Geeks are funny people, with funny ways, so it’s fun to make fun of us. At least these days it’s more tongue-in-cheek. It feels more like an older sister lovingly teasing you about your hobbies than an entire nation condemning you to Hell.
We’ve come a long way, so as far as I’m concerned, we should just be glad that D&D is shown in any sort of positive light in pop culture. I’m sure some people will say that I sound like some sort of Uncle Tom, resigned to my lowly Geek status, just happy that I’m even being recognized as existing. To this I say: have a sense of humor. Especially about yourself, and stop obsessing over every little detail, and nit-picking things to death. Stop being such a Geek.
-The Dungeon Master
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