Satan, Geeks and D&D

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.

–Sarah.
http://ThatsAGirlsCar.com

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.


Look at those crazy bastards.

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

We always need more questions! Please submit one if you love us, and submit 2 if you don’t.

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to dungeonmastermind@gmail.com, or you can Tweet me a question @AsktheDM. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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12 Responses to Satan, Geeks and D&D

  1. prolixwag says:

    Hey! Cameron McNary here, I wrote the play, “Of Dice and Men”, that the letter referred to. I disagree that every portrayal of D&D will inevitably be a spoof on some level. ODaM, though very funny, most emphatically is not. None of the humor is derived from mocking the game, the fact that people play it or enjoy it, or the idea that these people are somehow socially inept. These are intelligent, attractive adults, presented aspirationally: not only do you come out of watching ODaM understanding the appeal of tabletop roleplaying, it winds up looking like something you really might want to try.

    There’s nothing wrong with self-deprecation and self-mockery, in moderation — it’s a key part of geek culture and geek identity — but it isn’t all we are, and it isn’t all we should aspire to.

    We’re set to start shooting on the film version of ODaM this weekend; I’m looking forward to getting its message out to a wider audience. Our IndieGoGo campaign finishes up tonight; please take a look at it if you get the chance:

    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/of-dice-and-men–2

    http://www.ofdicemen.com

    • Hey Cameron,

      Thanks for the comment. I actually agree with you completely. I’m not in any way implying that D&D has to be associated with spoof and self-mockery. I’m saying that by and large it’s depiction in pop culture HAS been just that, not that it can’t be something else.

      In fact, I too am working on a brand-new web series that sounds like it’s right along the same line as ODoM. It’s called One Die Short, and we just completed a successful kickstarter campaign for it. Check out the ODS website when you get a chance:

      http://www.onedieshort.com

      I think we’re trying to do the same thing for D&D and roleplayers, so it’s unfortunate if you took anything else to the contrary away from this blog post.

      Thanks again for commenting, and I’ll be following the progress of ODoM closely!

  2. Bardu! Sorry I thought I would quote Mazes and Monsters to start this right. I went to a public school were the administrator back in the mid 80’s dragged me into the office to interrogate me about my beliefs in the power of Satan. I guess hobbies that teach children reading, writing, comprehension, math, problem solving, and socialzing is just what this country doesn’t need. We deny inmates role-playing games but allow them weightlifting, shank-making, gang raping, and drug trafficking.

  3. I started a D&D club in a Jesuit high school. Didn’t go over particularly well, I must say.

  4. Grace says:

    I used to go to Catholic school, and before they would usher an entire class off to confession, they’d give us an “Examination of Conscience” paper with a giant list of sins. I may or may not have laughed inappropriately out loud in the chapel when I noticed that D&D was on the list.

    • Ask the DM says:

      awesome. yeah, i didn’t go to a catholic school, but i did have to go to sunday school and i got in trouble for pretty much existing. they actually told my parents they didn’t think the catholic church was the right place for me. aren’t they supposed to be trying to save my soul or something??

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