Congratulations everybody. We did it. We made it to the spotlight. They used to make fun of us, and those who came before us, we who enjoyed past times that weren’t entirely social or cool or functionally useful in the real world. With the release of games like Pokémon Go, which was a landmark achievement in augmented reality gaming, we were able to see our counterparts in the real world, roaming around, capturing Pokémon and having lots of positive community interactions. The game eventually lost its luster due to issues with the immense scope and amount of players, however what the game showed was the new age of gaming. It was a beacon, not to those of us in the community, but to those outside it. People who thought video games and Pokémon were just for kids, or were just something we all loved fifteen years ago and then left behind when we grew up and realized how much cooler football and jobs and drinking were, have been absolutely dumbfounded. We still love it, we are still here, and the only people who didn’t realize the phenomenon were those few still trying to ostracize people who care about and enjoy different past times than themselves.
Unfortunately not everyone has gotten to this point. While people from all walks of life are playing games like Halo, Call of Duty, Pokémon and World of Warcraft, and it’s no longer surprising to those outside of nerd culture, there is still a firm holdout of entrenched, impenetrable nerdery: the realm of tabletop role playing games, most notably Dungeons and Dragons. These games are so vast and technical and time intensive that there are very few casual players. This creates a much stronger divide for DnD players to the outside world, as opposed to those of us who can go out for a beer, catch up with friends and still catch a few Pokémon while at the bar. When one mentions to others, especially those firmly outside of gaming culture, that one has played Dungeons and Dragons before, let alone plays on a regular basis, the stigma is immediate. Usually you’ll get a strong ‘No Way’ or just a stare of disbelief from this person who must’ve at one point held you in high regard, and has now resigned you into a group of fedora wearing, living with your parents, adult children who have totally abandoned any chance of a real, functional social or family life.
This is one of the most undeserved stereotypes in the culture of gaming today. While normal board games are held in high regard as wholesome family fun, as well as mentally stimulating past times, for some reason tabletop RPGs have been resigned to a dark pit of stigmatization that, even in today’s welcoming gaming culture, there has been very little escape from. Why is it that certain video games are so socially acceptable when they take such a small amount of creativity and intellectual development? Games like Call of Duty are so fast paced and erratic that it’s hard to tell if eleven year olds with ADD are better at them than anyone else, or if the game is taking smart kids and diminishing their attention span to the blink of an eye. Yet Dungeons and Dragons makes you create entire worlds, in the vein of JRR Tolkein or other award winning fantasy writers, and it is seen as a waste of time. These games make you focus for long periods of time, intelligently creating characters that have to be able to stand up to any monsters or mayhem from any version of the game through its decades and decades of history, and draw upon your own inventiveness to overcome obstacles in any way you can think of, using your strengths and weaknesses and a good bit of luck, just like in the real world. And that is just playing as a passive player, not even as the most unique part of these games, the DM, or Dungeon Master.
The DM is the heart and soul of tabletop RPGs, and is one of the most distinguishing factors of these games from board games, video games or anything else comparable. When you’re playing Dungeons and Dragons, you’re not fighting baddies preprogrammed by some techie half a world away at a visual arts company, but a creation of someone standing right next to you. These people are the Tolkien’s and the Asimov’s of the game, the creators, trying to contain in their notes and brains the scaffolding of an entire world in which you are adventuring. This takes a nearly unassailable amount of time, effort, creativity and dedication to the point where it is probably responsible for the lack of larger acceptance of tabletop games. But for those who drink from the well, it is extremely deep and satiating. DM’s are in total control of the game, for better or worse, and can draw upon anything from all the past versions of DnD to literally anything. There are some rules, and throwing whatever you feel like into the game can create issues of balance and control; however there is no other game on the planet that even approaches the amount of variety a good tabletop RPG can host. For those who have put in the time to understand these games, the options are limitless. Applying the right structure, any mythos you choose can be incorporated into the game, from a star wars themed adventure to an entire universe and history of your own devising. This is the most unique experience in gaming culture, on both the DM’s side and the players’, creating a dynamic of fluid interaction between creator and adventurer that is unparalleled in gaming today.
Succinctly, we have to stop stigmatizing these games. They are often impenetrable to the casual observer and we put up walls around tabletop RPGs that only push people further away from what can be a very intellectually stimulating, imaginative and creative experience. Yes it takes more time than we think is appropriate for something that is totally fictional and not entirely compatible with the real world, but how can we as a society not stigmatize someone for watching Netflix for an entire day, or playing marathon games of Battlefield or Call of Duty, or even reading for hours on end, and then ostracize those who are exercising their creative and intellectual abilities to create entire worlds, and then leading each other through adventures where they must use inventiveness and teamwork to overcome severe obstacles created by their own peers? This past time is not for everyone, not even close, but those who have the ability and the dedication for the challenge need to be at the very least acknowledged for their achievements of creativity, if not lauded for them.
“The books I write because I want to read them, the games because I want to play them, and stories I tell because I find them exciting.”
-Gary Gygax, author, game designer and inventor of Dungeons and Dragons
This article was written by Jake Perry, a writer for dusk magazine.