This article from the New Yorker has been circulating around my feed and the internet lately and it bothers me a little bit. It’s well written, takes a close look at the Dungeons and Dragons world, but the title question sits awkwardly in my brain.
Is a Dungeons and Dragons renaissance REALLY a mystery? Perhaps it’s not a mystery to the millions of fans who have been playing it since the late seventies. Here is my personal, only lightly researched, arm-chair take on D&D’s comeback. Feel free to disagree below.
The game was very popular in the 80’s and hooked many of us (Gamers) in our youth. The “satanic panic” drew some of us in deeper as a form of defiance. If you live under a rock, the Satanic Panic in Dungeons and Dragons culture happened in the 80’s when religious zealots who didn’t understand the game, thought it was a gateway to Satanic culture or dark magic.
The following is not meant to cite and edition war, but it’s how I saw things unfold from my chair.
AD&D 2E kept us playing, families were emerging for gamers and business slowed. TSR was struggling to get by and they were the kings of the business at the time. It was still a fun game and 2E to 1E conversion could happen on the fly. Dice were still rolling, even if sales in Lake Geneva were not.
WOTC bought TSR, which means it was about to be owned by Hasbro. They quickly came up with a way to make some cheddar for the floundering brand and released a hasty third edition. Gamers started dropping off of sales records, but we were still trading and playing 2E. Pop culture was resisting the nerd embrace during the 90’s still. They wanted edgy, swearing, dirty cartoons with impossibly muscled, machine gun-toting, machismo, scruffy, characters (includes women).
Gen con was till happening though, and the game was still getting played.
Around this time the OGL appeared. Things changed for independent writers and producers. There was traction for the general idea of RPGs as a whole to grow outside the borders of Hasbro and WOTC.
In more recent times, the Lord of the Rings franchise emerged, new Star Wars movies, Magic the Gathering, Game of Thrones, and multitude of other pop culture shows that highlight either Dungeons and Dragons ‘feel’ or glorify nerd culture. Not missing a beat, Hasbro picked up the pieces of some mostly flopped systems and generated a gaming system pulled directly from message boards and house-rules of the game. They wasted no time in labeling it “Dungeons and Dragons”. It was the rebirth of the nerd culture and the label promising a new game while inspiring nostalgia that took hold.
It’s not a mystery, it’s not “Uncanny”. Gamers have always been here, gaming. Pop culture and Hollywood went from giving nerds wedgies to calling them sexy (FINALLY). The world is finally catching up with the idea that these things (D&D, Star Trek, Star Wars) are fun, well done, and entertaining. Dungeons and Dragons has long been the social thread that tied us all together around nerd culture. We could go to a Star Trek gathering and be sure everyone knew what a level 8 Minotaur Barbarian was.
My answer to the New Yorker, who is now trying to hop on our band wagon (and they are welcome to come roll dice), is that it’s not “uncanny” or a “mystery”. Hollywood decided we were now ‘cool’ and shined a light on some great things you all thought were beneath you, childish, and for nerds. Now you want to be cool too and talk about Dungeons and Dragons. You are like the popular girl in those 80’s movies like ‘Goonies’. Too aloof of us until it was cool. Well, like true outcasts of the movies, even though you burned us hard back there, come and play some D&D now.
New Yorker editors. it’s “D&D”, “D & D”, or Dungeons & Dragons. Not D. & D.