Monday, December 3, 2018


I had such fun with yesterday's post that I thought I'd mix it up again.  Don't mind the picture.  Alas, I am far past the point before I can be shot for not having spoken yet.

Let's talk about this puff piece, featuring Brian Goldner, CEO of Hasbro, the leashsnapper behind the WOTC.  Right off the top, it trades on an image that has become all the rage, now that everyday people have to submit themselves to deodorant-challenged I.T. guys to get their computers fixed at the office.  "With nerd culture out in the mainstream these days ..."

Is it?  I'll grant you that nerds, or geeks, however you manage that image in your mind, are making a significant footprint in the world with things like Amazon getting your stuff to you in a few days from Guangdong, China, but stop for a minute and ask yourself if any of that is "culture?"  I'm not seeing a lot of nerds depicted in reality shows, as part of the political establishment or in mainstream hundred-million dollar films (except as the same comedy relief they've always been).  I'm not seeing nerds selling out stadiums with their music, unless you think Katy Perry and Justin Bieber are nerds.  Which is quite a stretch, really.  And as far as the rich go, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Bill Gates aren't "nerds."  They're businessmen.  You just want them to be nerds.

But okay, nerds are popular.  Supposedly.  Right after that trope, we get another: it's not just kids, it's adults!

I became an adult, by official 2018 standards, by turning thirty in 1994.  I learned the game of D&D in 1979 - from adults.  When I learned the game, I was taught that anyone over 18 was an adult, so from that I extrapolate that the university students who invented the game were adults.  What the fuck?  Is this news to people, that adults play this game?  Do they think that group of actors on Critical Role are teenagers?  I'll grant that a lot of the guys online pitching the game are awfully juvenile, but I'm sure they can all drink legally.  So why are we making this sound like adults started killing dragons just this year?

This even includes financial statements for a year
that hasn't happened yet.  Is Hasbro seriously predicting
how many financial statements they expect to make
next year?  Why are they waiting?
People are re-engaged, says the CEO of Hasbro, the company that did its best to strangle D&D for twenty years in favor of magic cards.  But I guess good sales can change a CEO's mind about anything.  Judging from the chart, D&D has managed to do something incredible since 2017 ... so why am I unimpressed that this chart shows "mentions" of D&D in Hasbro's filings.  Are legal documents the only thing we had to measure here?  I question the validity of a company using the number of its financial statements, instead of the numbers in its financial statement, to prove a point.  Maybe I don't trust accountants.

There it is again.  In 2019, Paramount plans a D&D movie.  I'm sure it will be awesome.

Funny that with all these adults playing, the next segment begins with the phrase, "Explain it like I'm 5!"  Fine, but I question a five-year-old understanding any of the following words: personality, miniature, crypt, attribute, manipulate, complex, mechanics, faction or collective.  Also, I seriously doubt a five-year-old will understand the idioms, "whatever the medium," "sets the scene," "political thriller" or "jump in and narrate."  So, fail.  Seriously.  Explain it like I'm 5.  Give it a shot.

Here it is again, 8.6 million Americans who played D&D last year, according to the WOTC's statistical department, a subsidiary of U.S. Data and Statistics.  Funny that we have results from 2017 but nothing from 2018, even though its November now.  If the number of players is pegged to the sales, why aren't we getting quarterly numbers?  What is it about years' end that makes it possible for the WOTC to calculate the number of players?  I want to know!

I admit, I'm not much interested in this constant need the company has to make every press release a history lesson.  I'm much more interested in the wish fulfillment rhetoric that D&D is "a respite from our digital devices."  One of my favorite social trends is the constant bleating of non-digital service companies pressing the agenda that people really don't like their phones or the internet, they'd really rather just throw those things away and "be free."  Like the adage I hear that people really don't want to shop online, they'd really rather visit an bricks-and-mortar store, just like the old days.  I'm sure some people do wish for that, just as some people hate cellphones and some people can't understand why newspapers have taken a nosedive.  But no worries.  As Joe Manganiello says, the game is part of a "movement" away from the isolation of computers and mobile devices.  And as Dave Gershgorm, the writer of this e-document says, D&D "is certainly a respite from our digital devices."  Like the one this was written on and is being read on.

Do you suppose these people really imagine there's a movement against the computer?  Or is it rather that writers like a paycheque, and that they can pause and sigh pitifully after writing a sentence like that, knowing we can't hear them.  I suppose Manganiello can afford his fantasies about the isolation of computers, now that he's an actor, a gamer and a husband of Sofia Vergara.  Wasn't he in some bit of film that deserved credit too?  I don't down-play the other titles, but really, wouldn't you pause if you read, Kurt Russell, actor/impersonator/husband of Goldie Hawn?  That's pretty cool, but I think he's done a few things on his own.

Manganiello is fairly well spoken, pleasant, makes a good guest on the talk shows, chucks out the usual shit about how D&D works, I've nothing against him.  But like Eminem being so sheltered he could plausibly claim he didn't know about porn on the internet until 2009, I question how much Manganiello, who has been acting steadily since the late 1990s, knows about "the isolation of computers and mobile devices."  That's probably not fair.  It's just that from my experience, busy people in the arts dream about getting away for a Friday or Saturday night to be around a table with their friends from all the constant demands and promotional shit connected to the business of making movies.  In other words, they're too busy to play.  I think the balance of everyday D&D players are not that busy.  They dream of having something to do Friday or Saturday night.

Okay, yeah, cheap shots.  But we are talking nerds, right?  What exactly defines a nerd, if we're not talking about social lepers who do weird things that most of the world feels deserves an appellation that, let's face it, ain't poetry.  Is it cool now because a tiny proportion of the "cool" people are playing it?  Is that all it takes?

I guess it does, if we define "cool" the way that a paid actor used to sit in a Chrysler and say it was cool, or the way a paid actor uses deodorant and calls it "cool."  I don't really think that's cool.  And I don't think that D&D is taking the world by storm, whatever the CEO of Hasbro says.  He's not cool.  He really isn't.

I don't think these people really understand cool.


JB said...

This post (and your last one) put a big ol' smile on my face. Thanks for that.
: )

I wonder how much of Hasbro/WotC's touted success really is genuine and how much is just puffery (is that a word?). Clearly they've been making a lot of sales, and marketing the hell out of the fact that their product is "cool" (popular), attempting to create buzz to drive more sales. But is the game they're selling truly achieving what they say they're achieving? Or are folks simply buying the game because of the momentary "buzz" and then letting it gather dust?

I find myself somewhat afraid that they (the Corporate Overlords) are creating a bubble that is doomed to explode (implode?) at some point.

I say "somewhat" because it's possible such an implosion might be a good thing...and anyway it won't affect me or my gaming (such as it is) all that much regardless.

Anyway, thanks for the smiles.
: )

Alexis Smolensk said...

The Mac's convenience store near my work has a sign on the wall, "Colder than frozen," and earlier today a co-worker asked, "How is that possible?"

"Through the magic of marketing," I said. Because in marketing, everything is possible ... and probable, if someone, somewhere, believes it will create buzz.

Hasbro is in trouble. They've been sliding since the demise of Toys 'R Us and 2018 has been particularly troublesome for the country. So they're busy reaching for every straw available ...

Cue a rise in interest among a few game stores in large cities, the success of Critical Role and a generally favorable reaction to the Adventurers' League.

I've argued an implosion would be a good thing for a long time. I may live to see it.

Ozymandias said...

"Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Bills Gates aren't 'nerds.' They're businessmen. you just want them to be nerds."

The truth hurts . . .

Certainly, there are some very famous and successful personalities who can identify as nerds. But their fame and success is tied to their chosen field which is not necessarily "nerdy." Neil Gaiman is known for his fantasy fiction and comic books, but he's just as well-known (if not moreso) because he's a good writer, with a few works that adapted well to cinema. Patrick Rothfuss is known as a "famous nerd," though again, he's a good writer and he runs a charity, mostly off the fame of his persona.

But here's the thing: much as I love their work, I'm willing to bet that easily 99 out of 100 persons don't know who they are. If you say, "You know, the guy who wrote Coraline," then more people will go, "Oh yeah, I saw that movie. It was fun," but they won't know anything about the author, himself.

It's especially telling that, try as I might, I can't think of another name . . . George R.R. Martin? I guess we could group him in this category, being a fantasy fiction author, but again his fame is due to the adaptation of his work to television. Had that not happened, he'd be relatively famous in his chosen field, to be sure, but not nearly at Jeff Bezos' or Bill Gates' level of notoriety.