Monday, April 8, 2013

Can It Be Cool?

Over the weekend, catching up on the Big Bang Theory (I find I'm lethargic first thing on weekend mornings, so one must watch something) and being annoyed at how really awful the writing is getting, I sadly watched their Christmas show.  For those who don't know, it was a riff off playing D&D to rescue Santa from a dungeon.

The presentation of D&D was ... unfortunate.  Really unfortunate.

Those not completely immersed in the culture are well aware of how bad the culture looks from the outside.  I work everyday with people who make considerable amounts of money, whose lives revolve around business models, marketing, the acquisition of material goods and what used to be called 'conspicuous consumption.'  I can say without equivocation that these people have, almost universally, never heard of D&D.  In High School, while the gentle reader and I were playing the game, these were the people purchasing from the school store, competing in school sports, cheering on people competing in school sports and 'getting involved' on every level upon which we did not want to get involved.

If you can remember playing in your school cafeteria, and a group of 'popular' guys or girls passed by and gave you those looks that said you were on the same social level as bugs, then you have some idea of whom I speak.

Some reading this will bristle with contempt ... once upon a time, I certainly would have.  Some readers here are in the same environment as me, however, and like me, they shudder when they imagine one of these people forming an opinion of a gaming convention.  Which wouldn't be a problem, I suppose ... if all you cared about was the hedonistic certainty that spending your weekend doing whatever you freaking want is the only thing that can, or will ever, matter.

If someone speaks of improving the public's conception of roleplaying games, however ... with the fond idea that one day they could be taken seriously ... then let me say this:  we're looking at a serious disconnect between those people who have authority in the community and those people with the money to change the community's respectability.

Authority in the community is, on the one hand, a popularity contest ... but it is also powerfully influenced by how much of your life you're willing to commit to the gaming community, in exclusion to all else.  There's something odd and humorous about the fantasy element that turns the argument, "Jeremy is an ordinary store clerk by day, but at the gaming table he's a Barbarian God," into respect for people who spend so much time gaming they have no ambitions beyond being an ordinary store clerk.  And if you should point out the sad, pathetic frame work of this ... well ... you're obviously not the sort of person we want around here.

Fundamentally, I believe that D&D and roleplaying is an intellectual activity.  I would like to think any intellectual activity is a positive thing.  I believe that all the time I've spent being a DM, encouraging people to play, in effect 'training' them to play, has made me a better manager.  I believe the skills I picked up in high school researching elements of the game served me well in University, and ultimately in teaching myself how to acquire skills on my own.  I believe that people who have played together around me have had opportunities to be social where otherwise they may not have, and in gaining confidence at the table, they've been able to tackle school, life ... even positive, romantic relationships.  I think the game can be very good for people.

Obsessiveness never is, however ... and where "the community" is concerned, the most overt and visible segment is unfortunately the festival of obsessiveness that is the gaming convention.

I suppose I'm no different than the ordinary, urban professional who happens to be gay, who shakes his head sadly at half-naked men dressed as pixies dancing in the streets.  It's debateable whether or not "in your face" gays were contributory or detrimental to the eventual acceptance of homosexuality.  My feeling is that, with time, the friendly fellow or girl you happen to work with, who expresses his or her preference while being just another human being, has done far more towards enabling society to move on from staunch conservatism than has the aggressive street abuse carried forth by flaming faggots.

There's no question that there are thousands more people who play roleplaying games in quiet, unadvertised sessions than all those who dress up to drive 700 miles to attend this weekend's activities in Cincinnati, Savannah or Topeka.  But there's no voice, no visibility for these people, no means to express their idea of the game - certainly not a youtube video, since they don't want to be judged on how good they are as DMs and Players.  Yes, I do spend a lot of time talking about that; and about what's good or bad that I see or act upon.  But I can't blame a few people comfortably playing the game on a Saturday night for wanting to avoid raving, ranting psychotic opinions such as I generate.

What's needed, to bring these people out of the closet, as it were, and have them speak up in public about what they play and how much they play, is a marketing campaign that would encourage them to believe they wouldn't look like idiots.  I haven't seen that.  I haven't seen the TV show or the blurb in a paper that hasn't slanted virtually everyone who plays this game into some kind of crazytown.  Even people who like D&D can't bear to read another magazine article about it ... not with its usual, simplified explanations spoken or written in the tone of, "Can you believe people do this?"

There are other isolated, intellectual groups with odd habits and incomprehensible inward thinking.  Most of them benefit from the sort of vague notion that they contribute meaningfully to society.  Roleplaying games don't have that sort of cachet.  But they might, if presented well, obtain a respectability if, just once, they could be presented as 'cool' and not the participation of retarded adult children.

I'd love to have an idea for a commercial-like video that could present D&D the way the below presents mathematics.  That would be ... marvelous.


  1. Hate Big Bang Theory. The geek/nerd-culture equivalent of a Minstrel Show. As the series progressed, the veil just became thinner and thinner.

    The hobby needs to be shown in a positive, healthy light. The gay analogy is not that far off at all.

  2. I always wonder when the guys on The Big Bang Theory write papers or actually do research. I also wonder at the D&D stereotypes, 2 guys in my current group were both thrown off the football team for being too violent and I had to turn down coaches trying to get me to join the basketball or the wrestling teams a few times, we weren't all uncoorinated feeble Murray Buzzinski's ( or Leonard Hoffsteaders). Some of my coworkers know I play D&D but there's a surprising number of nerds in my department ;-)
    I've only seena handful of fair treatments of rpg over the years in the media and they also had a strong nerd vibe.

  3. Sadly, as far as representatives go, the best group I've ever seen for D&D in media is in Mazes & long as you ignore the whole insane Tom Hanks thing.

    I mean the DM is a clean-cut, well-liked Freddy from Scooby Doo look-alike...there's a friendly, social girl...a social, intelligent (if quirky) guy...and Tom Hanks! None of them are super nerdy (the quirky guy is a bit but it's not too bad) and they are all socially adept college students that have other interests and apparently do well in school.

    Of course the movie then demonizes the whole thing by having Pardeux go bat-shit insane for no real intelligible reason...but, well, the movie had a message to peddle...


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