Episode 18 of Freaks and Geeks: The geek crew are gathered in their school haunt, the A.V. club, as Dungeon Master Harris hypes them up for their upcoming game of Dungeons & Dragons. Their banter is interrupted by Daniel Desario: “What’s a dancing sword?” A stunned silence fills the room. Daniel is an outsider, a bad boy forced into the club as punishment, far too cool to be interested in their hobbies. Yet before long, to the shock of some and dismay of others, Harris invites Daniel to join their game.
Later, at Harris’s house, Daniel stands over a table loaded with books, dice, character sheets, and junk food, wearing a roguish grin. “Greetings, princess!” he says, “It is I, Carlos the Dwarf! The dragon has been slain, and you are free to rule your kingdom!” The players congratulate Daniel on finishing his first Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and Daniel proposes another game as he steps out of the room to grab a drink. A hush falls over the table. Gordon, bullied for being overweight, speaks up: “Wow, he’s cool.” Bill, bespectacled and awkward: “Yeah… does him wanting to play with us again mean that he’s turning into a geek… or are we turning into cool guys?”1
Over the past few years, the Dungeons & Dragons has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. This new popularity is accompanied by a significant increase in visibility for the game and its players. A whole cast of new actors have appeared as public faces for the game, in the staggeringly popular streaming web series Critical Role. Occasional appearances of the game on TV shows like Community and The Big Bang Theory have spun out into entire plot arcs. A short weekly D&D segment on Dan Harmon’s podcast Harmontown evolved into HarmonQuest, an extensively produced animated TV series featuring the ludic hijinks of its host and a rotating cast of celebrity guest stars. And as Aaron Trammell2 points out, even corporate brands are getting in on the action, as evidenced by Old Spice’s use of a D&D class to sell their brand of masculinity to a previously untapped market of geek men. As mainstream depictions of the game have become more numerous in pop culture, the types of stories told about it have changed as well.
These stories are useful in understanding D&D’s changing cultural status. By examining mass media representations of D&D play, I investigate how the game and its players have been portrayed in popular media. These representations contribute to the cultural conditions through which the game is understood and lay out narratives that produce a particular image of the game and its players. Thus, this article constructs a history of narrative renderings of D&D play.
This article focuses on mass media narratives—including television shows, films, comics, podcasts, web series, and Twitch channels—that feature D&D play as a main plot device. This emphasis on play stands in contrast to the body of fantasy works set in D&D worlds (including the Dungeons & Dragons cartoons of the 1980s and films of the 2000s), as these are more targeted at existing or potential audiences for the game and require different theoretical tools than those I employ here. For similar reasons I do not delve into the considerable wealth of written accounts of play, largely circulated on web forums and hobby zines. These are more in the methodological territory of grassroots media and exist at a further remove from popular culture, which as I discuss below is a primary lens in my analysis. Also, although I tried to be as inclusive as possible, I may have missed a few things along the way. This work is a starting point for understanding how media narratives around Dungeons & Dragons have changed over time–it is far from an end point.
My history is constructed using a chronology of collected texts and theoretical work on cultural production and consumption. Texts were analyzed both for prevailing tendencies in how D&D play is portrayed and contextualized using George Lipsitz’s3 approach to popular culture. Lipsitz frames popular culture as a shifting body of texts that operate within a matrix of differentials in access to technology, political and social context, hegemonic culture, and countercultural impulses. I also draw on Peterson and Anand’s4 Production of Culture Perspective, which considers organizational structures, occupational careers, and access to markets as central facets in understanding symbolic works. This perspective is useful for the present topic, as will become evident below, because I am exploring an area of cultural production that has been deeply transformed through changing production models. I do not delve into discussions of control or emancipation, accepting Lipsitz’s argument that these dynamics are largely ambivalent. As he asserts, cultural forms “create conditions of possibility […] but they also engender accommodation with prevailing power realities.”5 As such, the works discussed below stand as expressions of dominant structures at some points and interventions therein at others, or in many instances, as both.
This paper shows a history marked by transformations in technology and distributions of access, symbolic content, markets, and production models. These transformations correspond to important changes in how play is portrayed, most notably a shift in focus away from the game as a kind of abject socialization, towards a showcasing of the talents and identities of players.
Based on my analysis of D&D play media, I divide their history into five broad periods. These categories, and especially the dates that bookend them, are far from closed, and should be taken as broadly descriptive and thereby prone to exception. Nevertheless, they serve to identify major motifs and developments in the history of D&D play media. As detailed below, these periods are: the 1970s to 1990s, characterized by obscurity and suspicion; the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, characterized by irony and the internet; 2008 to 2012, characterized by player interactions and actual play; 2012 to 2013, characterized by play as performance; and 2012 to the present, characterized by the conflation of producer and consumer.
1970s to 1990s: Obscurity and Suspicion
D&D remained a fairly niche pastime in the first few years of its existence. What attention it drew was largely negative, and focused on the sinister effects of its blending of reality and fantasy. This led to conditions where scandal dominated the conversation, and left few opportunities for D&D fans to share their pastime.
D&D’s first major appearance in mainstream media occurred shortly before the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s,6 when religious groups, psychologists, and law enforcement spread moral panic about the game’s alleged induction of American youth to the occult.7 Much of the discussion about D&D played out in the pages of newspapers and magazines, and while much of this coverage maintained a degree of skepticism about the game’s deleterious effects (as well a general ignorance about the workings of the game,)8 the controversy reported was scandalous and sensationalizing, fuelling high-profile media works. Examples include Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons comic,9 which tells the story of an innocent girl pulled by the game into a world of real witchcraft and ritual suicide. In the 1982 TV movie Mazes & Monsters, Tom Hanks plays an isolated and unstable geek whose forays into a D&D-like game lead him into a Quixotic fantasy that ends in real murder and madness. While the latter is less eager to blame the game for its protagonist’s tragedy, Dark Dungeons explicitly casts D&D as a dangerous and corruptive force.10
The Satanic Panic was a traumatic event for the nascent game and its many players. It came during a period of deep-seated paranoia about children’s entertainment, where discussions about popular culture played into Cold War-era insecurities.11 At this point, most D&D-related media was being produced by the game’s parent company, Tactical Studies Rules (TSR), which perceived children and adolescents as the primary market for its products. At this point, TSR was run by Lorraine Williams, whom Gary Gygax felt did not respect or advocate for gamers.12 While these developments did little to slow the game’s popularity,13 they did contribute to the alienation of its players at a moment when they wished to be taken seriously.14 D&D players were mostly children and adolescents, and therefore had limited opportunities to defend their hobby outside the niche press in which it circulated; the machinery of mass media was largely outside D&D players’ reach. Indeed, in response to some of the criticisms of the earlier editions, under Williams, TSR implemented changes to the game that reinforced Christian concepts of good and evil. As such, there was little support for challenging mainstream perceptions of the game, and representations of actual play remained relegated to small-press write-ups among fans.15
Due to the climate of suspicion prevailing in American culture, there was little appetite for a more complex conversation about what it meant to play D&D. Instead, popular media amplified these suspicions. To survive, the game’s producers emphasized its harmlessness, and D&D would remain in the realm of subculture for another couple decades.
Mid-1990s to mid-2000s: Played for Laughs
This second period is characterized by three major developments: long-time D&D players growing into adult jobs, new strategies in mass media discourse, and the emergence of the internet as a platform for sharing niche content. With the relaxing of Cold War tensions, the 1990s saw the proliferation of irony as a discursive mode. This irony was marked by a multivalence (or indeed, ambivalence) of textual meaning, allowing authors to break taboos under the guise of tongue-in-cheek reification, or vice-versa.16 While moral anxieties about Dungeons & Dragons persisted, it was now possible to challenge the conversation by parodying those very anxieties. This discursive turn is well exemplified in the Dead Alewives’ 1996 comedy skit “Dungeons & Dragons,”17 where the sinister immersiveness of “Satan’s game” is abruptly broken by social dysfunction and calls for more Cheetos. This style of D&D humor was widespread, foregrounding the dissonances between the magic and wonder of the game world and the banality of play.
Against this changing landscape, Dungeons & Dragons games began to appear in popular media. It appeared in the funny pages in a short 1993 arc of Bill Amend’s comic strip, Foxtrot. Here, a rainy spring break finds Paige Fox stuck playing Dungeons & Dragons with her litter brother Jason. Jason is an archetypal nerd, whose collection of D&D books spans an entire bookshelf, and who relishes the complexity of the rules and his authority as Dungeon Master to torment Paige.18 This (heavily gendered) theme is echoed in an episode of the late-‘90s sitcom Jesse, where the eponymous protagonist finds herself trapped in a prospective boyfriend’s D&D game.19 Jesse is the only woman at a table of grown men in silly costumes, who seem unable to recognize the ridiculousness of their long and bafflingly complex game. Jesse finally devises an escape by turning her character against the others, forcing them to kill her character in self-defense, and allowing her at last to leave the table. This dynamic is subverted somewhat in a 1997 episode of the children’s cartoon Dexter’s Lab, where main character and Dungeon Master Dexter is unseated mid-game by his big sister Deedee. Unlike Jesse and Paige, Deedee is not an unwilling player, but an imaginative, improvisational, and enthusiastic DM, whose play style is taken by Dexter’s friends as a welcome change from Dexter’s deadly, oppressive dungeons.
Outside of television, the internet providing space for a burgeoning scene of geek media created by and for fans unfettered by struggles for budgets, audiences, and airtime. In 1997, John Kovalic launched the webcomic Dork Tower, which follows the everyday exploits of a group of gamers, often featuring snippets of their D&D games. By the end of 2003, the Flash animation website Newgrounds was home to a wide variety D&D shorts such as 8-Bit D&D and the unfortunately named Retarded Animal Babies 5. In 2006, Robert Moran uploaded to Newgrounds the first episode of Unforgotten Realms, a multi-episode Flash series entirely focused on the D&D games of its protagonists.
Media from this period portrays D&D with a mix of humorous affection and derision. The game often stages encounters with the nerd stereotype, where those versed in the game are portrayed as bookish and awkward (the figure of the “rules lawyer” frequently epitomizing this role.)20 The dynamism of the game’s fantasy world is set in comedic contrast with the plain or downright pathetic lives of the players. As such, the game is portrayed as escapist, allowing the players to inhabit a world of their own imagining. Whether this escapism is mocked or celebrated depends on the text. In the Jesse episode, the escape represents a failure to engage with adult responsibilities, whereas the Freaks & Geeks episode “Discos and Dragons”21 presents it as a transformative experience that temporarily bridges social gaps and allows ostracized youths to experiment with alternative, aspirational ways of living. It bears noting that these works tend to be more permissive of these fantasies in children, while older characters tend to be ridiculed for their escapism.
These shifts may have been influenced simply by the aging of D&D players into media production jobs. The episodes of Jesse, Freaks & Geeks, and Dexter’s Laboratory were one-off affairs and by no means integral to the shows. Against the relative expressive freedom of the post-Cold War, D&D lovers who had grown up under the scrutiny of parents and church groups found outlets for their hobbies in humor. Nevertheless, they brought the game visibility to mainstream audiences outside the hobby magazines and televised denunciations of the 1980s. Online platforms had similar reach, if more limited. Newgrounds and its ilk were billed as variety websites for broad audiences, even if catering to the tastes of a relatively small, highly connected demographic. With time and the easing of panic over D&D, these works were able to circulate without much fanfare. Still, D&D appeared mostly as a small blotch on the cultural backdrop, the work of closet hobbyists working in wider contexts, appearing in blips on television and online but not yet claiming space of its own.
Interlude: Dungeon Majesty
Unlike other media described here, Dungeon Majesty is hard to fit into a neat typology of styles, and its timing troubles the coherence of my chronology. Dungeon Majesty was a public access television show, created by a group of five artists and media producers living in Los Angeles. Starting in 2004, it consisted of five twenty-minute episodes that follow the D&D adventures of its creators. These episodes originally aired in Los Angeles, but would continue to circulate on American public access networks through to 2010. The show garnered something of cult status, boosted by the creators’ engagement with their community of viewers and the emergence of corporate geek media.
Like the Newgrounds works, Dungeon Majesty was something of a passion project and had an eclectic, crafty aesthetic. The show sets the gaming table against a greenscreen backdrop. Behind it, the players are costumed as their characters, and act out the action against meticulously crafted backdrops, and stop-frame animations pit miniature figures against handcrafted plasticine monsters. Long stretches of adventuring are interspersed with profile segments, where the fantasy characters recommend books, lead aerobics routines, and answer fan mail. This aesthetic echoed the production process: in Dungeon Majesty, the game set the script. Before shooting, the Dungeon Master would create an adventure and run it for the group. Afterward, they would decide collaboratively which parts of the adventure they wanted to use in the show. Those parts would then be run again in the studio – but, as in ordinary play, the dice would dictate the outcome of character actions.22
The show emerged within a changing media ecology, where media texts acted increasingly as poles for the formation of communities, and gaming was becoming a part of everyday life. In an interview, the group emphasized that their campaign was not created for the show; rather, the characters and world came from their own ongoing game. The players had already developed histories, personalities, and attachments for their characters, which spun out into the play and profile segments. The show garnered a surprisingly large following, with the first episode netting over a million views online in just a few weeks. Many of these views came from a feature about the show on the nascent geek TV network G4, and traffic from the variety website Heavy. Through screenings, convention appearances, and a highly active web forum, the creators of Dungeon Majesty maintained an active relationship with their fans, including an entire episode set at an actual Renaissance Faire. For them, creating Dungeon Majesty was not about making a D&D show; rather, it was about sharing their love for the game and the world they had created with it. For them the game (and the show) were not a kind of escapism so much as an ongoing creative exchange across different facets of their lives.23
Many salient qualities of Dungeon Majesty would become mainstays of the Actual Play genre to emerge in proceeding years: its focus on (semi-)unscripted play, an orientation towards community, and celebration of the game’s social and creative functions. These patterns would be adopted by corporate brands in the following years, and become staples of the Actual Play genre.
2008-2012: Scaling Up
This period presents three important developments: First, D&D is taken more seriously in mainstream fiction as an adult pastime; second, online platforms begin to produce large-scale media projects focused on D&D play; and third, unscripted (“actual”) play emerges as a model of content production. These developments come during a period of growing mainstream acceptance of gaming, and revolutions in online distribution technologies allowing for content to be created and shared at an unprecedented scale.
On network television, representations of D&D play became more sophisticated. Rather than dismissing the game as infantile, episodes of shows like Community and The Big Bang Theory used D&D as a vehicle for exploring the complexities of adult relationships through role-playing. Rules-lawyering became a struggle to resolve the elegant technicality of the game’s rules with the messiness of daily life, and characters become avatars for their players’ aspirations and failings.24
Online, relatively large-scale D&D media productions proliferated, with professional production values and corporate backing. In 2008, Wizards of the Coast (D&D’s current parent company) launched Acquisitions Inc., a podcast featuring the authors of the popular webcomics Penny Arcade and PvP as players in an ongoing D&D campaign. The podcast served to promote the game’s recently released 4th edition, enlivened by a cast of comedians playing quirky characters. Episodes are unscripted, and the players leverage the emergent game state for riffs and banter. If earlier media foregrounded contrasts between the game’s fiction and the drab reality of play, Acquisitions Inc. emphasized its players’ talents in their creation of entertaining play.
Shortly after Acquisitions Inc., The Escapist, a budding web magazine focused on gaming, syndicated Unforgotten Realms. With their support, the series’ creator Robert Moran was able to create longer episodes with more sophisticated animation at a much faster pace than his Newgrounds efforts. The content remained largely the same, but was now billed as a professional product for gamers for whom D&D increasingly served as a kind of cultural touchstone. While the series was entirely scripted, it featured a similar social dynamic to the one present in Acquisitions Inc. The game was both an engine for the plot and a platform on which to showcase the antics of Mike and Rob, the show’s protagonists.
In 2010, The Escapist launched I Hit It With My Axe, a video series following the D&D campaign of a group of artists and adult entertainers based in Los Angeles. Like Dungeon Majesty, Axe embraced an amateur aesthetic. It was filmed in the Dungeon Master’s home, and the dynamics of this casual setting are heavily emphasized. The social situation regularly impacts play through players’ arrivals and departures, and personal quirks frequently affect the game state. Unlike Acquisitions Inc., Axe is heavily edited (though also unscripted), so these moments reflect the creators’ interpretation of the game, which tellingly includes the wider social lives of the players.
Both of these series use unscripted play sessions as production material and feature an adult cast. The players are generally framed as funny, charismatic individuals, whose personalities animate the game. Building on Dungeon Majesty’s embeddedness in players’ lives, this period moves towards a foregrounding of players and their interactions at the table as compelling aspects of play. These series also benefited from new pathways to markets enabled by evolutions in internet communications. Together, these factors formed the groundwork for a new style of D&D media where play was the action, and players the protagonists.
This period is characterized by a rapid convergence of actual play media and actors from outside RPG culture, accelerated by the integration of eSports technology. Through this process, D&D begins to act as a medium for entertainers to showcase their creative talents and engage directly with their audiences. As Henry Jenkins notes in his work on convergence,25 the rise of the internet and participatory culture created an environment where intellectual properties function less as products and more as cultural spaces. Also coinciding with the rise of social media, this development leads to a blurring distinction between producer and fan, allowing for the emergence of micro-celebrities and the mainstreaming of fan practices.
During this time, D&D play became an increasingly visible presence among celebrities in both geek and mainstream media. Starting in 2012, Wizards of the Coast began to run regular live Acquisitions Inc. sessions at Penny Arcade Expo to promote a new line of D&D products. Later the same year, Community showrunner Dan Harmon launched his weekly podcast Harmontown, which from early on featured a D&D live play segment. These segments used the game as a backdrop for the hosts’ improv talents and comedy. In early 2013, eSports streamer J.P. McDaniel (itmeJP) began hosting RollPlay, a series of live D&D games on his Twitch channel. His games feature a rotating cast of popular streamers and other content creators. The series uses established techniques in eSports, which overlay game footage cast from a screen with camera feeds from the players. RollPlay arranges the players around a feed from virtual tabletop apps and digital character sheets, providing character statistics and game state information. Although operating at different scales, these media brought D&D to the followings of established producers. Through these performances, media creators joined their audiences in shared productions of fandom.
The enlistment of a live audience foregrounds play as performance – a means of channeling creative energy and sharing in the act of play. Furthermore, these media lean heavily on the public personae of the players as humorists and entertainers. In her work on video game livestreamers, Mia Consalvo26 notes that for many such producers, the games they play act as platforms for their performances. Failure or suboptimal play on their channels is forgiven by audiences because “these are variety streamers, who often draw viewers for their personalities.”27 Likewise, failure and slapstick antics in the series described above are commonplace, and act as material on which the players can riff. What is really on display here is not the game, but the players.
2013 – Present: Actual Play as Genre
Around 2013, the number of professional Actual Play series begins to grow rapidly, accompanied by an explosion of streams, video series, and podcasts produced by amateurs. Indeed, it is during this phase that the challenge in studying these media shifts from simply sourcing it, to managing the enormous volume of relevant work. Having become established in the previous period, the Actual Play genre now acts as a platform for emergent producers, and as a distinct model and area of cultural production.
In this period there appears a myriad of streaming channels, podcasts, and YouTube series exclusively devoted to Actual Play. Notable examples include Saving Throw, which launched in 2014 as a venue for new players to learn to play role-playing games. It was followed shortly by Critical Role and The Adventure Zone, which both feature professional actors and stand as independent products. Countless other series have emerged, many of which are produced by people with no real experience besides an interest in D&D.
What’s more, the Actual Play genre has arguably produced a batch of D&D celebrities, including Chris Perkins, D&D developer and Dungeon Master for Acquisitions Inc.; Satine Phoenix, a player on I Hit It With My Axe who has gone on to DM and play for Critical Role; and Adam Koebell, an RPG writer and streamer featured on RollPlay, as well as the virtual tabletop website Roll20’s line of Actual Play videos.
New technologies have made the production and distribution of performative play increasingly accessible. Video and audio recording software are widely available, and web-based clients for playing D&D and other RPGs online allow producers to sidestep the difficulties associated with setting up a shared physical recording space. Leveraging these technologies, and RPG mechanics and brands, Actual Plays are easy to produce and share. The games provide a scaffold for player performance, which in turn allows them to establish their own personal brand identity.28
A net effect of this mass of work is that of an online creative social field where producers’ status is predicated on their simultaneously being consumers. Actual Play producers literally create by consuming. Hong-An Wu refers to such fields as “affinity spaces,” cultural spaces where individuals with a shared interest enact processes of initiation and social exchange.29 Both watching and producing Actual Plays acts as a means of engaging with one’s hobby. This dynamic has created a wide diversity of series, but has also brought its own set of formal and generic conventions. More successful Actual Play series tend to feature charismatic performances, tight editing, or both. The use of certain web platforms (such as Roll20, Skype, and Google Hangouts) is also widespread. The focus on performance means that characters tend to be much more colorful and get more attention than in previous periods, rather than emphasizing the fantasy world. Thus the play in these games can be understood in terms of “playbor,” where the act of play doubles as real economic activity,30 which here comes to include the acting and worldbuilding intrinsic to D&D.
Outside of Actual Play, D&D has become a larger cultural presence through television, and particularly its role in the highly successful 2016 Netflix series Stranger Things. D&D play, materials, characters, and lore act as important thematic elements in the show: as a metafictional cultural touchstone, a nostalgia object in the show’s retro 80’s aesthetic, and a crucial intellectual scaffold for the protagonists’ encounters with the unknown. Here again, Stranger Things sets up strong connections between the game and the characters’ wider lives, both reflecting and informing their adventures. While it is too early to state definitively, extensive anecdotal evidence both personal and from others suggest that the show has played a major role in generating interest in the game.
The vibrancy of this space has not gone unnoticed. In February 2018, men’s hygiene brand Old Spice created a character class for Pathfinder (a close relative of D&D). The class was subsequently licensed by Pathfinder’s publisher (who emphasized in an email that they did so humorously), and playtested in a livestream on the Saving Throw stream, where it drew the largest concurrent viewership the channel has seen to date. This is a significant development, which Trammell31 relates to the mainstreaming of geek culture. For my purposes, it suffices to point out that major corporate brands are now seeking inroads into this space from well outside RPG culture. What this may mean for representing D&D and its players remains to be seen.
This paper has attempted to identify broad trends and shifts in media portrayals of D&D play. To summarize, these include a shift of focus from the play setting to the social, imaginative, and recuperative benefits of play, and to the lives and personalities of the players and characters; from fictionalized play to recordings of actual games; from marginality in the mainstream to the constitution of a distinct cultural space; and a change in the status of the player from alienated nerd to savvy prosumer.
There have also been notable shifts in how gender is engaged in these media, although a sufficiently thorough account lies beyond the scope of this paper. As I discussed in the “Played for Laughs” section, early representations of play generally present D&D as a game for boys, and women appear as heavily stereotyped foils. Dungeon Majesty and I Hit It With My Axe caused a stir by showing real D&D groups made up mostly of women. Women appear frequently as players (although rarely as Dungeon Masters) in Actual Play media, with some notable exceptions, including Satine Phoenix’s Dungeon Mastering on Geek & Sundry, and the misscliks twitch channel. The status of women in gaming culture has been a subject of intense discussion and contestation for decades now, and the significance of these media in negotiating that status merits an article of its own, at least.
These findings raise questions about the relationship between these media representations and D&D’s play culture – that is, the matrix of discourses, practices, and positions that inform notions of who plays what and how.32 D&D has survived more than five editions and multiple shifts in its cultural status as well as its representation, and an investigation into the relationship between published, practiced, and communicated iterations of the game may bear useful findings in understanding play in our media-saturated society. For those interested in game design, there is also the question of how these successive representations have influenced different versions of the game.
Another question that arises from my examination of the latest phase of portrayals is that of economic relations. Current media are arguably closer to the D&D brand than ever before, engaging directly with new products and large audiences, and acting as a powerful intermediary between publisher and player. Sarah Banet-Weiser notes that brand cultures are marked by a certain ambivalence, a tension between empowered prosumers and the corporations that profit from their labor.33 Here, that tension manifests as occasionally lucrative career and production structures that simultaneously leave producers dependent on the corporate brand.
It also bears noting that D&D is a notoriously difficult game to learn, requiring extensive creative and interpretive work on the part of its players bring the game to life. Indeed, as observed by Bill White, Jonne Arjoranta, et al., early versions of the game were largely taught and transmitted orally.34 In her work on tandem play, Consalvo discusses “couch co-op,” where one person observes another’s play as a form of social engagement, entertainment, and capacity-building for that game.35 Current research on tandem play and streaming does discuss how streamers perform aspirational displays of skill, but there is less discussion of what kind of initiatory engagement that tandem play affords. Now, a new wave of media producers are taking on a portion of this initiatory labor in the form of Actual Plays, increasing the D&D’s accessibility and empowering new players.
Featured image “Eight Sided Dice” by Bart Heird @Flickr CC BY-NC-ND.
Alex Chalk is a PhD student in Communications and Culture from Toronto, Canada. He is investigating the role of streamers and other intermediaries on the shifting field of RPG culture. His MA research focused on the role of narrative and affect in “walking simulator” games. His enormous orange tabby is named Bil, which is short for Bilbo.
One thought on “A Chronology of Dungeons & Dragons in Popular Media”
Fascinating read, and very well-done. I was, however, somewhat disappointed you didn’t include live theatre in your survey… Of Dice and Men, both the play (2010) and the film (2014) were ahead of the curve when it came to their portrayal of players. I know that when I first wrote it in 2006, it was the first thing I’d ever seen where *none* of the humor came from making fun of the pastime itself, or the players for participating in it.
Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters (2011) is also worth a look.
Once again, great article. You’re doing a yeoman’s work.
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