Dec 5, 2012

D&D & Honey Boo Boo: Negative Cultural Connotations

Edgar posted about concern for possible parent backlash in recruiting neighborhood kids to play D&D with his daughter.  Even though I don't live anywhere near him (Midwest versus South) I share his concern.  This is not a false concern, but based on empirical evidence.  As a kid who loved D&D in the 80s, I remember being extrememly confused as to why my parents and adults at church demonstrated such concern.  As an adult, I am confused as to why a game that encourages and possibly develops interpersonal skills, math fluency, history, and non-fiction reading is still culturally shunned and geekified if not outright villified.

Last year I broached the topic with some gifted educators in my district (I'm a teacher).  That is, I presented an overview of the game and why it would meet certain math and language arts standards, while encouraging student creativity as  "project-based learning".  While I described the game and math and literacy behind it, they got excited.  However, as soon as the words "D&D" came out of my mouth, they all immediately said "no".  Even if I strip away the label "D&D" (which is fairly easy as I typically use Labyrinth Lord materials anyway), I observe similar (though, admitably, less intense) negativism with terms such as "fantasy role-play" and "table-top gaming".  Bottom line, even though the fanaticism of the 80s Satanism scare is over, the shadow is long.  That shadow isn't just about D&D being evil, but also geeky.

As I work on my "Teach Your Kids to Game" game (which I no longer think will be finished by week's end, alas), I experience particular concern with this topic.  Indeed, in my introduction I make sure to avoid terms that may cue someone in to the D&D history behind the game.

I can't help but think our society would be better to embrace table-top playing rather than shun or snort at it (and then promptly sit the kids back in front of the televsion for another passive round of Honey Boo Boo and numbing "reality television").  Visualization is a well-documented technique for athletes such as gymnasts and high jumpers.  I can't help but wonder if D&D, as a visualization tool, doesn't help people develop interpersonal, math, and language arts skills in a comparable way.


  1. While I can't speak for your compatriots, I think the fear of D&D is a boogey-man effect moreso than any actual dislike of D&D. People don't allow D&D because of the backlash of doing so, even though there is no backlash. They fear a non-event.

  2. Then, the more people that break throug the falsity of backlash, the more likely a significant cultural shift. Let's hope.

  3. In the past when I worked with high risk kids I used gaming as a tool for some of them. Most of the kids had trouble with social skills and this gave them an opportunity to have an activity with peers and develop a common ground. I've always been an outsider in my field because I tend to do what will work and piss on conventional thought if it is a barrier. The county I worked for knew this and I would get assigned some of the 'worst' kids. It was very cool when I would pick them at school and see them developing strategies together. And it I had them around long enough I taught them how to run their own games. It was a very good tool and was very glad I had the chance to use it.

  4. Very compassionate Tim, I didn't know you did that. When I looked about for some peer-reviewed studies to support gaming in the classroom the only evidence I could find showed that at-risk kids demonstrate increased performance on standardized assessment, where average and above average showed no statistical increase after gaming supplementation.

  5. ...even though the fanaticism of the 80s Satanism scare is over, the shadow is long. That shadow isn't just about D&D being evil, but also geeky.

    Yes, and I have wondered for a long time when this "perception shadow" will finally disappear under the light of reason. I mean, how many famous folk have talked about their gaming histories: Will Wheaton, Vin Diesel, etc?

    This is the powerful, strange dichotomy surrounding D&D in our culture: that the game can simultaneously be accepted and reviled/belittled, like a favorite servant. This doublethink is so frustrating. Maybe I'm fooling myself, though, because even though a Hollywood star like Vin Diesel talked about playing D&D, it's just a factoid about him, and not something that's thought about deeply by the masses. It's probably seen as an idiosyncrasy of said actor, and not a strong point.

    A guy I know, a psychologist, has been pushing a program he calls "Social Sorcery." He wants to use gaming for his younger patients to help them work on social skills. So far, it hasn't taken off. And I wonder if that's because of the stigma that still clings to D&D.

    I know that gamers like to join in the mockery toward D&D, thinking perhaps that it's all in fun. But maybe we need to stop laughing along. Maybe we need to consider that there's a dark core to what seems to be light-hearted ribbing. If we continue to seem like we're making fun of ourselves, the rest of the culture will see that as license to continue with the status quo. Yes, it's good to be humble and be able to take yourself lightly, but not if everyone else doesn't get the fact that you're not a self-loathing nerd with a creepy pass-time.


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