Mar 28, 2014

Ace in the Hole

I've not yet been able to cajole my wife into playing D&D.  The nerd factor is, I suspect, the primary reason for my failure.  Indeed, the nerd factor is a huge component of our hobby, but is a surprisingly rare blogging topic.  Even though nerd culture such as superhero movies, and comic books to a lesser extent, have gained mainstream acceptance, the tabletop roleplaying game remains mired in negative connotations.  Changing this will likely be a difficult and long-term endeavor, but wholly worthwhile.  In this post I provide several reasons in support of why tabletop roleplaying games are beneficial, and outline a few ideas as to making it a more socially-acceptable pastime.  In the course of this post, allow "D&D" to represent tabletop roleplaying games as a whole.

To clarify the issue by comparison, look at the game of poker.  Poker has a long history as a popular, if not masculine, game.  Card games may have began as low-class entertainment, but it grew in acceptance when aristocrats began to play.  Later on, cowboys, living on the edge of life and death, regularly played poker while chomping cigars and downing fiery shots of rye whiskey.  They would occasionally leave the card table to repel a savage attack, defeat criminal gunslingers in street duels, and impress the local amorous showgirls.  To this day, poker retains flavors of this past.  It is still common practice for men to have poker nights, often descending down into their man caves to play.

D&D is young compared to poker and similar card games.  While roleplaying games have gained world-wide popularity in its forty-some years of its existence, it has never shaken free of its nerdiness.  Even though it has shrugged off the ridiculous Satanism scare from several decades ago, the nerdiness remains attached to this day.  How can such a bond be uncoupled?

Before I attempt a plan for change, I'd like to first show that such a goal is worthwhile.  There are many potential benefits for a world in which D&D is both a popular and acceptable pastime.  D&D is inexpensive, or at the least, it can be inexpensive.  Players don't need costly equipment or lots of room.  D&D can also encourage teamwork rather than the straight-up competition of games such as a poker, football, or soccer.  Even the relationship between Game Master and player need not be adverse.

D&D gives rise to narrative and general creative synthesis.  At the end of a poker match, one player has a tangible reward.  Perhaps all players may even develop poker skills.  However, at the end of a D&D game, there is a story.  Characters are developed, histories deepened, and the players develop problem-solving and communication skills.  Some players may be inspired to write fiction after a D&D session and the game itself provides ample material.  Another player may be inspired to construct new game rules.  Still other players may begin writing new adventure modules.  The potential creative output at the end of a D&D game is far superior to that of games such as poker.

D&D brings people together in cooperation instead of competition.  One need look no further than Google+, FLAILSNAILS, and blogger networks before seeing disparate groups united under an interest in this game.  My own publications, for example, sometimes sell better in countries other than my own.

D&D is just as acceptable for middle school students as it is for middle-aged mothers.  Imagine a world in which retirement communities feature frequent D&D sessions, where elementary math teachers use the game in class to both develop math fluency and generate writing prompts.  Imagine geology classes in which student interest in D&D is the hook by which they learn geography skills.  All of this and much  more can be our future if D&D is uncoupled from unnecessary, but pervasive (and some would say perverse) negative connotations.  Imagine D&D clubs rising, once more, into, not only existence, but popularity.  Dare to imagine the prom queen passing over a quarterback and instead accompanying the president of the school's D&D club to the prom.  Perhaps laughing at propositions such as this is part of the problem.  Instead of laughing, why not work towards bringing such dreams into reality?

But how?

One way is for figureheads to spearhead a change.  More stars such as Vin Diesel may prove monumental in taking D&D out of mom's basement.  Another way is to stop apologizing for, and even acknowledging, the nerdiness.  For years when visitors saw my gaming collection in my library and asked what it was, I often started with "I know it's nerdy, but..."  I don't do that anymore, but it took time and willpower.  Now I don't hide, apologize for, or even acknowledge a nerdiness connotation.  Instead, I explain what it is and why it's fun without even a hint of apology or embarrassment.

Think about it, what is intrinsically nerdy about D&D?  Nothing!  Is it nerdy to read, remember, and perform computations with fluency?  Is it nerdy to cultivate imagination or practice problem-solving?  Is it nerdy to write fiction or develop a social network?  The primary reason that people say D&D is nerdy is because our culture has (erroneously) forced such a loaded concept.

Another way to change the connotations surrounding D&D is to take D&D out of the basement.  I'm speaking both metaphorically and literally.  I mean to play publically, to talk about it with non-gamers and to play in public places such as pubs and libraries.  By eliminating embarrassment and putting D&D more often in the public eye, the negative connotations may begin to fade.

I started this post with my wife rejecting D&D because, in large part, of the nerdiness connotations.  However, when my childhood best friend recently flew in to visit, he and I played for five hours on the kitchen table over several days.  We played in the afternoon and in the evening.  We played over breakfast and after dinner.  We played while my daughter did ABCMouse and my wife cooked.  Normally I play either in the basement or at a friend's house, i.e., away from my wife's eyes.  This time, however, not only could she not ignore her husband's pastime, but she also couldn't help herself from involvement.  She would chime in trap solutions when I thought she was tuning me out.  She would provide advice on combat tactics and would ask why I said something as a Game Master.  I even caught her reading my Game Master notes over my shoulder.  This tells me that things can change.  This suggests to me that D&D is not necessarily confined to the shackles of nerd culture.  It may be difficult and time-consuming, but D&D can become, not only socially acceptable one day, but socially advantageous!


  1. Now, I don't hide, apologize for, or even acknowledge a nerdiness connotations. Instead, I explain what it is and why it's fun without even a hint of apology or embarrassment.

    Hear, hear! I think this is a great policy.

  2. All these nerdy blogs that take D&D so seriously don't help the image. Guys yelling at each other about the right way to play hobbits 'n' elves doesn't get my wife interested in trying the game.


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