Of Dice and Dungeon Masters: Who ARE These People?
When the phrase “Dungeons and Dragons” comes up, what image comes into your mind first? A strange twenty-sided die or some acne-suffering hermit? Neither should. For the realm of role players is vastly different than that of the stigma society placed upon the subculture of role-players.
Dungeons and Dragons is an example of a table-top role playing game (or RPG) in which a small group of people meet to create characters. It is with these characters that the players then go on adventures, usually as travelers. They are usually at the mercy (or, sometimes the lack thereof) of the leader of this group, or, “dungeon master.” While the core of “D&D” is fantasy-based, role-playing games can manifest in a variety of genres. Some even are based off of pre-existing universes, such as those found in movies or books.
But such an activity has never seemed to enter mainstream pop culture, except perhaps, as one to be ridiculed. It does seem to be, after all, another version of the old ‘make believe’ games everyone played when they were younger. Over time, the media began portraying the game as a juvenile, silly game, and its players as the stereotypical “dorky boy” who would rather slay a dragon than date a girl.
But, in reality, who are these people? Is there truth behind the myths and stereotypes? Who exactly would you find playing Dungeons and Dragons? And, is this subculture that the media presents as an underground group of nerds really so small and underground?
Meg Gresock, an avid player of not only Dungeons and Dragons but other various online role-playing games, explains that in spite of the lackluster reputation, she joins circles for the social experience and entertainment value.
“I’d heard a lot about [Dungeons and Dragons] in high school and on the internet and how much fun it was, but I never played it. Then I came to college and some friends decided to start a game, and I wanted to get in on it to see what it was like,” said Gresock. “And I was definitely not disappointed. It’s so much fun!”
Gresock has encountered some bad assumptions based on the mainstream view of the activity.
“I was talking with someone in a chat room and I mentioned that I played D&D, and the person automatically assumed that I was a boy! When I told her I was a girl, she got confused for a minute, and I think that says it all about what people think about the game and who plays it.”
Another Dungeons and Dragons player, Evian Russo, says that she has come across some negative stigma, but it doesn’t bother her.
“I don’t think anyone who makes fun of D&D players has ever sat down and played the game,” she says. “It’s wicked fun, and from what I see, everyone who gets involved always keeps coming back for more.”
Gresock then went on to explain that she’d gotten involved with D&D partially because of her Aunt’s experience in the past. “My Aunt joined a campaign back when it was still a very new thing, and she loved it.”
Both Gresock and Russo are college-aged women, which would automatically debunk many of the myths on who plays Dungeons and Dragons in the first place. Both women see the activity as a social pastime that is more than meets the eye.
“Yeah, it’s playing pretend in a way,” said Russo. “But isn’t acting the same thing? Doesn’t everyone fantasize? Take your daydreams, add more people and a few monsters and you basically have a circle!”
Gresock saw things a little differently.
“I don’t think of it as just role playing. It takes a lot of problem-solving, social interaction, and some plain luck with the dice to make it far in a campaign. I don’t see how it’s so different from playing Nintendo Wii or poker.”
But where did the outside stereotypes come from? What makes Dungeons and Dragons stand apart from other social activities and the people who partake in them? Coming from someone who also plays in a weekly campaign, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. Perhaps American pop culture sees Dungeons and Dragons players as a deviance from the ‘norm’ because it is too afraid to see what would happen if it went mainstream. Or maybe it’s just a matter of the inability to break out of a stereotype that has been laid out for two generations, painting the world of tabletop role-playing as an undesirable social pastime.
“I don’t think setting social myths to a particular pasting is just found with D&D,” said Russo. “I’ve always held the assumption that people who play football are mindless jocks who like partying and having sex. It may not be true, but how do I know? I’ve never been on a team.”
Perhaps it is just a case of close-minded people who fear to wander outside their comfort zone. Dungeons and Dragons players come from all walks of life, and see their situation as social in spite of outsiders’ opinions. They are male and female. Their ages span from young childhood through adulthood and beyond. They look no different than anyone walking on the street, and have just as much of an interest in a social life as anyone else.
“Some of us are quirky, no doubt. But I consider that a plus. I’m proud of who I am,” Gresock concluded.
The moral of the story in this case is to not define a person solely by their interests, and likewise, to not judge an activity based on who you think participates. The only way to truly discover who these dungeon-delvers and orc-slayers are is to take a shot and roll the twenty-sided die for yourself.