Dungeons & Dragons isn’t a new phenomenon that people have never heard of before. It’s been around for decades. The game is older than I am, and not by just a few months. Yet, with the movie, Honor Among Thieves, coming out this weekend (31 March 2023) there are (predictably) articles inviting people to the gaming table. (Don’t worry! Those aren’t the only ones.)
“Ever heard of D&D? We’ll explain it to you!”, or my “D&D, not just for nerds anymore.” Anyone that plays TTRPGs has seen these kinds of commentary already. On the surface that seems like a good thing. It isn’t.
I love seeing D&D being de-stigmatized. The more we can get away from TTRPGs depicted as the hobby of socially awkward nerds, the better. Sadly, if we’re being honest, it’s garbage that these articles are still being written. The fact that column inches such as these are authorized by editors signifies that people still look at D&D, and by extension TTRPGs, with trepidation.
Consider some examples:
- Why Dungeons & Dragons isn’t just for geeks (from an objectively cool guy) – Esquire UK
- What is Dungeons & Dragons? How the fantasy role-playing game took over the world – Yahoo! Movies
- What is ‘Dungeons & Dragons’? The fantasy tabletop RPG explained – The Mary Sue
*I only included articles in English. In the francophone press, I saw an article with a title that would translate to “Role-playing games, inspired by D&D, exit the shadows”. It would have fit with everything above perfectly, but I wasn’t sure people would be able to read it. If anyone out there is interested, here it is.
In my opinion, I’m almost certainly biased since I am a gamer, D&D has never been the province of nerds, not by design, and certainly not because people wanted it that way. No matter how much headway TTRPGs make into popular culture, they seem to be a niche hobby for weirdos. Articles like the ones above that purport to remove the negative stereotypes only serve to reinforce them. These opinions start from the position that D&D is typically something obscure and for geeks. The cliché is required in order for these “demystifying” articles to be effective. D&D itself is going to be 50(!)-years-old next year. Wut?! There’s nothing new about it at this point.
Fortunately, the movie reviews far outnumber these other items, and that matters because critics discuss the movie on its own merit. Different questions are important to the people evaluating the film. The first real step towards embracing TTRPGs is to simply talk about them as being “quality” or “not quality”.
Some questions I suspect reviewers were broadly considering are:
- Is it a decent movie?
- Will the audience be lost if they aren’t familiar with the game?
- Who is this film aimed at?
- Does it achieve it’s goals?
- Does it bring the game to life on the big screen in a compelling way?
- And most importantly, is it worth the price of admission?
Reviews for Honor Among Thieves have been largely positive. The focus isn’t on geeks or stereotypes, although these ideas are referenced. What is important for the reviewers is whether or not the movie has any merit on its own. Apparently, it is a well-made film that doesn’t require viewers being able to pick out all the arcane references. What a time to be alive! D&D is critically acclaimed in the mainstream media. Yes, you read that correctly.
This is the way forward folks. Plain language discussion about whether or not something is quality. This is a breath of fresh for TTRPGs. Anytime a topic is qualified as being largely for a specific demographic, or bearing some very specific trait then the conversation sours. We need to get away from this in order to move forward. The dialogue around Honor Among Thieves is an example of how that can look, and why it matters.
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