Dungeons & Dragons in popular culture

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Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy role-playing game that was first published in 1974. As the popularity of the game grew throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, it became more frequently referenced in popular culture. The complement of games, films and cultural references based on D&D or D&D-like fantasies, characters, and adventures has been ubiquitous since the end of the 1970s.

D&D, and tabletop role-playing games in general, have exerted a deep and persistent impact on the development of all types of video games, from "first-person shooters to real-time strategy games and massively multiplayer online games",[1] which in turn play a significant and ongoing role in modern popular culture.[2] In high-tech culture, the term "dungeon" has since come to mean a virtual location where people could meet and collaborate. Hence, multi-user dungeons emerged as a social virtual reality.[3] By creating a means for players to assemble and explore an imagined world, the D&D rules provided a transition from fantasy literary settings, such as those of author J. R. R. Tolkien, to fully virtual worlds.[4]

Among the public figures who have played D&D are comedians Stephen Colbert and Chris Hardwick, musician Moby, and actors Vin Diesel, Matthew Lillard, Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt, Wil Wheaton, and Robin Williams.[5][6][7][8][9]

Books[edit]

Independent fiction derived from the Dungeons & Dragons game appeared with the Endless Quest series of books, published by TSR, Inc between 1982 and 1987. These provided a form of interactive fiction in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series.[10] The success of the game then sparked an extensive series of authorized novels, initially published by TSR, Inc. The first of these were based upon the Dragonlance campaign setting, released in 1984.[11] There proved to be a lucrative market for these works, and by the 2000s a significant portion of all fantasy paperbacks were being published by Wizards of the Coast, the American game company that acquired TSR in 1997.[12]

Some works have been inspired by the impact of the game upon players and the role of the game in culture:

  • Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, by journalist and gamer Ethan Gilsdorf; a travel memoir about D&D, role-playing games, and other fantasy and gaming subcultures.[13]
  • The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange, by novelist Mark Barrowcliffe; a memoir of playing D&D and other role playing games in the 1970s.[14]
  • Author Shelly Mazzanoble wrote a humorous self-help guide called Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons: One Woman's Quest to Trade Self-help for Elf-help. This followed her guide book, Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game.[15]
  • American Nerd: The Story of My People is Time magazine writer Benjamin Nugent's study of the history and culture of people labeled nerds. It includes insights into why people play and enjoy D&D.[16]

Several characters created for playing Dungeons & Dragons, or games derived from D&D, have later spawned popular fantasy series.[17] Other novels make off-hand references to the game:

Comics[edit]

Begun in 1986, the comic books The Adventurers and Redfox were inspired by Dungeons & Dragons.[19] Several commercial comic strips are based entirely upon the game or make reference to the game in specific panels.

  • Knights of the Dinner Table is a multiple award-winning[20] comic-sized magazine featuring comic strips with a variety of characters who play "HackMaster," a parody of Dungeons & Dragons. (HackMaster would later go on to become an actual role-playing game.) Early strips appeared in the official D&D magazine Dragon.
  • Questionable Content, webcomic; appearing in Comic #963, "Raven Levels Up", and others[21]
  • Schlock Mercenary, webcomic; Referenced in the comic of 11 November 2007[22]
  • The Order of the Stick is an award-winning[23] satirical webcomic that features a cast of characters in a world that loosely operates by the rules of Dungeons & Dragons.[24]
  • D&D co-creator Gary Gygax was commemorated in webcomics series xkcd's comic #393, "Ultimate Game".[25]
  • Penny Arcade, A longstanding webcomic, created by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, references and even depicts humorous instances of bizarre campaigns, and other D&D subject matter; implementing dice-rolling humor and other game dynamics.

Film[edit]

Several films include instances of characters playing the game of Dungeons & Dragons. There have also been three feature films released that were based upon the game: Dungeons & Dragons (2000), Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God (2005), and Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness (2012).

  • In scene 2 of Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, the character Elliott, his older brother, and his friends were shown playing Dungeons & Dragons.[26][27] Prior to the production of the movie, Spielberg ran a D&D session with the young cast members.[28]
  • The Futurama film Bender's Game includes D&D as a crucial plot device, in which the main characters end up in a fantasy realm much like the game. The film was already in production upon Gygax's death and debuted later that year, so it was dedicated in his honor. The film included parodies of Dungeons & Dragons-influenced movies.[29]
  • The short film Fear of Girls is a spoof of two heavy D&D gamers. The filmmakers used viral marketing to attract attention to the movie.[30][31]
  • The films The Gamers[32] and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising[33] by the Dead Gentlemen are parodies of D&D.

Television[edit]

The CBS network ran a Saturday morning cartoon series called Dungeons & Dragons, in which a group of teenagers visiting a Dungeons and Dragons-themed theme park dark ride get magically transported into the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons. The show included the voice talents of Willie Aames of Eight is Enough, and ran from 1983 to 1985.[34]

Innumerable television episodes feature references to Dungeons & Dragons, either as an element of character development or as a humorous or satirical reference. These include:

  • Community - the second season episode titled Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) centers around the study group, sans Pierce, playing a game of AD&D to cheer up their near-suicidal classmate, "Fat Neil". Pierce's exclusion leads him to barge into the game, and torment everyone.[35][36] A later episode called Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has aired where a game of D&D is played in order to reunite Buzz Hickey to his son.
  • Futurama - in the episode "Anthology of Interest I", Gary Gygax guest-starred. Other scattered references to the game appeared throughout the episode.[37]
  • Freaks and Geeks - the final episode of the series, titled Discos and Dragons, has Daniel (James Franco) being forced to join the Audio/Visual Club and the geeks invite him to a game of Dungeons & Dragons. He ends up enjoying it.[38]
  • The Sarah Silverman Program - in the second season episode Bored of the Rings, a planned date night is disrupted by a Dungeons & Dragons game.[39]
  • In the Radio Daze episode of That 70's Show, Donna is asked if she and Eric would like to stay to play Dungeons & Dragons at the radio station she works at. At the end of the episode, two staff members are shown playing a session, with a cameo appearance by Alice Cooper who is also shown playing.[40]
  • The Simpsons - Homer tells how he bonded with some new geek friends by playing D&D "for three hours... then I was slain by an elf."[41]
  • Corner Gas - in the episode "Happy Campers", Brent is seen playing a game of D&D with a group of teenage boys in the city.[42]
  • The Big Bang Theory - played a role in 3 episodes this far ("The Wiggly Finger Catalyst", "The Santa Simulation", and "The Love Spell Potential"), also some references.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - In the episode "Chosen", Andrew, Xander, Giles, and one of the potential Slayers play D&D while Anya sleeps at the table.
  • The IT Crowd - In the fourth series episode titled "Jen The Fredo", Moss has been making his own Dungeons & Dragons game and eventually gets John, John, Roy, and Phil to play, which finally entertains the business connections and helps Roy relieve his depression.

Music[edit]

The cultural influence of Dungeons & Dragons upon successful musical artists can be inferred by the references to the game in their recorded lyrics.

Players[edit]

The following public figures have stated that they play, or have played, Dungeons & Dragons, indicating the game's broad appeal to a diverse range of talented individuals.[2]

Stephen Colbert developed an intense interest in the game during his youth, which he later credits for his talent at character creation.[90] Ethan Gilsdorf credits the game for bestowing upon him "gifts of creativity and self-actualization".[91] Actor Vin Diesel, in his introduction to the book Thirty Years of Adventure, wrote that he was "attracted to the artistic outlet the game provided". The game was "a training ground for our imagination, and an opportunity to explore our own identities".[92] Vin Diesel, Mike Myers, and Robin Williams participated in the 2006 Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day, demonstrating that the game is still a lively and active hobby.[93]

Director Chris Weitz pointed out that there "are a lot of people who played and are horribly embarrassed about it and won't admit it, because it's part of their lives they put behind". He developed a fervent interest in the game, even greater than in making movies, and says the experience "had such an influence on his life".[85] Director Jon Favreau was drawn into the game by the fantasy elements and the sense of story, saying "it gave me a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance".[60]

Political reporter John J. Miller says that D&D was a big part of his life during his school years, and argues that, "there's a lot to admire about D&D and what it can do for kids by encouraging them to read, do math, and think creatively".[75] Fantasy author China Miéville says that playing Dungeons & Dragons as a youth was one of the most enduring influences on his writing. The two things that particularly influenced him were "the mania for cataloguing the fantastic" and "the weird fetish for systematization", with the latter meaning in the sense that everything is reduced to "game stats".[94] By contrast, author Mark Barrowcliffe now considers his years playing Dungeons & Dragons to be a wasted youth and all of the players to be nerds. He has tried to put the experience behind him.[55]

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