Playing role playing games have always been a fringe hobby (love affair). I’ve talked before about my love of gaming but enjoying a great session of rolling dice and long division has had a stigma for decades now. Either it be the false claims of Satanism from my childhood or the more recent pulling back of the veil that paints us all as basement dwelling dweebs. So it’s always a thrill to see it make the jump to mainstream and be portrayed in a (mostly) realistic way.
Here are five times Role Playing Games crossed over to mainstream television and movies and life was better for it.
1. Gravity Falls
“Dungeons, Dungeons, and more Dungeons” was definitely written by people who have played a couple RPGs in their day. Gravity Falls is one of my favorite cartoons of all time. It’s mixture of Disney sensibility, humor, and paranormal tones is something that speaks to my inner child, or… well, just me. The humor involving RPGs never really put down the game or its players, it makes light of gaming in general. Gaming is handled with care but still calls out some of the absurdity. Remember, just use your imagination…It’s just like lying.
In sadly the last episode of this wonderful show, “Discos and Dragons” showed how the outcast “geeks” could find common ground with “freak” ringleader Danny over playing D&D. In the episode written and directed by series creator Paul Feig, we get a very real look at D&D. It shows the lighthearted side of getting together with friends and flinging some dice. It was very well done to also have the more popular person being the outsider and them finding acceptance from a group of outsiders, all while having fun. I would have loved to see how this new dynamic between the “freaks” and “geeks” would have moved forward. Would we have seen more episodes have D&D as an acceptable past time? Would other characters take their chances rolling some dice? Sadly we will never know.
D&D was not the main focus of E.T. but it was important enough for Director Steven Spielberg to gathered the actors for a game session or two. This mention of the game was during a dark time for the game because it was coming under fire from the Christian Right and mothers everywhere for being highly satanic and forcing kids to murder…EVERYONE! Gladly it was handled realistically but also hold some mystic as we see Elliott want to be old enough to play with his brother and his friends. It has been mentioned before that Spielberg’s days with D&D weren’t just for E.T., I’ve always heard rumors that he was a player from way back. Imagine a game with Steven Spielberg as your Dungeon Master.
It’s old hat to talk about how much of a gamer Dan Harmon is. In a refreshing change of pace, Mr. Harmon is very up front about his love of RPGs of any medium. On his podcast Harmontown, the evenings usually end in a on going campaign run by resident DM Spencer Crittenden and recently the gaming group has taken their new fantasy campaign to SeeSo with a live gaming session / animated adventure with Harmonquest. But the episode “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” was one of our first looks at Mr. Harmon’s love affair with the world of RPGs. The follow up a few years later “Advanced Advanced Dungeons And Dragons” wasn’t as pure of a love letter to D&D, but its use as a background to the story was awesome none the less. Good job Dan Harmon, keep being the Paladin to the church of the RPG gods.
5. Stranger Things
Oh my, this show has exploded for all the right reasons. Strong story, talented cast, and a wonderful setting have catapulted this Netflix show to amazing heights, and D&D has rose with it, at least a little. Again this show was a great portrait of the outsider group of kids from the ’80s enjoying their favorite hobby. It seems that the Duffer Brothers may have rolled a few 20 sided dice in their day because the social interaction of the children while playing seems so real. This feels like a group of kids I would have played with back in the day. The game session scenes were one thing but the lingering nods through out the series to the kid’s campaign were a thing of beauty. Because of how wonderful this show is we now have people wearing Stranger Things inspired D&D shirts and the term Demogorgon is now used by more than just gamers.
Here is (sadly) a short list of gaming done right that has appeared in mainstream media. I wish I could find more positive items from TV and movies. There are some out there but they mostly take a more humorous tone (Role Models). Which is cool and I still love it, but I wanted to focus on a little slice of the joy I’ve felt over the decades playing RPGs.I could also have included the cartoon that inspired me to start playing way back in the ’80s, but it’s not really a look at humans sitting at a table enjoying each others company while fighting monsters it the realm of their imaginations. I hope with the recent spotlight more people will pick up Pencil, Paper, and Dice and playing a RPG will be as common as playing Monopoly.