Despite decades of being considered weird, nerdy and even taboo, tabletop role-playing games are becoming some of the more accepted and enjoyed aspects of pop culture.
The most popular of these games is Dungeons & Dragons, more commonly known as D&D. The game consists of several players at a table, each with their own character, which may be a combination of any race and class within the setting. A Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM) guides the players through the adventure, describing scenery, people, scenarios and more.
The players may choose how they respond or act within each situation, rolling a 20-sided die to determine how well they perform the action they desire.
Of course, as the category suggests, each player is expected to play the role of their character, breathing life and personality into the fictional persona.
According to the official Dungeons & Dragons website: “The core of D&D is storytelling. You and your friends tell a story together, guiding your heroes through quests for treasure, battles with deadly foes, daring rescues, courtly intrigue, and much more.”
One professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette spoke about his experience with the game.
“My first official D&D game that I ran where I was aware of the rules I would say was 1996, when I was in high school — it was 2nd Edition D&D,” Joel Terranova, Ph.D., said.
Terranova, a D&D veteran and practiced GM, is an English professor focusing on 18th century British literature and specifically Gothic literature.
Gothic themes can especially be observed in the D&D adventure module “The Curse of Strahd,” which was the subject of a presentation Terranova gave to the International Gothic Association back in August.
His presentation was based on “the classical Gothic influences from very early Gothic fiction, on ‘Ravenloft,’ which was ‘Curse of Strahd’ for 1st Edition,” Terranova said. “Gothic being a very psychological medium, how, if ran ‘properly,’ it can be a very psychologically fearful experience for the players.
“And, as a player you're invested, right? You have an active investment in what happens to your character, so forth as a reader — somebody just reading a novel — you’re a passive observer, right? You're along the journey, but you cannot influence in any kind of way, so I was kind of looking at the psychological effects on that.”
Terranova continued, sharing his thoughts on D&D’s growing claim to further acceptance.
“It has a tremendous amount of social importance in our pop culture right now… I absolutely love what’s going on… You know, it used to be just the domain of sort of, you know, the white-American socially awkward nerd, if you will, to stereotype something, right?” Terranova said. “And now it's become more mainstream with the popularity of a 5th Edition. I see a lot more — for the first time ever in this hobby — I've seen actually more women interested in it than men.”
Terranova also called attention to the societal importance of games like D&D.
“It's bringing people together, especially when we're at a point in our country where there's so much division over social, political, economic issues,” Terranova said. “D&D is a way where you can get people together. You can forget about that stuff and you can have a good time.”
Terranova shared his thoughts on the fantasy genre’s impact on pop culture as a whole.
“You don’t have D&D without Tolkien; Tolkien’s impact, I think, on culture that his presentation of the sort of fantasy world has just been profound,” Terranova said. “He is the first one that, I think, that created something that spoke to a lot of people's interests, and it's gone on to influence so many things. It's shaped modern culture in a way that people, you know, seek out video games and entertainment with this kind of stuff, and Tolkien started that.”
D&D also means something to younger generations, especially among groups of young adults.
“So it was, to start off, like eight to ten of us, and we all didn't know — I mean, a few of us knew each other but not everyone knew each other,” Jessie Eppling, a junior majoring in psychology, said. “And, then we all got together, and now we're all like this big happy family, and I love those guys so much.”
Eppling has been playing D&D sporadically for about a year, and she holds that each character is significant to their player. For her, her character started out as an expressive outlet during a rough point last year. She says that characters allow you “to be someone you aspire to be.”
In addition to the love Eppling has for her D&D character, she also recognizes the vast importance the game has in her social circle.
“It brings friends closer together, like, you know, ‘We were complete strangers, and now all of a sudden like I consider y’all my best friends and I would do anything for you,’” she said.