Hall of Fame Inductee
In November 2016 Dungeons & Dragons, Little People, and the swing (more on that in a bit) were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. That’s right, D&D joins some of my childhood favorites like the Rubik’s Cube, G.I. Joe, the Nintendo Game Boy, the Atari 2600, the skateboard, LEGO, chess, and the bicycle as “toys that have inspired creative play and enjoyed popularity over a sustained period.”<fn>http://www.museumofplay.org/about/toy-hall-fame</fn> So I guess that means Dungeons and Dragons Comes (a bit) off the Fringe. Now about that swing. Seeing the swing on this list was confusing. How could a mundane thing like a swing get in ahead of some of the other nominees like Clue and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots?<fn>http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/10/501576187/toy-hall-of-fame-dungeons-dragons-little-people-honored-so-are-swings</fn> But as I looked more into it I realized that the stick had made the list too.
Yes, a stick. I chewed on that for a moment and it started to make sense. Who hasn’t pretended a stick was a sword or a gun or even a magic wand? When I was in the 3rd grade Top Gun was still fairly popular (both the movie and the horrible NES game) and my best friend and I would commonly jump out of our swings at the apex of our arcs and pretend to fall into the ocean as if we’d just ejected from an F-14. Then we’d relive Goose’s death scene. Of course we’d be singing “Danger Zone” in our own personal “background”. So, I guess the swing does deserve its place in the Hall of Fame just as the lowly stick does.
A Silver Lining
Personally, I found Dungeons & Dragons being inducted to be the silver lining that 2016 needed. After all, we’ve lost Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Kenny Baker, and Gene Wilder (or as many of us may know them: Snape, the Goblin King, R2-D2, and Willy Wonka). The music also died with Lemmy Kilmister, Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Leon Russell. Comics lost a great artist when Steve Dillon (Preacher) died from a ruptured appendix. Sports lost legends with Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe. Ugh! Need I go on? I could talk about the 2016 U.S. Presidential election…but no. Let’s talk about something more uplifting.
Dungeons & Dragons is in the National Toy Hall of Fame! For all the misery 2016 has brought us it has brought us some good things too and D&D gaining more acceptance in the mainstream is part of that goodness. I’m not so optimistic to say that it IS mainstream but it’s definitely flirting with it. We’ve all heard the list of celebrities that commonly play D&D but there is a recent newcomer to that list of usual suspects and it’s Dylan Sprouse<fn>http://www.sprouseland.com/2016/07/13/dylan-sprouse-on-come-check-out-our-dnd-show/</fn>. Say what you will about the Suite Life on Deck star but whether you like him or not, he does have a decent following of potential next generation gamers. And he wipes his own ass.
Other Mainstream Success
It’s not just in their personal lives that actors are drumming up additional awareness. In July Netflix released Stranger Things and one of its most prominent, although not directly credited, stars is Dungeons & Dragons. I hesitate to call it a “D&D show” like other fans do though. I loved nearly everything about the show. Phenomenal casting. Engaging storytelling. Flawless aesthetics. But I see it as a show about kids who love D&D. It is more than just a D&D show. Calling it such diminishes the show’s merit while not doing so discredits nothing. Non-fans of D&D can enjoy the show as much as the fans can. In fact, they may have an edge on that enjoyment over the rest of us. They don’t care about version anachronisms and discrepancies since they’re playing in 1983 or that they called the monster “the Demogorgon”. They don’t get wrapped around the axle on these kinds of details. Even still, I believe the show will go on to help shift the perception of D&D being a game for socially awkward nerds at worst and a childhood (and childish) pastime at best.
Stranger Things is most assuredly narrowing the gap but it will be up to us, the veteran gamers, to completely bridge that gap. For starters, we should stop fearing what our friends, families, and coworkers may think of us if we “let it out” that we’re gamers. Discussing our passion openly is about like telling an off-color joke…we typically look over our shoulders to see if anyone is within earshot that we wouldn’t want to hear what we’re about to say. That is, all but the most “socially awkward” of us are that way. This is why the stereotype perpetuates.
Be Heard; Be Inclusive
I have a friend I met 15 years ago in the Army. He went on to become a Green Beret and then a pilot for the National Guard. Now he’s transitioning into white hat hacking in what we teasingly refer to as his next temporary career. He plays D&D with us. He was in a military course recently where the instructor offhandedly commented that people who play D&D aren’t exactly the most rational people. It would have been easy for him to shrug it off but he challenged the instructor. It was all in good humor but he said, “really? I play D&D. In fact, I’m playing tonight with my buddies.” The instructor looked at him curiously since my friend’s uniform has his aviator’s wings and his Special Forces tab prominently displayed. He spoke up again, “yeah, so I play D&D and I can kick your ass.”
Gamers don’t have to live on the fringe. We can be frank and unapologetic about our interests. Be proud. But we have a responsibility to also be inclusive. I’ve seen too many comments about how D&D gaining traction means that hipsters will suddenly want to play. Or jocks. Or whomever. These comments are also followed by how they will not be welcomed at “real gamers’ tables” and I would like to challenge that and encourage you to do the same. If someone “nontraditional” expresses an interest in playing, offer him or her a set of dice and a pregenerated character. Then welcome them to the fold.