The Normalization of D&D in Media

Over the years mainstream media has shifted from acting as if Dungeons & Dragons was connected to Satan and murder, to acting as if players were just nerds in basements to be ignored, to being nerds in apartments to be mocked (Big Bang Theory), to superpowered nerds to save the world (Stranger Things), to now just people who like something that other people don’t like (Ghosts) without any judgment of the game.

The D&D episode of CBS’ Ghosts will re-air as part of the Ghosts marathon on December 23rd.

Seeing this shift, which I’ve lived through every moment of, still amazes me. Yes, there were times when genre shows featured D&D. Stranger Things made sense. The game fit and was featured in the story.

The current status of the game is different. This isn’t some niche hobby anymore. Active football players play; Jack Black plays; there’s a regular show on cable TV that is D&D.

Ghosts did something different. One of the main characters mocked the game, but the way D&D was featured wasn’t a mockery. Instead, Dungeons & Dragons was a way to further establish fellowship between the diverse cast of ghosts and the one living who shares their space and cannot see them. Also, the d20s helped solve the other plot of the episode. Lead writer Joe Wiseman addressed this on Dragon Talk recently.

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Every time I encounter the featuring of D&D as normal continues to astound me. Once forced to hide my passion for the game or get the books knocked out of my lap as if real life was a crappy teen comedy, now D&D is popular and mainstream enough that it is on my resume, talked about during job interviews, played in public, and can raise money for charity as celebs play.

Much of the mainstreaming of the game is because many of us nerds that hid in our basements are now of the age that we are in positions of influence. While it is Zoomers and Millenials that are the fuel spreading the game, GenX leadership is normalizing it.

Writers rooms throughout Hollywood played as kids and are playing again, as are the actors, cinematographers, set designers, etc. Video game designers (and all of the support staff) played with pen and paper, then translated that to big screen.

D&D’s tropes are mentioned in genre fiction (Onward!) and regularly trend on social media. There’s not a day that goes by that an Alignment Chart meme doesn’t show up.

Now that we’re mainstream there’s always that worry among us olds that things will change in ways that we don’t understand. But at it’s core D&D has always espoused that a “diverse group is a strong group.” And all of the current changes lean into that trope that started with the Fighting-Man, Magic User, Thief, and Cleric that were also a Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Elf.

Leaning into that means more players, more games, more chances to “roll for initiative.” That’s all I want.

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