Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a worldwide cultural phenomenon. From its invention as a tabletop role-playing game in 1974 and through the first few decades of its existence, it was dismissed as part of “geek” sub-culture. That reputation has changed and is now accepted as mainstream popular culture. You can see evidence by the game’s growing sales and the popularity of shows like Stranger Things. It’s ever-increasing popularity inspired a new movie (dare I say blockbuster franchise?) based on the game: “Dungeons & Dragons, Honor Among Thieves,” releasing on March 31, 2023. But how did Dungeons & Dragons shift from geek to pop culture? And what’s the appeal of D&D anyway?
If you’re brand new to Dungeons & Dragons, here are the basics of the classic tabletop role-playing game. At its heart, D&D is a game that focuses on storytelling. It transports players to a fantasy world of their creation. The Dungeon Master leads the game. They act as a part storyteller and part referee and make decisions based on a rule book, officially in its 5th edition. The game involves improvisation and dice rolling to overcome challenges and progress through the story. It encourages teamwork, creativity, and imaginative problem-solving.
Dungeons & Dragons in Popular Media
A growing list of films, television shows, and popular music references or pays homage to Dungeons & Dragons, including four feature films based on the game. A few notable examples are period shows like Freaks and Geeks and That 70s Show. Both shows devoted entire episodes and pivotal storylines to Dungeons & Dragons. There were Community and The Big Bang Theory episodes, which also featured the game. However, these shows had characters that were supposed to be geeks, so of course, they played D&D. D&D was code for geeky!
Things started to change in the last decade. A 2022 New York Times article attributes that shift to the “geeks” becoming the decision-makers of the entertainment industry. Kids who grew up playing D&D are now responsible for culture-defining film franchises like the Marvel Universe and the wildly successful Netflix show Stranger Things, as mentioned above.
The new movie, “Dungeons & Dragons, Honor Among Thieves,” is even directed by one of the actors from Freaks and Geeks, John Francis Daley, who played Sam. He says that he started playing Dungeons & Dragons with his castmates as research for his character and got hooked.
Pond5 in Action: D&D
The release of the new movie and the spirit of storytelling inspired our March Pond5 in Action video. Watch as we pull this group of friends into the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons. Beginning with a casual afternoon game, a roll of the dice pulls them into an epic adventure. They must work together to battle ogres, fire-breathing dragons and journey to complete their quest. What will the next roll of the dice bring?
The Appeal of Dungeons & Dragons
D&D will be turning 50 soon and continues to attract more players. But what makes it so unique? Many players describe the sense of connection they feel when they play. A single session takes about 3 hours, and many players will continue the same campaign over many sessions, which could last years. You build a camaraderie with your fellow players working together over such long periods of time.
Escapism is another benefit to D&D and is often cited as why it appeals to people who feel like outcasts. Many marginalized groups, like those in the LGBTQIA+ community, BIPOC folks, and neurodivergent folks, can live out their fantasies in a controlled, safe environment.
The world has changed a lot in the past 50 years. What was once considered nerdy is now cool. Our culture is becoming more accepting of different ideas and voices, and people can put their uniqueness on display. Diversity makes life and role-playing games more interesting.
At the end of the Freaks and Geeks D&D episode, the geeks wonder whether the “cool” guy hanging out with them, playing D&D, means he’s becoming a geek or if it means the geeks are becoming cool. Their conclusion: we’re “definitely cool guys.”
Tips for incorporating fantasy footage into your projects:
- Use epic music and sound effects. Clanging swords, roaring dragons, and ambient atmospheric effects will set the tone for your project. A grand score with chanting will take it to the next level.
- Mythical creatures. No fantasy project would be complete without ogres, elves, dragons, or all three!
- Go Medieval. The medieval era greatly inspires the fantasy genre, so showcasing stone castles, knights in chain-link armor riding horses, and foggy European-style forests will inform the viewer that they’re in fantasy land.
Interested in the Dungeons & Dragons media we featured? Visit the collection of media used in our video here. We can’t wait to see what you create, cool guy!