D&D Has Quietly Dominated Pop-Culture and We Didn’t Even Know It

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) has had a presence in pop-culture in its almost half-a-century existence. In the ‘80s, it faced a cultural pushback of “satanic panic,” a fear that became rampant throughout suburban households. The fictitious game that involves spellcasting and monsters was one that could get players labeled as a devil worshiper. For a time, nerd and satanist were synonymous with one another. Fast forward a few decades, this tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) has decisively intertwined itself with pop culture, effectively attracting new generations of players.

From its appearance in “The Big Bang Theory,” “Freaks and Geeks” and “Stranger Things,” among other popular shows, the game has increasingly piqued interest and drawn the attention of potential players. 2020 was the best year for the franchise yet as the game saw an all-time peak in search interest, as more existing players were becoming dungeon masters and an impressive over 50 million players thus far. 

Alexandra Garnica, a fourth-year film studies major and president of the Role-Playing Club at Seattle University, became involved in the game her senior year of highschool after seeing it appear in “Stranger Things,” where the game serves as a central theme in the show. Once she found a friend to play with, it became a weekly event and channel for her creativity. 

It’s  a place where I can share these creative ventures with my friends every week. We come together and we get to share in a story that we create with each other, a unique story that no one else will know but us…and the rest of the club, of course,” Garnica said. 

D&D is a game that heavily depends on imagination and effort put into expanding the boundaries of a campaign. Being able to step out of typical comfort zones and create mind-boggling scenarios makes the game more exciting than anticipated. 

Recently the game was adapted into a movie, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” and has received positive feedback from moviegoers and game players alike. The SXSW film festival said that they “made this movie for everyone,” which in retrospect, is what the game is really about. D&D is made for anyone and everyone. Luke Seeley, a second-year industrial design major at Occidental College, has been playing since he was 10 years old and emphasized that he loves the endless creativity within the game. 

“The beauty of the D&D community is that it is so extensive. As a tabletop RPG with both official and homebrew [unofficial] content, there will never be a shortage of new ideas and adventures to draw from,” Seeley said. “While I can’t speak for the entire community, I believe that D&D will only continue to grow in popularity as the stigma of nerdiness dissipates and people realize that the game is truly accessible to everyone.”

Sci-fi and fantasy have become genres to dominate pop-culture over the years. The interests of a ‘nerd’ have been completely rebranded into something much cooler than they were before, especially with the Star Wars and the Marvel franchises that make headlines anytime a new movie is expected to be released. There has clearly been a shift from nerdy being considered weird to trendy. 

Evelyn McCarty, a third-year computer science major at Seattle U, got into TTRPG’s the day that they got into their dad’s old role-playing books about 10 years ago. D&D would shortly pique their interest when they were hoping to get into other fantasy games. The advice they have for players hoping to get into D&D is to dive right in with some other friends who may also want to play. 

“Don’t worry about needing to buy anything to play the game. You do not need to buy the books. You do not need to spend a hundred bucks on minifigures, battle maps, whatever,” McCarty wrote. “All you really have to do to get into D&D is to get some of your friends together and imagine the world you want to play, then explore it together. It’s like playing make-believe when you were 10, just with a bit more structure.”

D&D has proved itself as a timeless game with its mark on pop-culture and TTRPGs. It’s foreseeable that the game will continue to attract those who wish to make their imaginative adventures into a reality. Whether you’re a new-age player or an oldhead, there is an endless possibility of submerging yourself into a world made up of fictitious characters that collaboratively tell a whirlwind of a story.