So Magic: The Gathering, and all those computer games pretty much killed off Dungeons & Dragons and the rest of the Role Playing Game market. It hung on, as a fringe interest of course. Wizards of the Coast published their own version of D&D- by this time it was the Third Edition- and the licence was expanded into a number of successful computer games, such as the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series. With hours and hours worth of well written stories to play through, and increasingly more atmospheric and immersive graphics and sound, why would anyone need to roll dice and use their imagination anymore? The tabletop version of D&D could easily have disappeared completely at this point, but instead something weird and wonderful happened.
Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of Lord Of The Rings was released between 2001 and 2003. For many of us nerds, we were able to see the worlds we’d been imagining for years finally up on screen, but for mainstream audiences, who wouldn’t touch a book about dwarves and orcs with a ten foot pole, this was something totally new and unique. Fantasy movies had of course appeared in the past, but the genre had never quite taken off and had rarely been treated with the kind of seriousness that Jackson brought to it. In addition, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series (1997-) and subsequent movie adapatations (2001-) were massively successful and gave both children and adults a gateway into a world of magic, monsters and mild teenage angst.
Along with the renewed popularity of superheroes and science fiction in the cinema, and video games as a bona fide mainstream entertainment medium, geekiness and nerdiness were talked about as being suddenly cool. Wizards of The Coast released a fourth edition of D&D in 2008, which was accompanied by a massive marketing push to get the game to a new audience and capitalize on the success of similar genre fare in films and gaming. In truth, it was a little too influenced by Blizzard Entertainment’s all conquering Massively Multiplayer Online Game World of Warcraft (2004-), which had around ten million subscribers at the time.
Save Vs Death
Many lapsed gamers were inspired to reconnect with tabletop role playing games at this point, but it wasn’t just nostalgia and ageing nerds’ mid life crises at work. New players were getting into the game, because of the visibility of the fantasy genre and “nerd stuff” in general. When I first got into D&D, I’m not sure I even understood how it was played – I presumed it was some type of boardgame. Now, of course there are a million podcasts and youtube videos about RPGs (there’s a video of Vin frickin’ Diesel geeking out playing D&D), so getting into it isn’t anywhere near as daunting (or mysteriously Satanic) as it might once have seemed.
I wonder if there’s a hipster element, like the gaming equivalent of only listening to music on vinyl. It’s fair to say that for all the amazing graphics and open world possibilities of, say, Skyrim, you’ll always be limited in what you can do by what the technology was capable of, what the creators dreamed up and what they had time to include, just like The Bard’s Tale, The Hobbit and The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain. RPGs, offer limitless possibilities, not just of the Games Master’s imagination, but that of each of the players. Nowadays whenever you read about Role Playing, comparisons are made to improvisational theatre and “collaborative storytelling”, and it is often cited as a creative exercise or even an art form in itself. No one talked like that in the 80s. It was just a hobby, a pastime derived from old wargames, that featured (mostly) really cool art and the possibility of killing things.
An article from Vice. I have a couple of issues with the title of this; First of all, no it isn’t, and second of all, it wasn’t in the first place
Now for me, the thing that appeals about RPGs is the stuff you just can’t get from video games, even multiplayer games, which you still play in isolation over the internet. It’s the social aspect, getting together with your friends, face to face, listen to some awesome tunes, have a laugh and make shit up. The more streamlined and intuitive Fifth Edition of D&D, not to mention the nostalgic love of orcs, dragons and weird dice certainly doesn’t hurt either.