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Revival of Dungeons & Dragons provides Westminster community with unique storytelling opportunity

Mark Sanders’ dungeon master set-up for the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons photographed on March 7. The game has recently had a resurgence in popularity and many in the Westminster College community said they play to spend time with friends and to experience ‘collaborative storytelling’. (Photo courtesy Mark Sanders)

You’re walking in the forest and you hear a strange noise, you pause listening for whatever it might be. The forest remains quiet and you begin walking again, suddenly a zombie appears in front of you, what is your action?

This is what it’s like to play Dungeons and Dragons.  

Dungeons and Dragons, or more commonly known as D&D, is a fantasy role-playing game, created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, where players tell a story together by creating worlds and going on adventures.

The game has had a resurgence in recent years, according to an article from SYFY Wire. The game had its highest number of sales since 1997 in 2017.

Over 8 million people in the U.S. played the game in 2017, and 9 million people have watched others play it through streaming sites, according to SYFY Wire.

English professor Chris LeCluyse said he thinks D&D has become popular because it offers people an escape through a medieval fantasy.

“It allows people to maybe even relive or re-enact some of their favorite fantasy fiction, so it’s kinda almost like a form of fan fiction,” said LeCluyse, who teaches the Roleplaying Games in Society May Term course. “So, you can see role-playing as a form of collaborative storytelling.”

Fanfiction is stories written by fans about characters from pop culture.  

LeCluyse said that online role-playing games may have opened a door to the resurgence in popularity for tabletop role-playing games.

“For the longest time tabletop games were this relatively small, niche community, and then things like World of Warcraft made online role-playing games extremely popular,” LeCluyse said. “I wonder if there may now be a kind of backwards effect where people who started out with computerized role-playing games may want to shift into the in-person.”

Mark Sanders’ dungeon master set-up for the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons photographed on March 7. The game has recently had a resurgence in popularity and many in the Westminster College community said they play to spend time with friends and to experience ‘collaborative storytelling’. (Photo courtesy Mark Sanders)

LeCluyse also said that role-playing games like D&D are more normalized now than they used to be.

“There’s actually a lot of really famous people, like Stephen Colbert, who have talked about their early involvement with role-playing games, and how that’s affected their creativity, so it’s kinda gone more mainstream,” LeCluyse said.

Senior history major and D&D player Abigail Angell said she thinks D&D has had a revival because of the popularity for “retro-chic.”

“People are going back to pencil and paper, and vinyl records, because they’re tired of all the digital stuff,” Angell said. “They don’t want to get rid of [digital technology], they just want to take a break from it, and D&D is a good way to do that.”

Annette Donald, a senior gender studies and justice studies major, said in an email she thinks D&D has had a resurrection due to the Netflix TV show “Stranger Things.”

“That’s how I heard of it,” Donald said. “Beyond ‘Stranger Things,’ I think it’s become so popular recently because it [is] more inclusive and accessible.”

Dylan McKernan, a senior technical theatre and theatre performance major, said through email that she thinks D&D has become popular because nerd culture as a whole has become more accepted.

“D&D is a really well-rounded game that allows people to be vulnerable and explore and learn more about themselves in a safe setting, and has aspects that can appeal to anyone,” McKernan said.

Chris LeCluyse said he likes the creative aspect of the game. He said he usually plays as dungeon master, the moderator or referee of the game, since they control the world people are playing in.

“I like being a dungeon master because it’s a supreme act of creativity,” LeCluyse said. “I’m world-building, I’m storytelling, I really like the collaborative aspect of that, to approach [my players] as co-creators in actually shaping the world.”

LeCluyse said, on the rare occasions he participates as a player, he likes to use his “characters to explore different subjectivities.”

“I tend to play characters who are not like me, and enjoy that experiment,” LeCluyse said.  

Angell said that she plays D&D because she is a storyteller.

“I love to tell stories and I actually used to write books, but I was frustrated that I didn’t feel like my characters had enough agency,” Angell said. “But I really found what I was looking for in D&D, because I don’t know what’s going to happen, because there’s other people playing and […] real people playing has the agency that I was missing.”

McKernan said D&D is a great way to relax and spend time with friends.

“I’m a super busy person and have multiple leadership roles, so I’m always working,” McKernan said. “D&D gives me an escape and allows me to let all of that go and just have fun and explore.”

Donald, like McKernan, said she enjoys playing with her friends and being creative.

“It allows me to get to know people in a different [way], to spend time with friends, to be actively creative, and to role-play from a different perspective,” Donald said.

Donald also said role-playing allows people to “understand power dynamics, injustice, and privilege.” Like when people from privileged groups play as someone who is marginalized.

“Overall, I think role-playing from a different perspective can not only benefit the player as a person but the party as a whole,” Donald said.                

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Alex Catmull
Alex is a junior communication major who is currently trying to survive college. She loves superheroes, hanging out with her friends and pasta. When not at school, she can be found curled up with her cat watching TV.

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