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Monday, 18 May 2015

Why nerds love Dungeons and Dragons

To normal people, the popularity and outright fanaticism towards Dungeions and Dragons is confusing.
It's just playing pretend, right?
Well, I hope to explain why DND (and table top gaming in general) has captured the imagination of generations and inspired much obsession within nerd hearts and minds.

  • Gambling
This is the thing most people miss when discussing tabletop gaming.
It is a form of gambling.
Instead of money, you are betting on the outcome of an action. To influence the outcome you build a character that is good at some things and bad at others, so you are able to "bet" in a smart way to accomplish a "win"
The rush you get from winning is very real, and made more satisfying as you are able to decide both the form of the bet AND influence the outcome in your favour.
Simply put, when you succeed you feel like a mad genius, when you fail everyone gets to laugh at your expense.
  • Be the Hero you want to see.
Power fantasies are addictive.
DnD not only provides a venue to express these fantasies, but a sense of accomplishment when doing so.
You do not simply pretend and recieve.
You work towards a goal over time.
You have set backs.
You fail.
You persevere.
You may never reach your goal, but when you do, the glory is real.

Some players choose to play a role, to put themselves in the skin of another, imaginary, person. Others use the character as a pawn to play through.
Neither is correct nor incorrect.
  • An interactive story
Each person in a game contributes to the story being told.
Yes, the Dungeon Master acts as a director, leading the players through a plot, but everyone decides how things will happen.
With a skilled DM, the stories that unfold can be exceptionally complicated, nuanced and very human. The adventures can be spectacular or mundane, but sharing them with friends gives you all the fun of discussing the shows you love, or the game you caught last night, but you participated in it.

While there are many places that post campaigns publicly to share the stories told, I'll direct everyone wanting to take a quick glance to Penny Arcade playing a Dark Sun adventure one of the players (Kris Straub) is a beginner and it's a 7 episode "one off" so not much of a commitment to listen to at work.
Even if you hate the game, you *will* laugh at the antics of the players.
I promise.
If you love it, the crew (minus Straub, sadly) do a regular game called Acquisitions Inc.
  • Team work
Human beings are social animals.
As much as individual accomplishment feels great, being part of a successful team is always better.
To play DnD you must work with others, the game is built with this in mind. No character can do everything and those that try to be the jack of all trades are the master of none (and often miss out on the coolest stuff)
When you look at the packed stands in a sporting venue and see cheering crowds, you are seeing this very real drive in action on a massive scale.
DnD exploits this to bring players together.
  • Social interaction without the small talk
Many nerds are socially awkward.
Making small talk about nothing feels weird, and we'd all much rather avoid it.
DnD provides a LOT of nonsense to talk about, often including abstract thinking and problem solving. Which we find fun.
The comfort of a shared interest means that nerds can get to know one another without the pretence of social competence.
Not all nerds need this, but I'm confident to say that all nerds ENJOY it.
  • The love of learning
Learning is something many people think they don't like.
They are mistaken, because they associate learning with school, and school with boring crap.
If you really love football, and can recite the team roster of every team in the league, their win record and top scorers... you just proved you loved learning. You're a football nerd. Deal with it.
If you love to cook, and want to try new things all the time; you love learning. You're a food nerd. Deal with it.
It's no different for real nerds. Collectively, we enjoy learning how systems work, how to accomplish things given a certain set of restrictions (also known as "games")
The joy in knowing how to accomplish things is what drives nerds, and DnD provides that in spades.

***

I hope this dispels "sad losers pretending" from people's minds when thinking of tabletop gaming.
The things nerds enjoy are fun for a reason, and I'll hope people give them a go before judging them too harshly.