D&D has been its own genre for a long time, but I feel that now it's standing up and proudly declaring it.
I don't think even that
is quite what it is either.
D&D has been proudly itself-and-not-another for a long time. But while it's been (relatively) confident about that, outsiders
had for a long time still looked down their noses at it. D&D was for weirdo loser poindexters who had to imagine fictional achievements because they weren't able to achieve anything in the real world.
But three big things happened over the past two decades and change that changed a lot of that: the mass public appeal of other media with a similar "isn't that for NERDS?" reputation, creator-driven media (via the Internet), and the explosive growth of social gaming and MMORPGs in particular (especially World of Warcraft.)
There have been superhero movies for ages, despite comics having a lingering stink of "only for antisocial losers who hyperfixate." I mean, Christopher Reeve basically made his career being Superman across four separate films. But both DC and Marvel became absolute cultural phenomena
at the turn of the millennium, and they essentially haven't left the box office since. Even if many don't read
comics, many, many, many
people are now into
comic-book stories and characters. Likewise, previously "too nerdy" things like Game of Thrones have gotten (mostly...) beloved and supremely popular TV or film adaptations. Point being: the stigma associated with being "a nerd" was fading. Much of this is really the result of the social penetration of technology: it is now widely-understood that knowing how computers work is a really useful skill
, not just a thing FRIGGIN' NYERDS know; almost everyone has either a desktop/laptop computer or a gaming console, and the space between those two things has been shrinking for ages. Fancy TVs have long been one of the ways to display wealth, but you really need to know at least a little bit of science
now in order to make sure you get an actually good TV, not just an expensive one. Etc. This practical
de-stigmatization brought with it an aesthetic
one as well, and it's finally gone far enough to hit arguably the nerdiest thing of all, tabletop roleplaying games.
Further, the Internet has given rise to an enormous culture of creative expression. That has encouraged folks to dig into what is on offer--and to go exploring in areas they wouldn't have necessarily done before. This is a smaller thing, more a booster for the other two effects, but the greater interconnectivity has enabled people to consume a wider variety of media and to consider a larger number of options. It's also enabled people to stay connected to one another in ways they couldn't before. Prior to 1980, if you moved away from your local friends and such, you might
go to the effort of really actively preserving your friendship with specific people...but you certainly wouldn't have bothered with a lot of the more casual/satellite friendships. The loss of such connections was just one of the painful consequences of moving around. Now? Keep tabs on Facebook, have a Discord chat now and then, maybe fire up a multiplayer video game, send memes or youtube links by text...it's a LOT easier to maintain a friendship group at a distance now.
Which leads to the rise of social gaming. MMOs existed before World of Warcraft, but WoW changed everything. It was huge. Multiple millions of active players! Advertisements on prime-time television, with famous actors! And it connected
people. There was a shared language, a shared experience. The highs and lows of adventuring, brought right to your doorstep. But...then WoW went into decline. The glory days seemed way back in the rear view mirror. Sure, it was still the 900 lb gorilla, but it was pretty clearly falling. Thing is, once people have been introduced to that concept, it doesn't ever really go away
. It just gets back-benched. Enter D&D: offering a personal
, tailored experience, one without subscription fees (unless you really want to), where it's you and your friends all the time, but a real person is writing it for you
and not for the nameless masses of MMO players. Social gaming made D&D plausible to the masses
as an entertaining evening's fun, because people had gotten used to the idea that getting the full value out of something might take weeks or months.
D&D is flowering because of a cultural change. It has little to nothing to do with the game itself, nor how the game perceives
itself. (In part because, let's face it, to people who have never played a TTRPG, every version of D&D is essentially the same
. It's only the hardcore enthusiasts--like people who frequent this subforum--who know
enough so that they can even be able
to care about version differences.) That cultural change is probably here to stay, but what effects
it has may vary over time. If it does, that
is when "the game itself" (and to a lesser extent "how the game perceives itself") will actually matter. And it may matter a very great deal, if it isn't welcoming to the new player, exactly as what happens with other social gaming products.