Dungeons & Dragons, developed and published in the 1970s, is currently seeing a massive resurgence in popularity that surmounts its market peak in the 1980s. This success can be attributed to a number of factors. The development of streaming platforms such as YouTube and Twitch provide greater accessibility and visibility to the game. A release of a new rule set in 2015 that streamlined its previously complex and nuanced mechanics while reflecting a greater diversity in its player-base made it a more approachable game for the uninitiated. Major producers of contemporary popular culture such as Duffer Brothers, creators the 2016 show Stranger Things, grew up playing the game in the 1980s and have included it in their storytelling as a way of paying homage to their upbringing, further increasing the game’s visibility to wider and younger audiences.
The game is played through a form of collaborative storytelling. A ‘dungeon master’ narrates a scene for several players to interact and engage with. Each player takes on a role of a fantasy character and the players work together to accomplish tasks provided by the dungeon master, often weaving an ongoing and continuous story. The dungeon master plays many roles outside of the narrator – they become any non-player characters in the story, be it enemies or allies of the players. The dungeon master is both in and outside of the game.
For both the dungeon master and the players, D&D is largely an improvised activity. Players work together to problem solve the quests and scenarios posed by the dungeon master, considering out-of-the-box options similar fantasy video games may not have the pre-programmed script to allow. Even experienced dungeon masters, after spending hours of planning and devising, may not expect choices and solutions proposed by their players and will roll with those choices creating excitingly unique experiences for every session played.
The stories created are woven interactions of the players, the dungeon master, and their individual circumstances they bring to the game. The storyteller and the listener are in an interconnected and intermediated state of flux – interdependent on one another while sustained in the space of play.