Videogames are everywhere; they have reached the mainstream. Once a fringe activity, thanks to the Wii, World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2, it is now possible that everyone from your grandmother to your gardener is more of a gamer than you are. While not necessarily "cool," playing videogames is at least a generally acceptable activity for people of any age. Beyond that, people have been getting together to play games for centuries, be it chess, Pictionary or Texas Hold 'em. Why, then, is it still not socially acceptable to sit around a table with some friends and play a tabletop role playing game like Dungeons & Dragons?
Some may argue that the role-playing hobby is gaining steam and that D&D 4th Edition is reaching new audiences. Unfortunately, most of those people are either deluded or employees of the Wizards of the Coast marketing team.
In the early 80s, D&D and tabletop role-playing was extremely popular. There were TV commercials and a Saturday Morning cartoon show. Teachers organized after-school programs and there were summer camps devoted to playing D&D. It generally attracted the more intelligent or "gifted" kids. Our culture was recently introduced to the viability of fantasy and science fiction with the popularity of Star Wars and role-playing encouraged such flights of fancy. How did the hobby go from being featured in the opening scenes of one of the most popular movies ever (E.T.) to it being a mark of shame to admit to your adult friends in 2010?
To illustrate just how universally derided and ridiculed the hobby still is by most of our society, allow me to tell you a little story.
When I was 10 or so, I found my brother's old copy of the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. The artwork (especially the cover of the DMG depicting rogues prying out the jewelled eyes of a monstrous statue) reminded me of the fantasy novels that I was reading at the time: The Hobbit, Dragonlance, Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. I wanted to be those heroic characters, and here was a game that provided the framework to make that dream possible.
But it wasn't possible, at least for me. In the late 80s, there was still a lot of backlash against Dungeons & Dragons due to the satanic craze recently chronicled by Allen Varney. Basically, a mentally disturbed kid attempted suicide at the University of Michigan. He was known to play D&D and the media linked these two details with the ridiculous idea that he was lost in the steam tunnels thinking that he was "inside the game." There were news stories, novelizations and the awful made-for-TV movie Mazes and Monsters starring a young Tom Hanks.