Why is D&D so popular you ask?

It might be a wishy-washy "game", but it's clear as day when it comes to sexual symbolism.
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  • This is incoherent. Or I'm not sufficiently woke.
  • This is about Morgan Ironwolf, yeah?
  • This is about Morgan Ironwolf, yeah?
    Caves. Dragons, Swords.
    Sure, you could argue that it'd be tough to find symbols that can't be sexualized, but D&D's got a bunch.
    Freud would be proud.
  • I would argue that, yes. Standing in my kitchen right now next to some knives and bowls. Granted, there's not a straw nearby, but I got pretty close.
  • Well, I can dig deeper if you like?
    It goes a bit beyond entendre.
  • There is no need to resort to sexual symbolism to explain why D&D is popular among boys and men. Exploring the unknown, fighting enemies and stealing their treasure are all activities that directly increase sexual competitiveness. Of course, D&D is a game and probably reduce mating chances by channelling those energies into ersatz activity.
  • edited February 27
    DnD is popular because colonialism is so deeply entrenched in our society and a lot of our more common methods of telling stories that it feels natural to many people. It's not hard to imagine why people in the imperial core who materially benefit daily from colonialism would want to play a game about imaginary colonialism.
  • Are you talking about specifically D&D, or the entire genre of traditional medieval-fantasy RPGs?

    My answer to your question is simply that it’s the established brand with the name recognition and marketing budget. It’s certainly nothing to do with sexiness (there are a hundred other games with boob-armored babes, and WotC has actually done a commendable job lately making their art less exploitative.)

    Calling out “colonialism” reminds me of that aftereffect of first encountering Edward Said in college when everything seemed amenable to a convenient postmodern deconstruction. Decades later I’m not buying it. Contrariwise, the truest cultural-studies attack on the genre is that it’s too close to its northern-European roots — a lazy elf-dwarfy appropriation of Nordic / English / Slavic tropes without an appreciation of the breadth of world cultures.
  • > it’s the established brand with the name recognition and marketing budget

    Yep. This explains why "other games" don't become as popular. They don't have name recognition. They rarely have marketing budget. In this society, that means they won't have perceived legitimacy either, except insofar as they can be convincingly described as "like D&D". Not fair? Annoying? Ridiculous? So shallow? Sure, but still true. See also: people still eat truckloads of Hershey's "chocolate".
  • Are you talking about specifically D&D, or the entire genre of traditional medieval-fantasy RPGs?
    The genre

  • Wow. That's quite a read. Thanks!
  • Why is D&D so popular you ask?
    Because it's American Dream: the Game. Go forth and tame the vast wilderness, conquer the lands, become wealthy beyond your imaginings by the workings of your own hands. It's the frontier spirit that is the core of Americana, imagined within a game about medieval fantasy wargaming. It hits a lot of checkboxes for men:

    [ ] Fightin'
    [ ] Explorin'
    [ ] Conquistadorin'

    Add in knights, wizards, and dragons to your taste.
  • edited February 27
    People Who Think It's Just Coca-Cola, Um So That's Why,

    The brand is compelling because of something beyond marketing. Don't you think it's rather shallow, just to view it's success solely on marketing?

    And I don't think it's colonialism is much of a selling point anymore. I imagine, even if it weren't about "enlightening", cataloging, exploring, a small part of an old, savage world, it'd still be popular.
    But maybe not?

    It connects with the subconscious.

    For the record, I started off playing rpgs with the yellow box, of Marvel Super Heroes.
    I never really *got* D&D until much later.
  • edited February 28

    Because it's American Dream: the Game. Go forth and tame the vast wilderness, conquer the lands, become wealthy beyond your imaginings by the workings of your own hands. It's the frontier spirit that is the core of Americana, imagined within a game about medieval fantasy wargaming. It hits a lot of checkboxes for men:

    [ ] Fightin'
    [ ] Explorin'
    [ ] Conquistadorin'

    Add in knights, wizards, and dragons to your taste.

    I think to pigeonhole all of that as American is rather short-sighted.
    But I don't want this discussion to get political, in the least.

    It goes a bit beyond that. It's checking off more than just those boxes. There's boxes that we might not like to talk about, subconscious ones, that it's checking off.
  • It goes a bit beyond that. It's checking off more than just those boxes. There's boxes that we might not like to talk about, subconscious ones, that it's checking off.
    Come on, don't tease us any more, which boxes specifically?
  • D&D is popular because it's a pretty ok game
  • D&D is popular because it's a pretty ok game
    It's a shitty game, as far as games go. I mean, Monopoly is a better game, and I fucking hate Monopoly.

    It's a great sort of game. The best parts of D&D aren't covered by rules. Arguing over party order, now that's fun.
  • It goes a bit beyond that. It's checking off more than just those boxes. There's boxes that we might not like to talk about, subconscious ones, that it's checking off.
    Come on, don't tease us any more, which boxes specifically?
    Could you write something more smarmy please?
  • Wrong, D&D is pretty okay, not shitty.
  • It wasn't intended that way at all. You've pointed several times at sexual symbolism, without explicitly saying what you mean, but you said "I can dig deeper if you like", so I thought you'd be willing to say explicitly, if explicitly asked.
  • Wrong, D&D is pretty okay, not shitty.
    Alright, alright. It's the okayest.
  • edited March 1
    It wasn't intended that way at all. You've pointed several times at sexual symbolism, without explicitly saying what you mean, but you said "I can dig deeper if you like", so I thought you'd be willing to say explicitly, if explicitly asked.
    If you're asking me to detail instances of sexual subtext, in play materials and motives;
    I'd rather not.

  • Not much of a discussion here then, if we don't want to look into the details of how exactly D&D sells on sex.

    Are you doing fine, Nathan? Your recent threads have seemed pretty confused to me, sort of like free association stream of thought in places. Or like you were having the same discussions in several different places, and that's why we see these shards of unfinished thought floating about. You've started threads pretty spontaneously as long as I remember (which is often a nice habit - I'm the opposite myself and thus rarely start discussions), often on some relatively whimsical thought, but here it's not even that. You just put out a provocative "hot take" and sit down to see who cares enough to get into a twist over it, and then act as if others are being smarmy by asking you to elaborate.

    You know best whether to talk about it, of course, but it's difficult to not notice that this thread has much more "pay attention me" than "here's an interesting thought" to it. I fear you're being harsh to others, too: if I was Shimrod I'd be outright offended by your insinuation that he's asking anything but a straight question based on what you asserted.
  • It can be hard to read people, Eero. I thought he/she was pulling my leg. I implied motives to their question, as people do when trying to fill in rest of the information.

    There's not much of a conversation because it's difficult to talk about.
    I mean, do I want to write about sexual adolescence, through the thin veneer of fantasy, with a handful of strangers?
    I do hear what you're saying.
    I wasn't attempting to be provocative. I think D&D's subtext get's lost a lot of the time. The power fantasy element, and what that means. It's a weirdly popular game.

    And thank you, really, for asking.
  • edited March 1
    I guess I'll take a shot at the actual topic, too. Here's my thoughts:

    First, I agree with Emma on the broad thematic analysis: the original and in some ways primary themes that D&D relies on are less sexual and more "colonial". Here's what I see as front-and-center in the game in its early years:
    * Cerebral wargaming - figuring out how things work
    * Messing around with fantasy iconography
    * Leaving civilization to adventure in dangerous places
    * Encountering savages and conquering them
    * Being cleverer and more context-independent than the monsters and NPCs
    * Going into dark holes of horror
    * Being a fantasy hero

    So there's a bunch of things going on there, not all of them simultaneously relevant, not all of them outright literary qualities. I bolded the themes that particularly and specifically mirror imperial, colonialist worldview and fiction. Make of that what you will - to me it's a convincing argument that these ideas are pretty central to D&D's past appeal. My best guess for why this isn't often acknowledged is that it's not something gamers like to think about, so it's more comfortable to pretend that it doesn't exist.

    However, the above's something we've hashed out a lot in the past. Let's look at this new idea, sexualization! I think there's a kernel of truth there, too. Consider the following ideas:

    Originally D&D represents sexuality in a very patriarchalist way: The neutral adventurer state-to-be is to be a male; from early on a female adventurer is treated as an object of sexuality in the play culture, enough so for the phenomenon to be universally acknowledged; specifically female monsters more often than not use sexual or sex-symbolic wiles as their primary interaction; female NPCs generally exist to be saved in a traditional knight-saves-princess way; prostitution is normalized as an adventure lifestyle assumption; the one thing that connects all these sexual opportunities of the D&D adventurer (female co-adventurers, female monsters, female NPCs, prostitutes) is that he needs to delve into the dark places of the earth to seize his sexual privilege. No dungeon, no pussy. (You need the gold to buy the prostitute, in case that one wasn't clear.) The implicit world-view is that the player characters are young male gorillas, thrown out by their home pack as they come of age, and now they are forced to wander around in search of sexual opportunity until they luck out. It is a tale as old as time.

    Now, I'm the first to admit that the above phenomenon is not somehow central to the game. It's there if you look for it, but it's easy to end up playing the game in an entirely non-sexual way, too. I've had campaigns swing back and forth. If I had to characterize the earliest D&D in this regard, I think that it was potentially and often in practice rather refined, gentlemanly in the sense that the players would never dare to go beyond well-established romantized depiction of sexuality in how they narrate their game. This is still the default depiction e.g. in my own campaigns; I make sure to mention that the princesses are pretty and happy to be rescued, but that's as far as it goes in terms of graphic depiction - sex is not even implied, it merely exists as a distant thematic possibility. The knight is fulfilled by saving the princess for underlying sexually thematic reasons, yes, but actual sex never needs to come up in any way; the underlying meaning of "knight saves princess" is clear enough without having to play through the most monkey-like form of the story. Like a family movie, basically. Still enough to notice and enjoy if the theme resonates for you.

    That being said:

    I think that there's a second, somewhat different sexual theme also in D&D, that of identity fulfillment. I personally think that this was a very weak theme, possibly non-existing (if you can actually say something like that in thematic analysis) in the earliest D&D, but it grew in importance over time until today it's much stronger than the patriarchalist idea of achieving sexual opportunity by being a knight-errant.

    Identify fulfillment sexualization is the thematic idea that the player character him- or herself can be a sexually attractive being who is validated as a hero and a protagonist by their comeliness. The game focuses on immersing into the identity of a socially valid person, a hero who may be more accomplished than the player himself. Because sexuality is such a big part of social validity, it's not enough for such a hero to be e.g. older than the young person playing the character, or richer; they have to also be more comely, confident and successful in love, even if the latter bit is often left implicit by the culture of play.

    You can trace the development of this idea by looking at what adventurers look like in D&D game books, basically. It is more common to see adventurers look like traumatized murderhobos in older books, while newer ones pay ever-increasing attention (literally, the trend has only been up from the beginning) to depicting adventurers as impossibly ideal personas.

    I suppose one could argue that this isn't an inherently sexual appeal, but I have to confess that I don't really understand why the ideal adventurer would be young, athletic, comely on various varieties, completely unscarred, and with such tight comic book buns, if it wasn't for the sake of the sexual fantasy.

    So yeah, that's as far as I get in arguing that D&D is "about" sexuality. I think that with those themes it's still less about sexuality than your average American superhero comic book, but I think it's fair to say that it uses sex to sell itself nowadays, a bit at least. Both of the above ideas are, to me, somewhat credible as sources of sales impulse: teenage boys respond to the chivalric-patriarchal ideations about saving princesses, and even wider demographics see the appeal in looking at pictures of pretty people and pretending to be pretty people themselves.
  • An excellent analysis. I've never considered the theme of identity fulfillment, but I'm immediately convinced by your observations regarding the artwork. Thank you!
  • edited March 1
    In a couple of other recent D&D threads, we came to the conclusion that modern D&D is, in its basic form, superhero fiction.

    Older D&D didnt seem that way to me (in particular, you might thing about how low level characters are notorious scavengers, and high level characters are expected to build a keep and end out their armies from there -neither very superhero-like).

    Modern D&D characters are powerful, colourful... at once unique and visually distinctive but also fitting in a very specific mold.

    It seems to me that there is a very similar power fantasy thing, where the heroes should also be young and virile and beautiful, with exaggerated sexual characteristics - either really masculine or really feminine. That's also superhero-like, in my eyes.
  • Modern D&D characters are powerful, colourful... at once unique and visually distinctive but also fitting in a very specific mold.
    I've been following a discussion about the various 2E Complete _____ race books on RPG.net and it's been really overwhelmingly negative about their treatment of pretty much everything. While I will accept that there is a legitimate grievance about the over-generalization of sentient species and the way it plays in light of real-world racism, there's also a really strong undercurrent of people wanting every playable race to be nothing more than humans but with different power sets.

    A lot of complaints about how 4E/5E "did it better" by creating race backgrounds that allow them to slide easily into the traditional D&D Adventurer Role, rather than the more restrictive social circumstances that older books often presented. I can't help but feel that the "Super Hero D&D" attitude is lurking strong behind that kind of reasoning.

    I also read something fascinating a little while back about the socioloigical sex and gender implications of sword and sorcery fiction (I believe it was a bit more complex than just "power fantasy" but my memories of the details is fuzzy at best) that I feel like would be really germane to this conversation, but for the life of me I can't remember where I found it and trying to dig it up has gotten me nowhere :(
  • That sounds interesting.

    For what it's worth, most people would associate the sword & sorcery genre with old-school d&d, not modern d&d.
  • My argument as an old-timer is that a lot of this comes out of the pulps, nearly a hundred years ago now.

    One of the big influences on old school D&D was Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories, which were published starting in the 30's, I think, and were heavy influenced in their own turn by a story by Cervantes about a Thieves' Guild, "Rinconete y Cortadillo", and were published in the pulps.

    Conan was another big influence, and Robert E. Howard was a complicated guy with a complicated and pretty awful outlook on race and class (by today's standards, and maybe even his own era's).

    And HP Lovecraft is his own special subject.

    So it's hard IMO to sort out the cultural, racial, sexual, etc. politics of D&D without getting into some pretty heavy literary and cultural history.

  • For what it's worth, most people would associate the sword & sorcery genre with old-school d&d, not modern d&d.
    Meanwhile, the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement (which, yes, is not D&D, I know) had units explicitly called Heroes and Super-Heroes, and I don't think it's hard to draw a line connecting them to the semi-exceptional status of PCs.

    I'd argue the Super Hero DNA has always been there, its simply that its expression has become more overt in recent generations. I know that people have spotted what they believe to be the influence of Dr. Strange specifically in some early bits of D&D, for example.
  • I'm an European whose country never had colonies. So maybe I am blind to this problem but I do not really see colonialism in older D&D. To be precise it definitely could be there, but I think its not dominant. What I see as a foreigner is that oldschool D&D is literally fantasy western.

  • I actually agree that I don't find the colonialist themes to be dominant in D&D to quite the same extent as some other people do (I would never say that "D&D is fundamentally and entirely a colonialist narrative", for instance).

    However, this is interesting:
    What I see as a foreigner is that oldschool D&D is literally fantasy western.
    Isn't the Western genre precisely about colonialism? It's literary the story of colonizing a wild land (and taking wealth from its inhabitants - the basic premise of dungeoneering).
  • That sounds more like a terminology issue than a disagreement, Hamnacb. It's good to remember that although we use the same words in the same language, we all have quite different experiences and reading background, which means that we associate different things with different words. The connotations are different.

    For instance, when people say that D&D reminds them of "colonialism" or "imperialism", what do they actually mean? Do they mean that D&D adventurers are like Christopher Columbus? Do they mean that D&D dungeons are like the Congo Free State? Indian colonialism (advanced people suborning another advanced people) or Australian colonialism (advanced people vs. neolithic people)? Naval colonialism or the continentally contiguous sort engaged by the Russian empire and the United States?

    I can't speak for others, but when I say that D&D resembles a 19th century colonialist narrative, fantasy western is precisely what I mean! The American wild west of the 19th century is exactly the kind of colonial milieu that D&D evokes.

    Whether the American west is a "colonial" milieu is, of course, up for discussion. I'm mildly surprised if somebody thinks that it's somehow different from what all the other advanced civilizations were doing at the time, but as I just started my post by reminding us about the frailty of words, I'm in no position to just assume that everybody agrees to something that my background makes obvious to me.

    Either way, it's probably better to speak of substance than terminology. Therefore: when I say that D&D draws from imperialistic cultural underpinnings, what I concretely mean is that its creators were neck-deep into modern era adventure literature, which their creation unsurprisingly then emulates and models. D&D adventurers are white men in exotic places, acting on nothing but their own justice. I personally think that the sheer honesty of the greed in the early game is its greatest virtue: whatever the ancillary reasons for a quest hook existing, it is impossible to dress up the fact that the player characters themselves are in the dungeon out of greed. "Us" are "out there" doing "adventure", which is what the imperial era cultural recipe for storytelling mandates, but at least D&D is cynically honest about it (when not doing race theories about the inherent evil of the greenskins, at least). I won't claim that the later developments are only to the worse, but to my senses the cover justifications have grown denser and more romanticized over the decades: many would actually claim that the modern D&D adventurer is no simple murderhobo anymore, that he actually has justification for the monster genocide outside its convenience for the human habitation.
  • edited March 2
    I'd argue that fantasy as a genre is completely about colonialism. I'm talking colonialism as an ideology, colonialism as a power structure, which goes hand in hand with imperialism and fascism.
    Fantasy as a genre is built around the concept of an objective world where personal power is meaningful above all else, where the divine right of kings is often very literal, where some races are "subhuman" and thus it's cool to subjugate and murder them, where a meaningful and societally essential career path is going into ruins and murdering the "subhuman" people there to "reclaim" artifacts of religious and cultural significance, etc.
    Most fantasy also is very much built around the way medieval Europe was imagined by literal white supremacists (read: no POC anywhere other than slaves, men are in charge because of some pseudo-biology bullshit, you could get away with killing people you didn't like, etc.).
    There's a lot of innate biological essentialism to the genre as well. Stuff like "elves are naturally smarter", "orcs are naturally stronger and dumber", "dwarves are naturally wiser", "drow are innately evil", etc. There's also a lot of essentialist notions about women, with stuff like "women are weaker than men" being a really common take in the genre.
    This sort of stuff is pretty inextricably linked to the genre. At its very best, fantasy is hideously tone-deaf and inappropriate. At its worst (which it's often at it's worst), it's literal fascist propaganda.
    *steps down off of her angry soapbox, probably*
  • That’s really overly broad. Sure, a lot of old fantasy is colonialist, but there are recent authors who’ve been writing deliberately anti-colonialist fantasy. (And not-so-recent. One Hundred Years of Solitude was published over half a century ago.)
  • edited March 2
    One Hundred Years of Solitude isn't fantasy. It's magic realism, which is kind of the opposite of fantasy, despite some aesthetic similarities.
  • edited March 2
    But the mainstream trend is clear, though, isn't it? The fact that 20% of fantasy literature is deconstructionist about it doesn't change the fact that the rest is either deeply conservative or ignorantly repeating the party line.

    I'll say that I am tremendously enthusiastic about the fantasy genre myself, but I would never attempt to whitewash it just for that. Robert E. Howard was the libertarian equivalent of a fascist (paleo-militant, I dunno quite what to call it - what's Hans-Hermann Hoppe's ideology called?), J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian patriarchalist, Gary Gygax was outright fascist if I understand correctly, and the herds riding on their coat-tails are mostly apolitical hacks who perpetuate themes they barely understand or care about. If my enjoyment of the literature was predicated on agreeing with the authors' worldviews, I doubt I'd get far with fantasy literature. For every exception writing consciously different fantasy there's another ten J.K. Rowlings ready to regurgitate the "destined son of the superior race saves the world with violent means" stuff.

    In comparison, the authors who aren't quite so dashingly colonialist (if that's the umbrella term we're using here) are also remarkably less influential on the genre in general. Funny how that's worked out. My own understanding is that this is due to the underlying thematic bias: the genre works very well for passing on conservative wisdom of various sorts, and therefore people involved with it tend to be ones who find the themes it carries meaningful and exciting.

    All recognition to the exceptions, by the way. The surface glaze of the genre as it stands in pop culture is a barren wasteland of post-Tolkien bubblegum fascism, which anybody can ascertain by taking a look at say the five or ten most popular fantasy video games or tv shows of the decade. This takes nothing away from the fact that the likes of e.g. Ursula LeGuin and Samuel R. Delany have also written in the fantasy genre. Their existence might not whitewash the rest, but they do prove that just like you can do western without demonizing Indians, you can do fantasy without implied race war.
  • edited March 2
    Personally, I'd argue that a lot of the supposed "deconstructionist fantasy" isn't fantasy at all, but is instead a different genre that has some aesthetic similarities to fantasy. Like I'd personally categorize most of LeGuin's work as Speculative Fiction instead of Fantasy. Or like the previous example of One Hundred Years of Solitude being Magic Realism instead of Fantasy.
    The colonialist, imperialist, fascist stuff is the core of the fantasy genre. If you remove those elements, I'd argue you're not writing fantasy. You're writing another genre that has some aesthetic similarities, but a completely different purpose and method of going about it. Like for instance to provide an example from Magic Realism, in MR, fantastical elements exist as metaphors for emotional and political realities of our world, whereas in fantasy, fantastical elements exist to create a discrete world. In MR, a character might be a living doll because it's a metaphor for her depression and disassociation, for her lack of a personal identity. In fantasy, a character is a living doll because some wizard made a construct in the shape of a doll and brought it to life, and there's probably a bunch of lore about how it works. There's a major distinction between fantasy and MR also in terms of lore and worldbuilding. Fantasy is very centered around creating objective worlds, whereas MR doesn't create a world at all, and instead uses its story and characters to discuss our world and our lives.
  • Gary Gygax was outright fascist if I understand correctly
    This is new to me, can you expand on that?
  • The colonialist, imperialist, fascist stuff is the core of the fantasy genre. If you remove those elements, I'd argue you're not writing fantasy. You're writing another genre that has some aesthetic similarities, but a completely different purpose and method of going about it.
    Please do argue. Why would you want to define away all non-colonialist writing as "nope, that's not fantasy, that's some other thing, let's figure out what"? Or are you saying that in theory, it's possible to write non-colonialist fantasy, but in practice no one ever does and every instance fits in some other predefined genre?
  • edited March 2
    That sounds more like a terminology issue than a disagreement, Hamnacb. It's good to remember that although we use the same words in the same language, we all have quite different experiences and reading background, which means that we associate different things with different words. The connotations are different.

    For instance, when people say that D&D reminds them of "colonialism" or "imperialism", what do they actually mean?
    Yeah, I think you are right.

    What I meant is that when I hear the word 'colonialism' I am conditioned to associate it to oppression like in Dog Eat Dog.

    When I say that oldschool D&D is like fantasy western, I do not mean it like 'lets oppress native ameri... eeeh... orcs and take their land/stuff' but as 'this is a no mans land, there is no law thus we should be self righteous or at least libertarian...' The society, the power hierarchy, a central authority is missing in an extent that it is almost post apocalyptic. Definitely not 'imperialistic'!
  • The colonialist, imperialist, fascist stuff is the core of the fantasy genre. If you remove those elements, I'd argue you're not writing fantasy. You're writing another genre that has some aesthetic similarities, but a completely different purpose and method of going about it.
    Please do argue. Why would you want to define away all non-colonialist writing as "nope, that's not fantasy, that's some other thing, let's figure out what"? Or are you saying that in theory, it's possible to write non-colonialist fantasy, but in practice no one ever does and every instance fits in some other predefined genre?
    Because colonialism is so deeply a part of fantasy's identity as a genre. "Fantasy without colonialism" is like saying "sci-fi without advanced technology" or "horror without frightening elements" or "magic realism without metaphor". It's an innate contradiction.
  • edited March 2
    I think I understand what Emma means, but I ultimately don't buy it. The key problem for that analysis as I see it is this: LeGuin's Earthsea (which I think is a good example) is both clearly in the fantasy genre while also being thematically existentialist rather than colonialist. If the genre was inextricably tied with the colonialist themes this would be an impossible combination - either LeGuin would fail to extricate the genre, or I would read the novel and decide that yeah no, this isn't fantasy literature anymore. As this doesn't happen, I'm forced to conclude that the genre can survive non-conservative handling.

    Earthsea is, of course, not the only example, but I think that one example suffices when discussing the technical impossibility of writing fantasy without colonialist theming. It would be interesting to hear about it if somebody thinks that Earthsea isn't fantasy, or that it is fascist - either would be a surprising conclusion from the novels to me.
    Gary Gygax was outright fascist if I understand correctly
    This is new to me, can you expand on that?
    I hesitate to, but it's entirely due to the language game aspect of it. There's a lot of people out there for whom Gygax's political affiliation has some value in itself, so it's just asking for trouble if you insist on giving him some specific party affiliation that somebody else might be unhappy about. A great way to get into the middle of the culture war, in other words. The idea of having to "prove" what "fascism" "means" and applying that to some specific person's thinking for the satisfaction of angry Internet-denizens doesn't sound very appealing. Better if you just take my remark as whimsical rhetorical flourish than some serious claim that the fans will have to disprove or die trying.

    (The relationship America has to fascism as a word doesn't make this any easier. As you all probably know, there is no fascism in America, nor can there ever be -there are only patriotic Americans.)

    I'm also no expert on this. GG was a very private person, he published surprisingly little philosophical or political material, and while I've read my share of his game texts, I do not think that personal politics are very strongly presented in those. I've formed my impression from incidental bits and pieces of his thinking that have come up over my years of D&D play and study.

    That being said, I welcome everybody to decide from themselves what fascist worldview and cultural politics even mean, and whether Gygax counts as such, or if it's some other word you'd rather use to describe his thoughts. I myself found this bit of Q&A from Dragonsfoot in 2005 to be pretty illuminating on the subject, among other tidbits over the years.
  • The key problem for that analysis as I see it is this: LeGuin's Earthsea
    That's exactly what I was thinking of.
    Like I'd personally categorize most of LeGuin's work as Speculative Fiction instead of Fantasy.
    And wondered if we were going to try to call Earthsea "speculative fiction". Certainly LeGuin herself categorized it as fantasy publicly.
  • @Eero_Tuovinen is right in both ways ;) A bit of flourish and a bit of truth. In Playing at the World (the book and blog) there is pretty strong evidence of Gygax's political views. Eugenics in particular.

    In the small press zines of the time he was pretty candid unlike in official interviews. The wonderful quote of women shouldn't play wargames or rpgs and they biologically couldn't grasp them.

    The core of eugenics and colonialism (as @EmmatheExcrucian eloquently points out) runs through D&D including 5th edition, with little self reflection. The lone exception is the Magic the Gathering setting Ixalan.

    This along with it being a pretty ok game keep it up there in first place.
  • Gygax also self-described as a biological essentialist (or it might have been gender essentialist, I don't remember the exact quote, but it's a variation on the same thing).
  • edited March 2
    EmmatheExcrucian's definition is close to mine.
    In Fantasy, you throw an idea because it's cool. You feel the power of the hero. What's important is his individual experience (and victory).
    In Speculative fiction, you introduce a change in the world and eventually you reflect on our world through this thought experiment.

    In this definition the colour (spacecrafts, orcs, vampires, whatever) is anecdotal.

    Of course, if you define Fantasy by the colour, you get another result. This latter definition can be useful for understanding the reception (and marketing). But it's not as useful for the analysis of the narrative.
  • That's an interesting definition. You're not defining a genre in the sense of cultural history so much as you're looking at the literary techniques pre-eminent in a certain kind of writing. I'm very on board with that sort of thing, I just wouldn't call it "genre" - that word has such great utility as a term for grouping historical trends in writing.

    For comparison, the way you'd usually define the "fantasy genre" would be to pinpoint some keystone works that you think are essential and influential examples; perhaps ones that have caused the genre to come into existence historically by being the model on which later authors have modeled their work. This type of historical definition requires one to opinionate on what the noteworthy features of the keystone works are that define the genre, but it doesn't require an opinion on what makes works in the genre appealing to the audiences - it suffices to prove that common features exist and are replicated over time by other authors.

    In this sense the "fantasy genre" that fandom recognizes is pretty clearly anything originating in either the pulps or Tolkien (with some minor exceptions, of course). The origins are relatively narrow in that regard. The pulp connection can be traced further back to more general adventure stories, of course, and the Tolkienist strain has its own antecedents in the historical romance and national romanticism of the 19th century.

    A good example of how differently people can understand even seemingly common terminology. The fantasy literature as a historical genre obviously includes a lot of stuff that is not about heroic experience - lyrical mindscapes of Lovecraft, humble moralities of Lewis and Tolkien, etc. - but if that wish-fulfillment aspect is what one's paying attention to, then what belongs into the box and what doesn't will seem entirely different.

    (If anybody's wondering why I'm constantly name-dropping the same few authors, by the way, it's because I'm trying to guess at something that others as well might have read. I probably have a skewed understanding of what's popularly read in the US and what's not, though. If anybody wants to recommend literary examples of fantasy that are more familiar, feel free.)

    Aside from the terminological issue and the notion that "genre" can be very useful in understanding culture history, I do like the stylistic or technical distinction between heroic entertainment and speculative fiction. A very useful thing to have for all sorts of purposes.

    The natural follow-up question, then: which is D&D? Is it heroic entertainment or speculative fiction? I would argue that it's clearly been both to different people at different times, and thus has the potential for both.
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